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Posted: May 26, 2012 6:38 p.m.

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Social Circle school superintendent Bettye Ray leaves lasting legacy

Social Circle is losing our highly respected Superintendent of Social Circle City Schools who plans to retire at the end of the current school year. Actually, Dr. Bettye Ray is not really leaving the city and she is not really retiring. She has other plans for the future which I was privileged to learn about from her. I have served with Dr. Ray on various volunteer projects over the years and have been extremely impressed with her knowledge, leadership and, most of all, her professional manner.

Dr. Ray has had an extensive background in the field of education. She taught business education in Social Circle and DeKalb County high schools for nine years. In Social Circle, she served as an assistant principal and vocational supervisor at Social Circle High School (1988-91), Middle School Principal (1991-96) and High School Principal (1996-97). In 1997, she left Social Circle Schools to become the Secondary Curriculum Director for Newton County Schools, and then became Superintendent of the Stewart County Schools in Lumpkin in 1999. She now has been Superintendent of Social Circle City Schools since 2003, and, upon retirement, will have completed her ninth year in that position.

Her educational background is equally impressive. After earning a bachelor's degree in business education from Fort Valley State University in 1976, she completed her post graduate studies during summer months and on weekends while working full time. She earned a master's degree in business education from West Georgia University in 1982, a specialist degree in education leadership and administration from Georgia State University in 1987, and a doctorate degree in school administration from Vanderbilt University in 1991.

When I looked at a listing of Dr. Ray's honors and accomplishments, I was frankly awestruck. So I asked her, "Why in the world are you retiring? You have done so much, and have so much going for you and because of you." Her answer was simple, "Because I am burning the candle at both ends and also in the middle!" Her life has now changed, and it's all because of two little bundles of energy called grandkids. They came to live with Dr. Ray a little over a year ago, and now Sarah, 7, and Caleb, 6, require her undivided attention. Dr. Ray acknowledges that being school superintendent is a 24/7 job, and she cannot do justice to everything. So she has chosen to "retire."

I learned that Dr. Ray's idea of retiring is not quite what most people imagine. She looks at this as an opportunity to realize a dream of having her own business without the intense pressure of a highly demanding job. Her business venture will of necessity be part-time at first, particularly when the children are at school. She plans to initiate an education consulting business to work with aspiring and current leaders in the education field. This will involve mentoring and coaching superintendents, principals and other educators to become more effective leaders. It will also involve holding workshops and classes, as well as engaging in one-on-one mentoring. Dr. Ray also expects to do some adjunct teaching at a local university.

Many accomplishments that have been achieved by Social Circle City Schools have been as a result of Dr. Ray's leadership, e.g. receiving the prestigious Governor's Cup for the largest gains in SAT scores for three years, being one of the first 150 schools in the U.S. to be awarded District Accreditation as a Quality School System, and having the graduation rate increased from 77 percent in 2004 to 93.5 percent in 2011. Those things of which she is most proud include introducing foreign language in the early grades and embarking on a path for the Social Circle Primary, Elementary and Middle Schools to becoming candidate schools for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program - to help develop the "intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world."
She also spoke with great pride on the data-based decision process that has been implemented by teachers and administrators. In fact, I visited the "chart room" where numerous bar graphs show test results for students at the different grade levels, rates of absenteeism and graduation, and other evaluation criteria. This information is used in decision making, pointing to where additional attention is needed to improve scores and behaviors.

Tim Lemonds, chairman of the current Social Circle School Board said, "I have known Dr. Bettye Ray since her days as a teacher at Social Circle High School. She held her students to high expectations, as she has done with her staff since she became an administrator. This is evident in what she has accomplished for our Social Circle schools. She has had the district accredited by SACS twice under her leadership. She has also had the graduation rate increase every year since she has been the superintendent. Dr. Ray has done a great job for the school system and she will be missed."

Mayor Hal Dally, a former School Board Chairman said, "Dr. Bettye Ray is one of those rare people who have the ability to create a vision, build a team and carry out the plan. She does this with success of the student as the goal and combines compassion for all stakeholders involved in the process. Her presence at Social Circle City Schools will be sorely missed but her legacy will be an influence for years to come. The teachers and staff that have interacted with her will carry her impact forward. Bettye is a dear friend who I hope truly enjoys her well-deserved retirement."

Ms. Barb Wright, retired Administrative Services director at Social Circle City Schools said, "It has been a pleasure to work with Dr. Bettye Ray for the past nine years. She is a visionary leader who exemplifies strength, courage, and persistence. I consider myself fortunate to have spent the last phase of my education career with someone I respect and admire, as a colleague and a friend."

Finally, curriculum director Karen Bryant said, "Dr. Bettye Ray is an inspiring, visionary leader who leaves a lasting legacy for the Social Circle City School District. Under her leadership, the district was among the first in the nation to achieve District Accreditation as a Quality School System through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2007. That designation was recently renewed in 2012. Dr. Ray is warm and approachable, a true servant leader for both the school district and the Social Circle community."

In her role as school superintendent, Ms. Ray has continually reminded her staff to "always remember why we exist. We exist for children. If we fail to educate boys and girls, then shame on us."

She feels blessed to have worked in the great City of Social Circle, with a great Board (of Education) with whom she has enjoyed good working relationships. She feels that she was placed in this position by God - and gives him all the credit for which she has been able to accomplish.

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