With more than 25 years of education experience, Samuel Light, one of the top three finalists for the superintendent, said he wants to be superintendent of Newton County School System because he would love to work for a district that is doing great things and he wants to build upon that.
Light, who currently serves as superintendent of the Illini Bluffs Community Unit School District no. 327 in Glasford, Ill., said he would love the opportunity to move back to Georgia and work for a larger school district. His current district only has 974 students.
“To move to a district of this size is more what I’m accustomed to,” Light said. “When I was in Georgia, I was in Savannah for four years, where I was associate [superintendent]. I was up in Elbert County, [where] I was a superintendent,” he said. “Because I have six years in Georgia, I would love to be able to be able to retire from Georgia. So, there are a lot of advantages to me coming back.”
Light, 49, was superintendent for Elbert County Public Schools in Elberton, from 2005 to 2008. He was an associate superintendent for Savannah Chatham County Public Schools from 2001 to 2005.
Before that, he served as both a principal and an assistant principal at several schools in the Duval County Public School System in Jacksonville, Fla., between the years of 1992 to 2001.
“I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a principal, I’ve been an associate superintendent working on accountability and assessment when I was in Savannah and then I became a superintendent in Illinois…forced to be everything,” he said.
Light has a bachelor’s degree in technology leadership from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Jacksonville University. He also has a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University.
He said working with a smaller district has allowed him to experience and work with different departments, which he said is why he has a lot to offer as a superintendent for the Newton County School System.
“I’ve done the budgets for five years here and, of course, 2.5 [years] in Georgia. I did the budget as well as the human resources, the special education… I’ve basically done everything here, and I have that experience to bring to Newton County. [As] one of the departments comes to me with recommendations or questions, I’ve got the experience of doing the job myself that between the department and myself, we can make the best decisions for the kids,” he said.
When it comes to budgets and dealing with deficits, Light said he has had experience with trimming budgets in order to keep a positive bottom line.
“Illinois is listed as 50th as the worst state financially in the United States for educational funding,” he said. “There are probably 17 or 19 school districts in Peoria County [and] I am the only school district in Peoria County that has a positive budget. The rest of them are in deficit spending.
“In Illinois, we have unions quite a bit and we had a strike at our school system two years ago and that strike caused obviously an extreme dissension between the teachers and the school board,” Light said.
“I started focusing our teachers on what was really important and why we were there and that was the kids,” he said. “Basically, you have to refocus the workforce and that’s what I did — [focus] them on what’s important.”
As for transparency with the community, Light said he would highlight the success of the students and the school system with “good news” segments during board meetings, which is something he currently does.
“There are a lot of great things going on in Newton County and we need to display that better and we need to talk about it more and we need to amplify the great things the kids are doing,” he said.
Light is a member of his local Rotary Club and the Masonic Lodge and was named the Optimist Club Person of the Year in Jacksonville. He is an adult and youth Sunday school teacher and a Little League baseball coach. He said if offer the position as superintendent in Newton County, he would love to continue his involvement in the community.
“All of those types of things to me are just being part of the community, and if I’m living in a community, I’m part of it because I enjoy it. I enjoy kids, I enjoy people and I will always be a part of what ever community I live in,” he said.
Though Light said he would like to retire in Georgia, he said if offered the opportunity to work as superintendent for the NCSS, retirement would be no time soon.
“I’ve got between 17 to 22 years to offer a school district. So it’s not going to be in three years, no way,” he said. “I’m going to be there a long time and I plan on doing a lot of great things for a long time.”
Light is married to his wife Kay. They have two adult children, Brian and Laura, who live in Georgia, and are one of Light’s motivations to move back to the area.