While the search is still on to fill the school superintendent’s position, for at least six months the county’s system is going to be helmed by a man with long experience.
On Monday night, the Fayette County Board of Education named Dan Colwell as interim school superintendent when current school superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden leaves his position at the end of the month.
At a specially called meeting on September 19, 2012, the Superintendent and Board of Education agreed, in accordance with the terms of the Superintendent’s employment agreement, to a mutual termination of that agreement effective January 1, 2013. Bearden’s contract was originally slated to be up in December of this year, but in June the school board extended the contract until June 2015. Last week, it was announced that Bearden had landed the job as school superintendent to the Rome City schools in Floyd County, to begin in January 2013.
According to his resume, the 36-year Fayetteville resident has held positions ranging from teacher and coach at Jonesboro High School to the Coordinator of Leadership Training at the Griffin Resa offices since 2008 and is currently the RT3 area Effectiveness Coach for the Henry County school system. He has also been the assistant principal at Mundy’s Mill Middle School and principal at Lovejoy Middle School.
Colwell is the former head of Georgia’s sixth-largest school system, Clayton County, whose controversial firing in an illegal action in 2003 preceded the decline of the school system which has Clayton facing their third accreditation crisis and the possible sanction of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). He was responsible for managing the county’s over $305 million budget.
Colwell, a trim well-dressed man with silvering hair, appeared happy to accept the board’s unanimous support for the position.
“I didn’t apply initially, but I was approached by so many people I know about this. It’s really hard to turn your back on this school system.”
Though it’s too early to make any predictions about how he’ll handle the position, Colwell says his first order of business will be to sit down with staff members to fill him in on what they see needs to be addressed without affecting student achievement.
“We owe it to our students.”
In a three-prong approach, Colwell says he knows the system needs to address the declining morale in the school system without the added distraction of losing a leader they respected.
“Employees are highly regarded; they need to know that before we can get on to the other severe challenges affecting the school system.
“We need to create an effective budget that, to my knowledge, has to contend with an at least $15 million deficit. That’s a tremendous challenge.”
Colwell says he understands that resources need to be creatively optimized for maximum effect and to have a minimum affect on the students and community.
“Fayette County has one of the best communities around and it is a direct result of school system’s excellence.”
As part of that budgeting system, Colwell is going to have to look at the efforts of a
redistricting committee that has been evaluating school closure impact on the budget and the community.
“I am excited that Mr. Colwell is stepping in on an interim basis. Not only does he bring a wealth of knowledge and experience, but he is a member of our community,” said school board chairman Leonard Presberg. “And as someone who raised a family here, he knows how important our school system is to our County. I am confident that Dan can lead us through this period and leave us well prepared for when we hire a new Superintendent.”
School board member Marion Key said she called around when Colwell’s name came up.
“I talked to six or eight people and, invariably, the comments were favorable. I heard he could make the hard decisions, he was good at budgeting, he was smart, innovative, he always had the teachers’ backs, he had a high moral compass and he gave credit to others, rather than taking it for himself,” said Key.
Key noted that she hoped that hiring Colwell in the interim would raise morale among the school system employees.
“He’s got his work cut out for him.”