Rayfield: Schools get an A

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, August 3, 2010

If new Decatur County’s new school superintendent was to grade the system he’s taken the helm of, Fred Rayfield said it would have to be an A.

“I wouldn’t have had entertained the opportunity to come here if I didn’t think it was a class act, and I think right now for me, Decatur County School System is an A, but I think we can get to an A-plus,” said Rayfield, who has been on the job for a little more than two months.

Sure, there are some issues that need to be worked on—financially, the system needs to build back its reserves; graduation rates are not up to par; and there are other instructional, organizational and curriculum issues he would like to improve.

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“I think you have to put everything in context, and if you take it and compare it to other school systems with the same demographics, I think Decatur County is doing a good job,” Rayfield said.

Rayfield replaced former superintendent Ralph Jones, who retired in June. On Friday, Rayfield will take over the system with a house full of students.

During the past several weeks, Rayfield said he has been meeting with all eight schools’ principals and touring their schools. Earlier this week, Rayfield was meeting with the faculties and staff of each school.

What’s he said he’s found so far is a feeling of cohesiveness.

“I would feel good about putting my child in school here,” said Rayfield.

And that’s exactly what he and his wife, Tresa Rayfield, a data clerk at Jones-Wheat Elementary School, are doing. Their two daughters, Charley, 13, is an eighth-grader involved in band and tennis, and Bailey, 9, is a fourth-grader involved in softball. All the family is also involved in showing livestock.

Rayfield said those visits and those lines of communication are his style.

“I’ve got a variety of background and experiences that I bring a leadership style that is very open and honest,” Rayfield said during a recent interview. “I’m going to do everything in my power to cover technical parts of the job, but when the things are all said and done, being superintendent, a tremendous proportion of your time is spent in just pure, good communication with people and building relationships with people, and I really pride myself with being good at that.”

Rayfield was superintendent at the Cook County, Ga., School System for seven years, where he rose through the ranks. Also while at Cook County, he became familiar with Decatur County and other southwest Georgia counties while doing evaluations for the 4-H and other agricultural learning programs, so he knew the county from the agricultural side.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the progressiveness of the town of Bainbridge and everything that is going on,” Rayfield said. “I didn’t expect quite as much.”

Another nice surprise has been the talent of all the administrative personnel—Decatur County’s staff is ahead of the curve in terms of school improvement, curriculum and instruction, he said.

“I think you’re got a tremendous set of leaders on the administrative team, from the central office administration, through the principals, to the building level,” Rayfield said.

One of the earliest problems tackled was the student information system, in which student transcripts and other information was causing problems.

“The one that they were on was not doing anything that they needed it to do,” Rayfield said of the old student information system that the county had for less than a year. He said it’s all clear now. “That was just a morale killer for those folks who were doing the data work at the schools.”

Rayfield said he’s also going to push for a district-wide accreditation process instead of a site-specific process. By doing this district-wide, Rayfield said the school improvement plans are tied together with the same objectives and strategies.

He said in light of the current financial strains, Rayfield wants to stay away from huge facility projects for the time being.

“There are some older facilities among the elementary schools; they certainly are on the list for improving,” Rayfield said. “They are extremely clean and they are very well-kept for their age, but I think that in some point in time, they will have to be some attention to them.”

Rayfield said he would also like to see the school system administration become more centralized instead of being scattered throughout the county, but “I think it’s important to work on facilities where students are housed first.”

But more importantly, Rayfield said he wants to see improvements made in student performance and achievement.

“I want the facilities to improve and to be nice, and that will come, but those things aren’t as important to me as what we’re going to do with staff in moving forward.”