Richard Hyatt: New superintendent has endearing qualities of past successful ones

July 23, 2013 

Braxton Nail put aside baseball's tools of ignorance for education and now comes David Lewis, another former catcher who was also an umpire -- a thankless job where an official's decisions are routinely questioned and his very appearance is booed.

Being second-guessed and jeered should prepare Lewis to be superintendent of schools in Muscogee County, where outsiders aren't always welcome and the seat seems constantly on fire. He is the district's ninth top administrator since 1973 -- not counting a small army of interims.

This is not a new world for the old trombone player. Lewis went directly from college to the schoolhouse in a Florida county that stretches from Orlando to Tampa. He worked for Polk County for more than three decades -- the same number of years he and Karen have been married and lived in the same house.

"I'm not a jumper," he laughed, referring to educators who bounce from system to system. "We're not coming here for the short term. If the board and the community like what I do, our intention is to be here for the long term."

Refreshing words to a school district sensitive to being used as a stepping stone to a healthy pension and one that has been waiting on Susan Andrews' successor for 500 days.

Equally refreshing is his energy. The board couldn't legally hire him until noon Tuesday, but he arrived early so he could be in town for the opening of the new school year.

"I've been blessed with good health and lots of energy. You will see me all over this school system," he said.

You'll also see him around town for he describes public education as a three-legged stool supported by teachers, students and the community. That dictates his openness and his collaborative spirit. He'll also get to know I-75, for once a month he'll go south to complete his Ph.D. dissertation.

I've written about every superintendent since 1973, beginning with Nail -- the Baltimore Orioles' bonus baby. In Lewis, I see Guy Sims' passion for learning, Jim Buntin's natural people skills, Bob Bushong's loyalty and Nail's work ethic. I only hope the new guy finds more acceptance than Jim Burns or John Phillips -- superintendents who weren't from around here.

Lewis has done his homework and presented a 120-day transitional plan, but there are things he cannot do until he has completed a couple of laps around town. Foremost is a personal evaluation of the widespread public mistrust of the school board that hired him -- a panel that could be an anchor around his neck.

He isn't comfortable with status quo for he pushes for continuous improvement, but he does not claim to have all the answers in his back pocket.

"There is no recipe for this job," he said.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him on Twitter@hyattrichard

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