BOE picks new superintendent

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education has selected a new leader for its schools about two weeks after selecting three finalists from a pool of 51 applicants.

Gary S. Mathews, currently superintendent of Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools in Virginia, will replace outgoing Superintendent Steven Whatley, who announced in late October his plans to retire June 30, after more than 20 years at NCSS and four years as superintendent.

"Dr. Mathews brings with him years of experience, enthusiasm and leadership," said Cathy Dobbs, chair of the Newton County Board of Education, on Thursday morning in a press release after the board unanimously approved the hiring. "He was clearly the best person to fill this very important position, and we are looking forward to welcoming him to Newton County."

Mathews has held his current position for five years and has more than 18 years of experience as a school district superintendent, previously working as superintendent of Carroll Independent School District in Texas, Rockwood School District in Missouri, East Baton Rouge School District in Louisiana and St. Johns County School District in Florida.

He's also worked as an assistant superintendent in Texas and Mississippi. He began his education career in 1976 as a high school teacher at JFK High School in New Orleans and also has experience as a high school principal.

According to his 21-page resume, he's left previous positions for pay increases and due to family illness.

Mathews said he's looking forward to moving to Newton County for both professional and personal reasons.

"On a professional level, I am aware of Newton County's excellent reputation and desire for continuous improvement of student and staff learning. As a learner, especially committed to positive outcomes for students, I look forward to joining the Newton team," he said in the press release. "On a personal level, my relocation to Georgia puts me within a one day's drive to aging parents and each of five children. Family is most important to my wife, Pat, and me, and we need to be closer than we are now."

He's earned several awards and honors throughout his career in education -- The Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development named him Virginia Curriculum Leader of the Year in 2007, and the Education Technology Think Tank in Washington, D.C., awarded him the ET3 TEC Champion Leadership Award in 2006. He was Louisiana Superintendent of the Year in 1998, and in 1996, the Public Relations Association of Louisiana named him Louisiana Communicator of the Year.

Mathews is a member of the American Association of School Administrators, the American Educational Research Association and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. He also has served in numerous civic organizations, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Rotary Club, YMCA, Boy Scouts, United Way and Little League.

Mathews earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Louisiana State University in 1975, a master's degree in educational administration from Loyola University in New Orleans in 1979 and an education specialist in educational administration and a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1981 and 1982, respectively. He also holds education certificates from The College of William & Mary, the University of Virginia and Harvard University.

James Nickols, chairman of the W-JCC Board of Education, said Thursday that Mathews has worked with both underachieving and overachieving students in the school system, which is made up of 10,500 students, compared to the almost 20,000 in NCSS.

"He's done a very good job," Nickols said. "He's continued the process of improvement and looking to raise the achievement of minorities ... and narrowing that gap."

Nickols credits Mathews with leading students to take more Advanced Placement exams, providing principal leadership training, working to improve the graduation rate and getting input from community members.

"He's big on best practices and reading and tracking what's going on in the educational world and being innovative, bringing that in," Nickols said.

Mathews' three-year contract with NCSS includes the salary of $159,400 per year, and he also is eligible for insurance and other employee benefits that other 12-month employees receive, according to Sherri Viniard, director of public relations at NCSS. The board will reimburse Mathews $7,500 for expenses incurred in the move from Virginia to Newton County, she said. The board enlisted the help of the Georgia School Boards Association to conduct a nationwide search for the position at a cost of $8,000.

Mathews is set to take the helm effective July 1, and NCSS will host a meet and greet reception on April 23 in Mathews' honor at the Newton County BOE offices located at 2109 Newton Drive N.E. in Covington.