by Julie Lineback

Coweta County School Superintendent Dr. Steve Barker understands it really does take a village to raise - or educate - a child.

In fact, the newly named 2018 Georgia Superintendent of the Year quickly shifts credit for the honor from himself to the educators and administrators who help him run the system.

Dr. Steve Barker
Photo courtesy of the Newnan Times-Herald

“I think it’s truly a reflection, not really of my work, but the work of our district as a whole,” said Barker, who earned his master's degree from the University of West Georgia's College of Education (COE). “We have great employees and a great community, and it reflects when a team is pulled in the same direction. It recognizes the work of everyone in the district and reflects the team attitude that we try to model.”

Barker and fellow UWG alum Samantha Fuhrey were among the top four finalists for the state superintendent award, which was presented on Dec. 1 by the Georgia School Superintendents Association. He will represent the state and compete for the national honor at the National Conference on Education in February.

Barker, who has led Coweta County Schools since 2010, has maintained a steady flow of respect, leadership and community values among the system’s administrators. Together, the team has achieved some serious milestones.

Ruth Hill Elementary, deemed “chronically failing” in January by the state, saw a significant growth in reading by 20 percent and math by more than 26 percent thanks to extra personnel provided by Barker, including a second instructional coach, additional teachers and a mentoring program.

Coweta County Schools as a whole bypassed other elementary and middle school scores in the state and achieving a 77.8 on the Georgia College and Career Ready Performance Index this year.

Other milestones include providing laptops to students in grades 3-12; creating a partnership between the Communities in Schools program and the Coweta Board of Education; and reinstituting a pay increase for teachers and staff.

“We are a proud school system,” Coweta County Board of Education Vice Chairman Amy Dees said in Barker’s nomination letter. “We are allowed this luxury due to our dedicated and passionate leader. Without quality leadership, we would be falling behind.”

Barker stopped short of calling his recognition a career defining moment.

“It’s a confirmation that the direction and efforts we are putting forth and establishing in the way of our vision is on the right track,” he said. “When I say ‘we,’ I truly mean that. I think that any recognition within a district is often possible because of the many others doing a lot of great work.”

Barker said he draws from the networking and lessons he learned at UWG and COE as a graduate student studying administration and supervision, and how it has helped shape him into the leader he is today. One specific instance involves classroom discussions and assignments from the late COE professor Dr. Gus Douvanis’ school law courses.

“As you experience the superintendent position, you can’t avoid the legal matters,” he said. “I am still able to lean on some of the learning activities and experiences that Dr. Douvanis provided for us.”

Barker also praised UWG President Dr. Kyle Marrero’s leadership and his impact on the community.

“We have governmental leaders, including Dr. Marrero, in positions of business leadership who sit on advisory boards for me, and we communicate how we might best serve the students of our community,” he elaborated. “Those kinds of partnerships are indicative of the kind of program that West Georgia has stood for a long time. As a superintendent, it validates the work we are doing in K-12 to have that kind of higher education presence in our community.”

One of the things Barker said he believed UWG has modeled for those in the field of education is to strive continuously to improve. With his most-recent accolade, he and his group of educators are following in stride.

“It’s always a challenge - and has to be made a priority - to keep people going in the same direction, and that’s something we work very hard on in our system,” he concluded. “That is what I think sets Coweta County apart. You don’t find that everywhere. That’s not just a school system, it’s a long standing leadership in the school system that we carry forward.”

Posted on December 1, 2017