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Posted: March 26, 2010 8:30 a.m.

BOE chooses new superintendent

Gary Mathews offered position

Courtesy of the Newton County School System/

This is a brief biography for Gary Mathews.

Gary Mathews will be the next superintendent of the Newton County School System. The Newton County Board of Education unanimously approved hiring Mathews by a 4-0 vote at an 8:30 a.m. special called meeting Thursday.

Mathews will come from Williamsburg, Va., where he is the superintendent of the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, which has an enrollment of 10,500 students, 1,700 employees and a $113 million budget. He has previously been superintendent of three districts with over 20,000 students, the largest of which was in Baton Rouge and had 56,000 students.

For comparison the NCSS has 19,449 students, 3,012 employees and a $151 million budget.

Mathews has been mailed a three-year contract that calls for him to make an annual salary of $159,400; he said he will sign it and mail it right back. NCSS

Superintendent Steve Whatley’s salary is $148,030.

Mathews has been a superintendent at five school districts around the nation over the past 18 years. BOE Chairman Cathy Dobbs said his vast experience and communicative personality made him the most appealing choice out of three finalists.

"He does have an unbelievable résumé. What impressed us the most was the way he talked about communicating with the community and members of the schools system. Not to mention all of the achievements he’s made in his district," Dobbs said. "It’s nice bringing in someone from outside Georgia that has different experiences and views. There are some interesting things going on around the country, some that we can use here and some we can’t. I think he will bring a lot of experience — I’m really excited."

Mathews was chosen over fellow finalists, Steven E. Ballowe, a former superintendent for Gainesville City Schools, and Timothy G. Lull, the superintendent in Walton County.

Mathews is leaving his Virginia position so he can be closer to his ailing father who lives in Louisiana, as well as his five children, all of whom live in the Southeast. In 2009, Mathews was among four finalists for the Mississippi state superintendent position, but did not get the position. He was being considered as superintendent of Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish, but withdrew his name from consideration when he was named a finalist for the Newton County position.

"I’m very grateful for the opportunity to serve the citizens and students of Newton County. They have excellent reputations and are wonderful professionals from all accounts," Mathews said in a phone interview Wednesday.

During his time in Newton County, Mathews said he surreptitiously interviewed 10 local residents about the NCSS.

"Nine out of 10 gave the system two big thumbs up. I’ve had the opportunity to lead the top three school districts in their respective states. The opportunities here remind me of those results," he said.

Further budget cuts are expected to be the NCSS’s biggest issue, but Mathews has experience dealing with cuts during his stints in Virginia and Texas. His recent proposal for his Virginia school district calls for $6.5 million and 44.5 positions to be cut next school year.

"My experience will serve me well on this topic. Both in Texas and Virginia; I have undergone significant reductions in funding. I think we came back well in both cases. I helped rebuild the fund balance in Texas and was able to navigate the current cuts in Virginia," he said. "Certainly the budget issues are very stark and very real. But again, I trust my background and experience. Not that we can solve the economic meltdown, (but we can get through any cuts.)"

Mathews was formerly superintendent at the Carroll Independent School District in Grapevine, Texas, from 2002-2005; superintendent at the Rockwood School District in Eureka, Mo., from 2001 to 2002; superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish School District in Louisiana from 1995 to 2001; and superintendent of St. Johns County School District in St. Augustine, Fla., from 1992 to 1995.

Mathews has moved around frequently, but he said he has good reason to move every time. He moved from Florida to Louisiana because he was heavily recruited and Louisiana is his home state. He moved to Missouri because he thought he had accomplished all that he could during his six years in Baton Rouge. He moved to Texas to be closer to his mother who passed away in 2003. He left for Virginia because he had dealt with challenging budget situations in Texas, where the state had instituted a "Robin Hood" system where they redistributed money from his school district to poorer districts.

However, now that he is within a day’s drive of his father, step-mother and all of his children, he plans to stay in Newton County for the foreseeable future.

"Newton County will be our last stint. I hope to serve here for the next seven to eight years," he said.

While Mathews finishes up his tenure in Virginia, he said he will work closely with Whatley to learn more about Newton County. He said he is already pouring through statistics and becoming more familiar with Georgia’s specific standardized tests. While he sees room for improvement in the CRCT scores, he is impressed with the county’s current rankings.

Mathews will be in Newton County on April 23 to meet and greet NCSS employees and the general public. He said he hopes to attend a Relay-for-Life event that day and meet the teachers and parents on the front lines.

Dobbs said Mathews communication skills were an important factor in hiring him, and Mathews said in Virginia he sent monthly updates to employees and public groups, hosted a radio show where residents could call in and wrote frequent columns for the school Web site. However, the first thing he plans to do in Newton County is listen.

"I do want to look, learn and listen to people. One mistake people make is to start on initiatives without learning. I want to talk to staff and citizens for some time before I head off to the great blue yonder," he said.

According to a Nov. 6, 2009, article that ran in The Virginia Gazette, Mathews had his fair share of supporters and critics.

"He has been criticized over his handling of the alternative-ed program, and critics say the division is top-heavy with administrators. Last spring he was sharply criticized after his proposed budget showed a 4 percent increase in compensation for himself while teachers got no raise and some positions were cut," according to the article, which was provided by author Susan Robertson.

However, Mathews' tenure was longer than either of his two predecessors, and in the article he is quoted as saying he was proud of raising testing scores in the district.

Mathews has been a professional educator for 34 years, starting out as a substitute teacher in 1976. He received a doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1982. For a copy of his partial résumé and his biography visit covnews.com.

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