Where will Samantha Fuhrey, affectionately called Sam, lead Newton County schools?
The answer comes forth in the new Strategic Plan, co-authored and presented by Fuhrey at the monthly meeting of the board on May 21. The comprehensive plan lends insight as to why Fuhrey emerged most likely to succeed in continuing incremental gains in student achievement in Newton.
Fuhrey's strategy, housed in 18 pages of system collaboration, serves as a roadmap for the way forward. With a three-pronged focus on academic excellence, instructional excellence and a culture of excellence, the plan stands alone as one of the most comprehensive the county has known and a likely rival to plans across the nation.
When I ran for elected office three years ago, local media solicited of all candidates the single biggest challenge at the time for Newton County schools. Both verbally and in writing then, as now, I alone named student achievement as our top challenge. It is the grease that makes the engine run and is far more painstaking than approving a budget.
In his work on the Stockdale Paradox, leadership titan Jim Collins writes about confronting the brutal facts and creating a culture where truth is heard. To the dismay of those who assault truth and its critical value in affecting positive school change, I persist in exposing success and failure in local, state and national schools, utilizing truth to push for strong instructional leadership, improved teacher recruitment and retention, and greater participation in post-secondary college programs.
Board members set direction and policy, hiring only the position of superintendent. If motioning to support Fuhrey is the only thing I do well during my term, then I have set direction that exceeds my dreams years ago.
Fuhrey owns both the acumen and confidence requisite to lead Newton to what she calls "greatness." Like a Collins Level 5 leader, hers is not a confidence characterized by arrogance; it is a collaborative approach where I have witnessed her spearhead innovative programs like STEM to meet workforce needs. I have witnessed her push the clock toward midnight to help one high school student develop a plan for success. For Fuhrey, they all matter, collectively and individually.
Her plan puts educational excellence front and center, building a culture around increased student achievement and individual accountability. Professional Learning Communities in each school will focus on instruction and outcomes through ongoing inquiry and action steps.
Rigorous coursework, learning-focused school planning, intra-district meetings, highly qualified staff, technology integration and college readiness form pieces of a plan Fuhrey calls triangular. The final plan document, titled "Culture of Excellence," defines a plan to create a culture of high expectations for students and staff.
As Collins argues, "Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline."
If followed, the Newton Plan will never serve as circumstantial evidence for future school failure, for it is feverishly conscious, leaving little room for both negotiation and doubt that the future spells greatness.
Jeff Meadors has served in elected and appointed positions in education and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org