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Posted: June 8, 2013 6:31 p.m.

Mathews plans active retirement

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Gone Fishing.

That may be the sign left on the desk of outgoing Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews. The soon-to-be retiree has plans to become a fisherman, wear purple and gold while rooting for his favorite football team, the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, and spending much-needed time with his family.

Mathews, who has been superintendent in Newton County Schools for the past three years, said he is pleased with the progress made by the school system and is happy to be leaving on a positive note. However, he said, leaving a 38-year long career in education is bittersweet.

"I certainly have enjoyed my career in public education and I have enjoyed these last few years in Newton. I will miss both the work and the people who do the work," Mathews said. "I have been fortunate to work with outstanding educators, especially when I look back at student achievement in places I’ve served.

"Without exception, I believe I left those systems better off than they were before in terms of student performance, and for me that is the bottom line."

Mathews’ career in public education began in 1975 as a student teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in New Orleans, where an unfortunate turn of events led him into teaching.

"My mentor teacher was Mrs. Delores Smith, a social studies teacher. She suffered from tuberculosis and during our time together when I was doing my student teaching; she passed away," Mathews said. "Prior to her passing, she recommended to then-principal Nolan Morgan that I be her replacement, and he hired me."

Mathews, 60, said initially, he wanted to earn a Ph.D. in political science at Louisiana State University and teach at the college level. However, he married his wife in his junior year of college and decided to delay teaching college and pursue a certification to teach social studies in secondary schools.

"Once entering public schools, I never looked back to the college prospect that I had at one time," Mathews said. "I did teach at the University of Houston for two summers, but that was two summer sessions." 

During his education career, Mathews has been a superintendent at five school districts around the nation, serving in Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida and Virginia. With his many years of experience as a superintendent, he shared his insights with incoming NCSS superintendent Samantha Fuhrey, who takes on the role on July 1.

"Focus, focus, focus on teaching and learning for all. Secondly, always keep students at the center of her decision making. Thirdly, work to secure greater parent involvement in the school system. Fourthly, as not everyone will always agree with every decision; provide everyone with dignity and respect, anyway," Mathews said.

After several months of lawsuits and dissent within the school board during Mathews’ last year as superintendent, he offered the same advice to members of the Board of Education as he did to Fuhrey.

As for Newton County Schools, Mathews said his hope is that each of the schools continues the academic progress the school system has seen over the past several years.

"It is finally realized that the Newton County School System can be the best amongst the state if they stay focused and work on those things directly related to improving student learning," Mathews said.

He will attend his last Board of Education meeting on June 25. He and his wife Patricia, will move back to Louisiana on June 27. Mathews said he is ready for the move back home.

"I’m looking forward to being with my father, especially, and we have five grown kids. We have twin grandsons. I have many aunts, uncles, cousins in Louisiana and Mississippi. I look forward to spending time with them because I have been away from Louisiana for 12 years now," he said.

"On Saturday nights in Baton Rouge, you know where I will be. I will be in Death Valley sometimes called Tiger Stadium. I’m a huge LSU football fan, so my wife and I plan to attend the games," Mathews said. 

"I love to fish. I intend to reinvent myself as a fisherman at some point because I used to do it with my father a long time ago and I haven’t been fishing in years, but I intend to start back… I am going to work part time; my wife and I are going to join the YMCA so we can swim and exercise and stay as healthy as we can.

"And we will make trips to St. John’s County, Fla., to visit our two little grandsons."

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