Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews presided over his last graduation ceremonies last month. He is pictured congratulating an Alcovy High School student for graduating. Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
COVINGTON -- Outgoing Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews has spent only three years in Newton County, but he hopes to leave lasting and growing accomplishments in the district.
"I've very much enjoyed my tenure in Newton County Schools -- folks have been good to me," he said Thursday. "I trust I leave the school system with a legacy of improved student learning."
Mathews' tenure will end at the conclusion of the June 25 meeting of the Newton County Board of Education.
"Naturally, I'd like to see the progress sustained," Mathews said. "We're not where we want to be, but we're not where we were either."
He began as NCSS superintendent in July 2010. Upon retirement, the 60-year-old will have worked for 38 years in public education, including 21 years as a superintendent in Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida and Virginia.
Mathews said that one of his greatest accomplishments while in NCSS is the rate of improvement, as noted through a comparison of scores on the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests in the elementary and middle schools and the End of Course Tests in the high schools from the 2009-10 school year to the 2011-12 school year. Schools improved between 33 and 88 percent over that period.
"For me, the bottom line has always been educating to the degree at which students can succeed in learning," Mathews said, adding that math scores need the most improvement going forward. "I've truly enjoyed my time with students, staff and community members. Newton County is a great community with a bright future, especially as the school system improves."
Although he helped make more than $8 million in cuts upon entering NCSS, he also feels he helped introduce a strategic framework that focuses on intense professional development and school-based professional learning communities, as well as using research-based instructional strategies and building background knowledge. The strategic plan that incoming Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey helped develop builds off that framework.
Since Fuhrey was named incoming superintendent, Mathews said he has spent time with her and will spend more time with her in the coming weeks showing her more how his office functions and the ins and outs of it.
"I think she's going to do very well," Mathews said. "She's very bright. She's homegrown and extremely committed to this community."
He advises Fuhrey and the board four things upon his departure: "focus, focus, focus" on teaching for learning for all students; always put students in the center of decision making; even as others may disagree, always treat others with dignity and respect; and "somehow, some way" gain genuine parent involvement in the school system, so parents can provide support for homework, good behavior at school and overall encouragement for education.
He also hopes the board will keep an eye on the budget for the 2014-15 school year.
"I think we're in good shape for 13-14 ... but if the county digest continues to decline, the system could have to cut several millions going into 14-15," Mathews said.
Upon retirement, Mathews and his wife Pat plan to relocate to his home state of Louisiana, where most of his family lives or lives nearby.
He said he's looking forward to eating more Cajun cuisine, reuniting with family and friends and enjoying more time with his family, including his 2-year-old twin grandsons.
"I also hope to reinvent myself as a fisherman," Mathews added.
He also might spend some time teaching or working for an educational company.
"I plan to work part time -- my wife won't let me stay at home full time," he said. "But I've got plenty of time to figure that out."