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'Another chapter': NCSS Superintendent Whatley gears up for retirement

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

COVINGTON -- Newton County School Superintendent Steven Whatley may be busy packing up his office this week, but that doesn't mean you won't see him out in the community after he retires at the end of the month.

A native of Mississippi, Whatley said he and his family intend to stay in Newton County, where he has lived since 1992.

"It's home," he said. "We will stay here."

His son Andrew attended middle and high school in Newton County, his daughter Erin Elizabeth and her family live in Newton County, his wife Marilynn was a teacher in Newton County and he's spent the last 20 years here. He also plans to stay involved in the Rotary Club of Covington.

Still, there are some things he will have to get used to during retirement -- not having to wake up at 5 a.m., not attending late-night school board meetings and not making as many to-do lists.

"It's an opportunity," he said. "It's another chapter."

He's especially looking forward to starting a project that he's never gotten to -- turning an oak and iron wagon wheel into a table with stained glass on it.

"I want to do some things that I haven't been able to do on the creative side," Whatley said. "I just have to learn to pace myself and do the things I truly want to do."

He also is looking forward to spending time with his wife and their two children and spouses. The Whatleys have two grandchildren and are anticipating the birth of a third.

"It's exciting," Whatley said.

For now, he has been reflecting on his time in education and wishing good things for the county in the future.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in geology from Millsaps College in 1967, he started his career in education as a math and chemistry teacher at Vicksburg High School in Mississippi.

"I had always said I wanted to be a teacher," Whatley said. "I was inspired by the teachers I had in high school -- they were very dedicated folks. I got an outstanding foundation."

Later, he earned a master's in education administration from Mississippi College in 1972 and an educational doctorate in curriculum from the University of Georgia in 1974.

While in Mississippi, he was the second white administrator in what had been a historically black school during faculty desegregation -- when white teachers worked in black schools and black teachers worked in white schools. He also weathered a hurricane in the early 1980s in coastal Mississippi, where two schools were destroyed and the others were closed for three weeks.

"I realized that the only way students were going to advance was through curriculum and instruction," Whatley said about why he got involved in school administration.

He came to Newton County in 1989 as associate superintendent after working in the Vidalia and Baldwin County schools as an assistant superintendent. In July 2006, he was named NCSS superintendent to replace retiring Superintendent Wendell Clamp.

"It's hard to believe (my retirement) is occurring," Whatley said. "I've grown to realize that every minute is important and you have to use them wisely."

Although the Newton County School System has faced difficult financial times over the past couple of years, Whatley has been impressed with grant writing efforts and community groups coming together to show support for schools. In 2011, NCSS will open a college and career academy using a $3 million state grant through a partnership with DeKalb Technical College.

"We have to continue to realize every student may not need four years of college," Whatley said. "They need post-secondary training and skills for the work place."

Newton High School also is continuing its partnership with Oxford College for its Academy of Liberal Arts, and other partnerships have formed to support Newton County schools.

"It's not about building schools, but what goes into those schools is what's important," Whatley said. "With good administrators and good teachers and parental support, regardless of the facilities, you will produce a good education."

Whatley said he will miss the close-knit community of educators who have become a family to him, and he hopes for good things for the system in the future.

"(The rough financial times) are not going to end anytime soon," Whatley said. "The years ahead -- as performance standards are increased and revenues shrink -- will be difficult years. Everyone needs to be committed to making sure we deliver the best instruction possible, treat employees fairly and balance those needs with how the community is financially and how they otherwise show support to education."