If you asked the Bibb County school district’s top brass about their goals for the upcoming school year, near the top would be changing the culture and perception of the system.
Since taking over in April, Superintendent Curtis Jones has hired new cabinet members, principals and other employees at both the district office and school level to help him improve the school system.
In May, Jones named Keith Simmons, former principal of Griffin High School, as his chief of staff -- a new position -- and Jamie Cassady, former principal of Griffin-Spalding Alternative School, as his assistant superintendent for student affairs.
Jones also attracted talent from the Houston County school system with the hire of Paige Busbee, Bibb’s new assistant superintendent for human resources.
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Here’s a look at the three:
Busbee has spent the last 26 years of her education career in Houston County, where she was also born and raised and graduated from high school.
So her decision to join the neighboring Bibb County school system after having such deep roots in Houston might puzzle some.
But the reason for her transfer boiled down to one thing: Jones’ gravitas.
“When I met him through (the hiring) process, he struck me as a person with high integrity,” she said. “He has a belief that he can make a difference and make things better wherever he is. He makes you feel like you can achieve anything.”
Beyond being the next rung of her career ladder, the new job is an opportunity for Busbee to do something to really make a difference.
“I think Bibb can be every bit what Houston County is and what some of these surrounding districts are,” she said.
While still in Houston a few months ago, mulling over the possibility of working for Bibb, she had the opportunity to ask a Bibb teacher why she was leaving.
“My family just relocated,” the teacher told her. “But I’m going to tell you, they’ve got a great superintendent.”
Busbee said, “That impressed me because I didn’t think he’d even been here long enough for a classroom teacher to realize what they had yet.”
As part of the superintendent’s cabinet, Busbee said one of her missions is to help boost the perception of Bibb County schools.
Her focus will be on recruitment efforts to hire and retain superior teachers. She added that everything starts with human resources because the district has to ask: Who are we putting in our classrooms with our children?
“We deal with children, so we have to have the highest standards for who we put in those classrooms,” she said.
Simmons likes to read books starting from the back.
He has a natural curiosity for learning as much as he can and, in a sense, his method for learning is one of reverse engineering -- the same way he reads books.
“Show me the answers and let me figure out the learning process involved to get there,” he said.
Simmons’ move from Griffin-Spalding to Bibb is also a homecoming of sorts.
The former Griffin High School principal spent time as an assistant principal for Bibb’s Westside High School in 2006-07.
“Bibb, in many ways, remains the same Bibb that I left in terms of the energy and in terms of the effort to be the best school system it could possibly be,” he said.
Simmons said his main responsibilities in his new role as chief of staff include ensuring continual communication so “the right hand knows what the left hand is doing,” maintaining an effective operations program (transportation, maintenance, capital projects and school nutrition), and being a “support mechanism,” an adviser, to the superintendent.
Among his, and the district’s, top goals is increasing the graduation rate to 90 percent by 2025.
Students who don’t graduate hit home for Simmons because his older brothers didn’t complete school.
“I know that my older brothers should have, and could have, graduated from high school,” he said. “I want to make sure that in my roll ... that I be a reminder that kids need to be given every opportunity to be successful, and graduation’s a part of that.”
Simmons said his focus this year will be on building relationships with stakeholders and plugging the gaps “where kids can fall through the cracks” to ensure everyone in the school system can be successful.
Cassady will be the new face of discipline for Bibb schools.
And it’s clear from his chiseled physique -- as well as his dedication to daily runs before sunrise -- that he knows a thing or two about discipline.
Cassady is another former colleague of Jones’ from the Griffin-Spalding school system. His career in education started as a coach and health teacher at Griffin High School in 1992.
In his new role, he will take charge of matters such as dress codes, the code of conduct and the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program.
Cassady said he was the first PBIS coach, a role to ensure the program’s fidelity, when Griffin-Spalding adopted the student behavior system about seven years ago.
In 2002, he transitioned to assistant principal of Griffin-Spalding Alternative School, where he worked with alternative and nontraditional students.
From his experience with discipline processes and tribunals, as well as truancy and attendance issues, Cassady seems to be a good fit for his new Bibb County role.
Commenting on the move, Cassady said he came to Bibb because of the respect he has for Jones’ vision and ability to make things happen.
“When you believe in someone and what they’re doing,” he said, it’s not hard to make the change. He added, “We saw him take a system that was struggling and, through his leadership, turn it around.”
And turning Bibb schools around is exactly what Jones and all of his cabinet members aim to do.
“With Colonel (Jones), you better move some needles,” he said.
To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.