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School superintendent holds last leadership forum

COVINGTON -- Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews held his last leadership forum with a group of education stakeholders on Tuesday morning.

Since Mathews began in NCSS in 2010, he has held a Superintendent's Community Leadership Forum each semester. Usually, Mathews invites members from each school's PTO and other local business and organization leaders to hear the system's progress, look ahead and discuss relevant issues.

About 25 individuals attended the forum, which is Mathews' last, since he will retire at the end of June. Those in attendance included system employees, Newton County Board of Education Chair Abigail Coggin and member Shakila Henderson-Baker, several school PTO members and a few other business and community organization leaders.

During the meeting, Mathews and Samantha Fuhrey, deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction, presented information about the system's upcoming SPLOST IV referendum and next year's accreditation visit from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Concerning the SPLOST election, Mathews noted that the funding, which is a continuation of a current tax, would provide property tax relief, school security and technology, student transportation and school maintenance.

Mathews also presented some of the system's recent accomplishments to the group, including several schools being recognized by the state for academic achievements and increasing test scores.

"I see day to day in schools teachers working very hard and increasingly smarter. We have people who care deeply about our kids," Mathews said. "You can't find a harder working group than our teachers and principals at present time, even though they're not perfect."

He noted that schools, parents and the community all needed to work together, however, for schools to continue improving.

"No public school is any better than the community at large," he said. "The community must help us if we're to be the excellent system that we want to be."

He said that of the 19,000 students in Newton County schools, only a small percentage cause a disruption, and it's usually because of the lack of a parent or guardian, not a teacher or administrator, who are often blamed.

"School personnel cannot do it all," Mathews said. "They cannot be the chief disciplinary."

He said that is the parents' jobs, and if the parents do not do that, then it makes school staff work even harder.

"Short of that, we'll always be found lacking," he said.

Mathews said the system especially needs to work on improving college readiness, but ACT and SAT scores are improving, and more offerings like the Newton College & Career Academy are helping.

"This system has a lot of work to do to get kids college ready, but we're working on it," he said.