As both school superintendents in Bartow County wrap up their first year in their new positions, they say they’re happy with the accomplishments and progress they’ve seen in their school systems over the past 12 months.
Dr. Phillip Page succeeded Dr. John Harper as superintendent of Bartow County Schools June 1, 2018, while Cartersville City Schools’ new chief, Dr. Marc Feuerbach, took the reins from Dr. Howard Hinesley last July 1.
Page, who came to Bartow after serving as an assistant superintendent in Cobb County for three years, said it is “hard to believe I’ve completed my first year,” and he added he “can’t imagine how it could have been any better.”
“Before the ink could dry on my contract, I was so impressed with our community members, their ideas and willingness to help our school system,” he said. “Using our community profile as an indicator and working directly with our faith community, we launched our Read to Grow initiative. With a little direction and a lot of love for our students, over 150 volunteers worked on sight-word recognition and other literacy skills with our first-grade students inside four elementary schools. The results were astounding, with gains across the board. Read to Grow is truly unlike anything I have been a part of.”
The superintendent also said he’s heard “tearful first-grade teachers call this an ‘answered prayer.’”
“I’ve seen them selflessly work with volunteers every week to meet the needs of our students, and I’ve seen a school board strongly support the work that makes our system the very best it can be,” he said.
Other than the reading initiative, Page said he is “most proud of our specially designed cybersecurity program and our cultural shift to a professional learning community system.”
“The cybersecurity program is a new distance learning opportunity that will allow our students to earn three technology certifications,” he said. “No other high school program in Georgia offers all three credentials. These students will be employable upon graduation and have a distinct advantage over others entering the workforce.”
By implementing PLCs districtwide, this school system is “building a collaborative culture where educators are inspiring growth and change among themselves and in their students,” Page said.
“Children will be learning more at higher levels,” he said. “In fact, they can experience more than three years of growth over the course of only one school year when our PLCs are implemented with fidelity.”
Of all the school-related events Page attended during his first year, serving lunch at Hamilton Crossing Elementary as part of National School Lunch Week was “a memorable experience,” he said.
“They let me cook, serve and work the cash register,” he said. “I’ll never forget the looks on the students’ faces when their shock and uncertainty turned into laughter. We all had a good time.”
For all the success Page experienced during the year, there was one incident that he wishes could have gone differently.
“I vividly remember a late January day where we anticipated a winter weather ‘event’ so we closed schools, along with every other neighboring district,” he said. “However, it ended up being a clear, relatively sunny day. After that week of second-guessing and lamenting the inaccurate weather forecast, I decided to visit the world’s greatest weather prognosticator — Punxsutawney Phil. I think I’m better prepared for future weather events.”
Because Cartersville had a superintendent succession plan in place, Feuerbach — the principal of the high school since the 2014-15 school year — was named as soon as Hinesley announced his retirement in October 2017, giving him a little more time to learn about his new role.
But there still were aspects of the job that surprised him.
“I believe the transition that took place at the end of last year and the opportunity to spend time in various meetings allowed me to get a glimpse of what was to come so in some ways, the year followed my expectations,” he said. “However, experiencing the outstanding community support, the dedication of our staff and the enthusiasm of our students from the perspective of my new role was more exciting than I had expected.”
As he looks back over his first year, Feuerbach said he’s learned how “very fortunate” the school system is to have a “supportive school board and a team of caring faculty and staff members who truly want to offer our students the best educational experience possible.”
“I enjoyed seeing firsthand the great things happening at every level, from the classroom to the cafeteria to the central office,” he said. “I am proud of the positive gains we achieved academically and of the deepening relationships that were formed between our school personnel and students as a result of our intentional emphasis on fostering connection using techniques stemming from positive behavior interventions and supports and Capturing Kids’ Hearts.”
As for his proudest moments over the past year, Feuerbach said the system’s accomplishments are “plentiful, which makes it difficult to choose only a few.”
“However, I would have to say that I am proud of the enhanced security measures, the addition of the JROTC program at CHS, the overwhelmingly successful Donuts with Dads at CPS and family engagement nights at CES and CMS, the growth of our Mentor Canes program, the rollout of the new mobile app and the positive impacts and connections we saw in the lives of many students,” he said.
While he had “many memorable moments” from his first year, Feuerbach said two events stick out as being among his favorites.
“One occasion that comes immediately to mind was visiting Mrs. [Jenny] Moore’s fourth-grade class when someone had ‘abducted’ [Principal] Mrs. [Melissa] Bates,” he said. “Using methods they had learned in class, the students conducted a crime-scene investigation, interviewed suspects and located Mrs. Bates.”
His second memorable moment was the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2019.
“I was filled with pride as I saw many students whom I knew from my time as the CHS principal,” Feuerbach said. “Seeing it from a new perspective this year, the ceremony inspired my vision of students to come and motivated me to ensure that we continue to create a path for all of our students to cross that stage into the next phase of their lives, prepared with the tools to build success lives.”
Feuerbach said his focus for the year was to “observe the way we operate and to understand how we go about accomplishing our goals,” but he will tweak some things next year.
“While we are a highly efficient system, I look forward to implementing some adjustments and introducing some new ideas next year with the hope of expanding even further the valuable experience we offer our students and our community,” he said.
With their first year in their rear-view mirror, both Page and Feuerbach are looking toward the goals they’ve set for their second year at the helm.
“Next school year, we will be implementing phase 2 of the three-phase PLC process,” Page said. “District leaders laid the foundation, and now I’m excited to see each school’s leadership team continue their great work to ensure high levels of learning for all students.”
Feuerbach said one “big idea” the Cartersville system will begin exploring in the fall is the concept of True Accountability.
“We will delve into seeing what it means and how we can create structures and processes to best support that vision for our students and community as a whole,” he said. “We will host a few community conversations centered around this idea. I am looking forward to this process and speaking more about it next year.”
He also said the district has a few technology goals that include expanding the use of its learning management system.
“Finally, one of the core principles of a flourishing educational system is partnerships,” he said. “We are so fortunate to have beneficial relationships with our local industries and businesses. I am eager to not only continue but to also enlarge the cooperative work so that we are offering our students the most relevant workforce skills.”