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School superintendent to retire
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Newton County School Superintendent Gary Mathews announced Wednesday that he plans to retire June 30, 2013 -the end of the school system's fiscal year - after fulfilling his three-year contract with the NCSS.

"As my twin grandsons Luke and Ethan, consume much of my attention these days, and as my 83-year-old father and 87-year-old mother-in-law continue to age, it is time for me to reprioritize. Simply put, at age 60 in May, and after 38 years in public education inclusive of my 21 years in the superintendency, I want to spent much more time with loved ones, including my five grown children," said Mathews in a press release.

Mathews has served as superintendent since July 1, 2010, following the retirement of Steve Whatley. He came to Newton County from Williamsburg, Va., where he was the superintendent of the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, which had an enrollment of 10,500 students, 1,700 employees and a $113 million budget.

He had previously been superintendent of three districts with more than 20,000 students, the largest of which was in Baton Rouge which had 56,000 students. Mathews initially signed a three-year contract with an annual salary of $159,400.

He said in a previous story that he was leaving the position in Virginia so he could be closer to his ailing father who lived in Louisiana, as well as his five children, all of whom live in the Southeast.

"Academically, we have our public schools positioned to continue the upward achievement of our students as seen over the past three years... While challenges such as graduation rate persist, as the old saying goes, ‘We're not where we want to be, but we're not where we were just a while ago.' That's good news for our students, staff and community thanks to the dedication and labor of many," said Mathews in a press release.

"As far as what I am most proud of during my time as school superintendent, it has to be the increasingly positive student achievement results," he said in an email Thursday. "For all of my career, I have felt that learning results matter most. As such, in NCSS at present, we show all-time high results on Georgia's End-of-Course Tests as we improved in seven out of eight subjects with the most recent results and exceeded the state average in five of those eight subject areas for the first time.

Additionally, the most recent CRCT scores show improvement in 22 of 30 instances for a 73 percent improvement clip for each of the last two school years. For the first time on CRCTs, our system exceeded or equaled the state's performance in eight instances.

And with the release of the 2012-13 Georgia High School Writing Test results for our system this week, we are at an all-time high of 96 percent passing exceeding the state average with all three of our high schools showing improvement versus last year.

As you may recall, "exceeding the state average" on state assessments was a benchmark we established from my first day of service. As far as college admission test results, ACT and SAT, I'm pleased that our most recent results show improvement on each of these, though I've consistently said that we have a ways to go in this area. Success has a way of building or gaining momentum. We have that now thanks to dedicated teachers and principals who have taken my urging of ‘best practice' to heart. As I often suggest, I don't want to make things up. As such, we do have a body of research that is clear about what school practitioners should be doing. When studied, practiced and adhered to as intended, these best practices work."

Mathews said he hoped to accomplish several things prior to his last day, including possibility working with his replacement prior to his retirement.

"I would suggest that the selection of the next superintendent is critical. In my view, the Board of Education must select someone who is intimately familiar with and supportive of research-based instructional strategies, building student background knowledge, technology integration and Professional Learning Communities.

These items certainly line up with ‘best practice' research and have been the very intense focal point of professional development for teachers and principals over the past three years. I do not believe our teaching faculty nor their principals will accept less. Short of such a person, the board risks going backwards at a time when the achievement momentum is most certainly forward. In fact, the all-crucial AdvancED accreditation visit to NCSS in March of 2014 will indeed focus, in large part, on the items I've noted of emphasis in NCSS. The new superintendent will need to know the NCSS strategic framework quite well for the system to have the most optimal opportunity at success."

Most board members have expressed their remorse at the loss of Mathews, and praised the work he has done and his accomplishments for the nearly 20,000 students in Newton County.

"I appreciate the transparency and the passion for public education that Dr. Mathews has shown in his work for our school system," said District 3 board representative Shakila Henderson-Baker. "Because of his leadership, I believe that Newton County School System is on the right path for our students. I wish him the best as he transitions into a life of retirement."

"He has been a fundamental asset to the school system over the period of time he has been here. His experience, especially in curriculum, is definitely going to be missed and has some difficult shoes to replace," said Chairman Eddie Johnson.

"Dr. Mathews and his leadership will be missed in our community," said District 5 board representative Abigail Morgan Coggin. "During his tenure, our schools have been through many transformations and he and his staff have done an amazing job leading the way. I can't say I am happy to see him go but I do understand the reasons behind his decision. I wish he and Pat the best."

District 4 board representative Almond Turner said he was impressed with Mathews' focus on both student achievement and transparency during his time in Newton County. "I hate to see him leave... He's done a number of good things for the school system... I've enjoyed working with him; he's done a good job since he's been here," Turner said.

"He always did put out things to let people know what his itinerary was for the week and month and made sure the public was aware of different things, and always made sure he commented on the issues, whether positive or negative... He's been very transparent, making sure the students were doing what they said they were doing and holding teachers accountable."

District 1 board representative Jeff Meadors did not respond to a request for comments on Mathews retirement.

The search for the new superintendent is scheduled to be discussed at the combined Board of Education work session and meeting on Dec. 18.