The search is on for a school leader who can continue Peach County's path to improvement.
During a recent school board meeting, Superintendent Daryl Fineran announced his plans to retire June 30 after four years in the job.
"After almost 35 years towards retirement, there comes a time when you have to make decisions on whether or not to enter into the Georgia Teacher Retirement System, and that time is now for me," Fineran said in an email. "My plan is to find another job, hopefully, in the area of school improvement."
In fact, the Georgia School Board Association is now working with the Dooly, Berrien, Treutlen and Meriwether school districts to find new superintendents, said Justin Pauly, with the association.
Peach County board member Jamie Johnson said finding a new superintendent is not a short or easy process. It's late in the school year, so the board will need to start making plans quickly.
School boards don't have to follow a specific timeline for selecting a superintendent, but "they want a good candidate as quickly as possible," Pauly said. They are required by law to announce the final candidate two weeks before a scheduled final vote.
Fineran has served as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal and superintendent in districts throughout Georgia, including Camden, Dodge, Wayne and Evans counties, according to his resume. His first stint in Peach County was from 1988 to 1995.
His son, Mitchell, played football for Peach County High School and will graduate this spring, which Fineran said is his "greatest gift" from the district.
The superintendent is proud of the strides the county has made, especially in fiscal responsibility and budgeting since his tenure began. The school system has been able to pay off debt — some dating back to the 1990s — and save for a new Peach County High School.
The facility should be completed by 2021 and is the No. 1 priority for the district's five-year facilities plan, which is being submitted to the state for approval, said Ben Maddox, assistant superintendent of administrative affairs and operations. Design and construction work will begin next summer.
"This will level the playing field in terms of facilities for the students, the teachers and the Peach County community," Fineran said.
Board of Education members thanked Fineran for his service and leadership during the April 3 meeting.
"I wasn't on the board when you came on, but from my understanding, you took over a situation that needed some mending, and I'd like to say thank you," board member Ben Hoots said. "You've done a tremendous job with the leadership and with this school (district) and getting us on the right track."
Fineran said he is especially pleased with the strides Peach County High School has made, rising from the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state for academic progress and achievement to the top 5 percent.
Peach County High has scored in the 90s on the College and Career Readiness Performance Index the last two years, compared with 76.4 in 2015, according to reports from the Georgia Department of Education. The school's graduation rate was 83.3 percent in 2017, 91 percent in 2016, and 82.8 percent in 2015.
The average CCRPI score for all of the district's schools has been inching up, from 66.2 in 2015 to 69.4 in 2016 to 72.5 in 2017.
The district transitioned into a charter school system in 2016. In addition, Peach County recently underwent its five-year review from the accrediting agency AdvancED, and Fineran said he is excited to get the final report back in the next 30 days.
"I believe it will be one of the best reviews we have ever had in Peach County," he said. "I hope that initiatives that are in place to improve academic achievement will continue, as well as sound fiscal budgeting.
"There are always temptations from all directions to get away from doing what is best for students, and you have to keep reminding yourself what the main leadership goal should be and that is 'what is best for students.'"