On Wednesday, the National Association of School Superintendents announced that local Superintendent Brett Stanton is this year’s first runner-up for the annual “Superintendent of the Year” award. Stanton was in the running for the award with five other superintendents across the nation.
“I feel extremely blessed to be able to accept this honor and do so as a representative of the Haralson County School System,” said Stanton. “This system and its students and employees have worked hard to overcome the many challenges it has been faced with. I am proud to be a part of such a dedicated group of educators and thank them for their support and commitment to the boys and girls of this community.”
When Haralson County School System Superintendent Stanton was named as a semi-finalist for the National Association of School Superintendents’ “Superintendent of the Year” honor in July, it was no surprise to many in the Haralson County School System. Of the six nominees, he was the only superintendent in the southeastern United States recognized for his accomplishments.
During the four years Superintendent Stanton has been at the helm of Haralson County School System (HCSS), he has successfully overcome tremendous obstacles. Faced with the possible loss of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation, a looming system budget deficit, system-changing budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels, increasingly challenging requirements to meet AYP, and an economy in real trouble, Stanton took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet.
“In July 2008, Mr. Stanton accepted a position of leadership in Haralson County Schools with many known and unknown issues,” said Haralson County Schools Board Chairman Richard Davis. “He immediately rolled up his sleeves and began a process that required strong leadership and organizational skills along with a committed dedication to the children of Haralson County.”
Shortly after joining the HCSS team, Stanton discovered the school system faced serious allegations of inappropriate behavior from board members that jeopardized the system’s SACS accreditation. Taking the situation very seriously, Stanton fully cooperated with the SACS Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (CASI), who placed the system on probation. Stanton ensured every requirement was exceeded to bring the system back into compliance.
Stanton challenged the Haralson County Board of Education members to rise above the setback and undergo a rigorous program of growth and development to better prepare them in making strategic decisions for the system. After a lengthy training process, the superintendent and the board received the distinction of Standards Board in October of 2009. Continuing their strenuous training program, the board then claimed Board of Distinction status in December of 2010, one of the highest honors a board of education can receive.
In February of 2012, the school district received high accolades from the SACS CASI Quality Assurance Review Team who presented Haralson County School System with its first district accreditation. According to the system’s website, “Following the team’s review of the system, the team commended the system for undertaking the accreditation process; its high level of professional development; the embedding of effective uses of data to support decisions and instruction; the system’s strategic emphasis on leadership training and skill exemplified in the Board of Distinction status; the highly loyal and dedicated teaching force; the long-range strategic thinking and planning; and the strategic work teaching process.”
The accomplishments of the system are even more impressive when coupled with the financial restraints the district has faced. When Stanton started his tenure, he was left with a budget deficit of almost $500,000. Soon after, significant cuts were made in national and state funding, requiring quick thinking and creative options. Stanton gathered key personnel and began to brainstorm possible budget cuts that would have the lowest impact on student learning. Out-of-the-box thinking led to solutions, such as monetary contributions from employees (a strategy that received statewide coverage), shared administrators, and, eventually, the four-day school week.
“Thankfully, we were able to save a considerable amount of money on fuel and utility costs by going to a four-day week,” said Stanton. “It is not something as a superintendent or a board that you desire to do, but unfortunately with the blatant lack of funding, we had to make difficult decisions. Of the calendar options out there, we felt this was the best fit for our school system.”
Since the implementation of the four-day school week, test scores have increased and school attendance is at an all-time high. Five of the six schools in the district made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) during the 2010-11 school year.
Stanton credits recent academic successes to extensive collaboration throughout the district from teachers, support staff, and administrators. Stanton has championed many programs in the system fostering collaboration, including Core Focus Walks through classrooms to generate information, support and guidance for the teaching and learning process; SWAT (Strategic Work Aligned to Teaching and Learning) visits to schools to streamline, intensify and build on effective school programs and practices; comprehensive and highly effective data analysis; and rigorous professional development programs to fine-tune teacher skills and enhance teacher dedication and pride in their profession.
Following the major improvements in the system, Stanton has been recognized across the nation and been asked to share his experience with other education professionals. He recently served as the keynote speaker for the National Blue Ribbon Schools conference and spoke at the American Association of School Administrators Conference in Houston, Texas. This summer, Stanton was invited to participate in Harvard University’s Leadership Institute for Superintendents and Cornell’s Executive Leadership Certification Program. Recently, he was selected as one of a handful of superintendents to serve as Trustee for the Georgia School Boards Association and was one of five superintendents in Georgia to participate in the Schlechty Centers Superintendents’ Leadership Network.
In addition to leadership within the system and his profession, Stanton has also been an avid supporter his community. He currently serves as President of the Tallapoosa Lions’ Club and is a member of the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs of Haralson County. He is an integral member of the Chamber of Commerce Educated Workforce Committee and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for underprivileged children. He and his family annually support local food and clothing drives during the holidays, delivering hot meals across the county.
“We can always count on Mr. Stanton’s support within the school system to help identify those in need,” said Jennifer Dobbs, member of the Community Missions Council of Haralson County. “But then, he and his family personally volunteer during community projects.”
In the recent months, Stanton led the board’s decision to adopt the Charter System model for the Haralson County School System. This model will forge a clear partnership between the local school board, schools, and the community. The system is currently conducting public hearings on the charter system application for public review and comment.
“As superintendent, the board and I desire to obtain more input in the governance of the school system from both internal and external stakeholders,” said Stanton. “Selecting the Charter System model maintains our goal of strong communication within our schools and communities.”
According to the National Association of School Superintendents, Stanton was selected as a semi-finalist for National Superintendent of the Year based on three primary criteria:
• Outstanding achievement as a school district superintendent,
• Demonstrated belief in continuous improvement, and
• Commitment to collaboration and mutual support in the profession.
Other semi-finalists include Reza Namin of Spencer, Mass.; Michelle Curry of Orting, Wash.; Kathryn Fedina of Saddle Brook, N.J.; John Roach of Carlsbad, Calif.; and Mike Richie of Eagle River, Wis. The winner of the award is expected to be announced by the end of the week. More information can be found on the organization’s website at NASS.us.