Local News

March 31, 2013

‘Same person in a different chair’

Superintendent Gilreath promises openness, support

After several years of “frustrating” state and federal budget cuts, new Superintendent Judy Gilreath says Whitfield County Schools “has been cut down to the bare muscle.”

But despite the financial difficulties hanging over county schools, Gilreath accepted the offer by school board members to captain the school system after then-superintendent Danny Hayes announced his sudden retirement earlier this month.

Gilreath, who was sworn in on March 15, says the position has already brought “long, sometimes 12-hour work days and lots of new duties.”

So why did she take the job?

“I think I can make a difference in more lives this way,” she said. “I know that I will get criticism and make mistakes. I fully expect (the media) to report it, too. That’s only fair. People feel comfortable with coming to me and talking to me ... and one of (their) main jobs is to argue with me about issues and … I do not want to lose that openness that I have with people because I think that’s something we have got to have in this system.”

Gilreath started the first two weeks of her tenure by shifting several administrators’ titles and duties to be more cost-effective. But one thing she says won’t change is herself.

“I’m the same person in a different chair,” she said. “I’m here to support principals and teachers if they need me. That’s the way it works: principals support the teachers and teachers support the children and parents. But people who have dealt with me know how I always think, ‘How would I feel if I was in this situation?’

“I treat people with respect and treat them how I would want to be treated or how I would want my children — well, now I say grandchildren — to be treated. I think parents and teachers just need somebody to talk to if they’re frustrated with something. And I hope to be a friend who will listen to them.”

Listening is the first step to keeping the school system on the right path, Gilreath said.

“We’ve got to have help from everyone in the community,” she said. “Schools can no longer do it on their own. That’s why I’m excited about the community Readers to Leaders literacy initiative.”

Readers to Leaders is a collaborative effort by community leaders and school officials in Whitfield County and Dalton to ensure all local children are reading at grade level by the third grade through several reading programs. Gilreath says it’s one step to “leveling the playing field.”

“When I looked around the district there were discrepancies,” she said. “Discrepancies between the south of the county and the north side. Title money (federal funding) was going to the south of the county based on the poverty rate (residents in the south are more impoverished). That info is based on free and reduced lunch applications.

“So, on the north side you couldn’t always afford computers or technology because you didn’t have Title money. My goal is to have every school offer the same quality education to their students … it doesn’t matter where you are … I want you to have the same chances, the same resources.”

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