What will be the most important decision made in Barrow County in 2010?
Well, if only we had a crystal ball and could see the unforeseen…
Still, there is one looming decision that today at the beginning of a new year appears to be at the top of the list — the decision by the Barrow County Board of Education on who will replace retiring school superintendent Ron Saunders.
While the Barrow County government has gotten a lot of ink, the leadership of the county school system is at least as important.
If measured by real dollars, the county school system is the largest local taxing authority and it is the county’s largest single employer with over 1,500 employees.
And if measured in terms of overall community impact, it would be difficult to point to any other institution that is as important as the Barrow County School System. From economic development to recreation to quality of life, no other single institution impacts Barrow County more than its public schools.
So the coming decision on hiring a new superintendent is truly a big deal for Barrow’s future. A wrong decision in hiring a superintendent can have devastating consequences for a county.
For his part, Saunders pulled the Barrow school system forward by a long-shot during his tenure, sometimes with critics kicking and screaming against change. And yet, an objective look shows Saunders raised the academic bar and brought the system to a new, higher level.
But that’s just the start and Saunders’ successor will have to raise the bar even higher if Barrow is to compete for a leadership role in Northeast Georgia.
With Oconee on one side and Gwinnett on the other, Barrow is surrounded by two of the state’s top school systems. To the north, Jackson County and the City of Jefferson school systems have also made large strides in recent years into the upper tier of Georgia’s public schools.
Barrow is squeezed in a highly-competitive environment where the quality of a community’s public schools impacts economic development and quality of life more than any other factors. Barrow has to become more competitive with its surrounding school systems to make the kind of progress its citizens deserve.
That’s won’t be an easy task. Barrow’s new superintendent will have to find a way to reach beyond just the academic community and motivate the entire county into reaching higher and further. To do that, the new superintendent will have to wrestle with a degree of malaise and apathy that pervades some areas of the community where education is not seen as being very important.
All of that will require honest, direct dialogue between school administrators and the community. Before improvements can be made, people will have to learn where the weaknesses really are.
So while some are focused on the Byzantine politics of the tumultuous county government, the really important decision for Barrow’s future is over at the BOE office where officials will soon be selecting a new superintendent.
That decision in 2010 will have more to do with the trajectory of Barrow’s future than anything else on the horizon.