Bates says goodbye to school board

COVINGTON -- Newton County Board of Education member C.C. Bates may be returning to her home state of South Carolina after living in Newton County since 1997, but that doesn't mean she won't miss her time here.

Bates, who has served on the school board since January 2007, participated in her last school board meeting on Tuesday night. She announced in January that she would resign from her post in June to take a new job at Clemson University.

"I have enjoyed my time on the board," she said. "It has been challenging but extremely rewarding. ... I have always tried to make informed decisions that were in the best interest of our children and our teachers."

Bates, who served as chair of the board in 2009, said she will miss being on the board, going to the Newton County Library, visiting the Square at Christmas and seeing Floyd Street in the spring.

"Covington is a beautiful place filled with special people," she said.

Bates moved to Newton County in 1997, when she married her husband Daron, a Newton County native.

"I was teaching school in Greenville, S.C., and hoped he would move there, but coming to Covington was one of the best decisions we ever made," she said. "The time with family and the relationships we have formed, especially at church (Covington First United Methodist), have shaped our lives and the lives of our children."

Prior to serving on the school board, she taught kindergarten and first grade at Fairview Elementary School. She was Newton County's Teacher of the Year in 2000, when she also was a semifinalist for the Georgia Teacher of the Year award. She also has worked as a teacher at DeKalb Technical College and served as a national literacy consultant.

Before she decided to head back to South Carolina, she returned to teaching in Newton County for several months. Through her post-doctoral work at Ohio State University to study literacy theory, she was required to teach some of the lowest-achieving first-graders.

"I was given permission to guest teach at South Salem Elementary School that involved teaching four children a day in 30-minute blocks," she said. "I spent over 250 hours teaching children this year, and it was truly the highlight of my studies."

She said it brought to light the importance of close observation of struggling readers.

"A one-size-fits-all curriculum in most cases is not appropriate for a child who is having trouble learning to read," she said. "Instead, children need tailored instruction designed around their strengths and weaknesses, and this varies from child to child."

School board Chair Cathy Dobbs and other members said on Tuesday night that they appreciated Bates' insight on important educational issues and honored her for her time on the board with a resolution.

"We will miss her commitment and dedication to upholding public education principles and policies, her willingness to listen to concerns of the public and her unique ability to discern quickly what is in the best interest for public education in Newton County," reads the resolution.

But Bates said the school board as a whole has been successful.

"Diversity is important," Bates said, adding that the other board members have strong backgrounds in finance, real estate, public safety and business. "Even though we don't always agree and we've made difficult decisions ... we always have a good relationship."

She said she cannot say that she has accomplished any one thing, as she is one of five members, but she is glad about the offering of school choice with the successful Fairview Theme School, recycling of foam lunch trays and continuing the use of paraprofessionals at the elementary level.

Bates also commends the formation of the Newton County Foundation for Educational Excellence while she was on the board. This week, Bates also purchased brick pavers at Sharp Stadium, which support the foundation, in honor of Newton County School System Superintendent Steven Whatley, each of the remaining four school board members and former school board member Rickie Corley.

Now, she will finish settling in her family's new home in South Carolina -- about 15 minutes from her parents and close enough for her husband to continue his business in Covington -- while she works as an assistant professor in the reading department at Clemson University's College of Education and the director of Clemson's Reading Recovery Training Center.

"I have always wanted to work at the university level," she said. "I will be teaching graduate courses in reading to lead teachers who will then go back to their districts and teach their teachers. Next year, I am most looking forward to teaching, but I am also very excited about the research piece of my position."

For Newton County schools, she hopes for a smooth transition and excitement.

"We are going to experience significant change as we welcome a new superintendent and three new board members," she said. "While this may be unsettling to some, I think it is a wonderful opportunity to expand our horizons with new ideas and new energy."

During the meeting Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved her suggested replacement to be Greg Proffitt, the vice president of Newton Federal Bank in Covington, husband to Indian Creek Middle School teacher Betsy and father to a rising seventh grader at Indian Creek Middle School and a rising fourth-grader at Ficquett Elementary School. He will complete her remaining term until January, when an elected individual will take over the seat.

"He has a strong financial background and, moving forward, that is something of great concern," Bates said Tuesday. "We have concerns for the 2012 budget ... (and) it's another set of eyes for the next six months."