FORT VALLEY -- Even though this isn’t his first stint in Peach County, school Superintendent Daryl Fineran said he’s learned a few things in his first year at the helm.
Fineran was a teacher and coach in the system from 1988 to 1995 before heading off to Camden County and serving as superintendent in Wayne County for two years.
“It’s always different as time goes on, in terms of teaching environments and learning environments in towns, but all in all, I think we’ve got a lot of good people and people that want the schools to succeed,” he said. “We’ve got to right the ship, so to speak, and get us back to where we were academically and in different areas when I was here the first time.”
That doesn’t mean everything Fineran has noticed as Peach County superintendent has been negative. He said there were lots of factors that make Peach County schools better off now than they were two decades ago.
“We’re probably more in tune in terms of technology, of course, and getting to be using technology every day in the classroom,” he said. “I think overall our entire athletic department is better when I was here, including football.”
Including the football team, which Fineran helped coach, was quite a statement considering the Trojans won three straight region titles from 1991 to 1993, the first region crowns in 30 years at the time.
The residents of Peach County, he said, have shown a commitment to improvement in all facets of the district.
“Our expectations from our faculty and staff have risen, to a certain extent, and I think that we’re not satisfied with where we’re at, and we want to get better. Everything from facilities and improvement to our facilities to teaching in the classroom every day.”
Despite a desire to bring about positive change in Peach County, Fineran hasn’t gone overboard with changes so far. In fact, his administrative assistant, Minnie Booker, said he gets her input before making adjustment to procedures.
“He’s never criticized anything that we were already doing. If I say, ‘OK, this is how we did it,’ (he’d ask) ‘Did that work?’’’ she recalled. “And if I thought there was something that needed to be tweaked, he would say, ‘Well, let’s change that then.’ Never mean-spirited or anything, so he’s just good to work for.”
FIXING THE FINANCES
Fineran’s first year in office hasn’t been a complete warm-up period.
One move that drew little objection was the decision to eliminate three teacher furlough days. Fineran said that achievement, which still leaves the district with four furlough days and 176 instructional days, was a group effort.
From opening the bidding process for district contracts to eliminating debt in the nutrition department, Fineran said every one of the county’s departments came in under budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Board Chairman Ben McDaniel gave Fineran credit for getting the district “back on track” financially.
“He’s just got a wealth of knowledge as far as school finance,” McDaniel said. “He’s a very good money manager.” In December, the school board passed a resolution to have the voters of Peach County decide on a 1-cent sales tax that would fund a new Peach County High School.
Fineran supported the plan, which passed in a March referendum, saying that upgraded facilities and maintenance to existing buildings are important to the educational process.
“Facilities are huge,” Fineran said. “I love a new building like our two new elementary schools ... because there’s a whole lot less problems that you have in terms of technology and air conditioning going out and security and all those type things. ... I think it’s important that kids have that opportunity to be in the kind of facilities that they need, that’s conducive to learning.”
Even though he was glad to have Peach County moving toward a new high school, that’s also the source of Fineran’s main critique of his first year. He said he’s always reviewing situations to see how he could have handled them better, and in the case of the education sales tax resolution, he wishes he had led the school board to act on it sooner.
Board elections and other business delayed the process, but more time could have allowed the administration to address community concerns more efficiently, he said.
“I think if I had to go back and replay everything, I probably would be a little bit more persistent, in this particular case, about getting my board focused on the ESPLOST earlier. That’s on me,” Fineran said. “I think it was inevitable that you would have objection for locations and those type things.”
Other issues that Fineran inherited, such as the debt in the food services department and the school model decision, made it difficult for the superintendent to get as focused on the proposed tax, McDaniel said.
“Unfair to him; he was having to play catch-up,” McDaniel said. “He tried to get us on track on the ESPLOST before.”
For his part, McDaniel hopes the district can do a better job in the future of teacher retention under Fineran. The key to that is creating a “great environment” in the schools, he said.
“My biggest thing always is trying to help us get better where we can retain highly qualified teachers for our students,” McDaniel said.
On that front as in other areas of the district, Fineran pointed to one specific asset to the cause.
“Peach County is a special place because of the people, and we want to be successful in the schools, and there are a lot of successful graduates that come out of Peach County,” he said. “You have a lot of people that are still here that push for that, to be successful.”
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.