A Muscogee County School District cabinet member is leaving to be superintendent in another Georgia system.
Gary Gibson, the athletics director and chief administrative assistant to the superintendent in Muscogee County was hired Monday night as the superintendent in Taylor County. The five-member school board unanimously approved Gibson, who was the lone finalist.
"It seems like a great situation for me," Gibson said while driving home from Butler, about an hour away. "I can't wait to get my feet wet and see how it goes. I enjoyed the interview process and the meeting tonight."
Family members, Muscogee County School District colleagues and friends from Victory Heights Baptist Church, where Gibson is a part-time pastor, joined him at the meeting to celebrate his hiring.
Gibson will succeed Wayne Smith, the 24-year superintendent who is retiring Dec. 31. That's the same date Gibson said will be his final day at work in Muscogee County.
Billy Patterson, chairman of the Taylor County School Board, wasn't reached for comment after Monday's vote, but he explained earlier in the day why the board chose Gibson: "His background, his education, and just simply the interview process, made him what we believe is a good fit for the school system."
That fit, Gibson said, goes both ways.
"Being in a large district teaches you everything you want to learn," he said, "and a smaller district gives you a chance to put that into practice with a little less haste in the decision-making."
Patterson said contract negotiations would determine when the new superintendent would start, but he wants that first day to be in January. Gibson said he and his wife, Danna, plan to move to Taylor County, but Danna will remain in her job as chairwoman of the communication department at Columbus State University.
"I wouldn't want to take that away from her," Gibson said. "Danna will be doing the commuting. She's the trooper in this."
Before the vote, Muscogee County School District Superintendent David Lewis said, "We appreciate Gary's many years of faithful service and sincerely wish him all the best in his new role, if it comes to pass."
Gibson applied for the Muscogee County job Lewis received but wasn't granted an interview.
"I'm a conservative Christian, but I'm still human, so there were days I spent thinking about it," Gibson said. "But then I just said, 'OK, Lord, what do you have for me to do?' And then this came about."
Smith was the one who notified Gibson about the opening this summer. They have worked together on a regional education board. Smith said he is elated with the Taylor County board's decision.
"He's a real fine man and good administrator," Smith said. "We need someone centered around children and families."
Rob Varner, chairman of the Muscogee County School Board, praised Taylor County's choice.
"Gary is such a fine person, a real gentleman," Varner said. "I think it's a good opportunity for him to test himself at the next level. It's certainly a new step for him, and regardless of the size of the school district, it's still being superintendent and will be good for him and his career. He's a guy so dedicated to his profession and students and clearly loves what he does."
Muscogee County has about 32,000 students in 58 schools and centers; Taylor County has about 1,500 students in five schools and centers.
Susan Andrews, the Muscogee County superintendent from Feburary 2009 through June 2012, promoted Gibson to chief administrative assistant when Billy Kendall retired.
"Unfortunately, I had to have him bring his athletic duties with him because of the budget stress, but he did both jobs with ease," said Andrews, now deputy state superintendent for the Race to the Top program. "It appeared that way, but I'm sure it was difficult."
Andrews appreciated Gibson's calm demeanor as he heard the complaints that reached the superintendent's office.
"I rarely had a case get all the way to me," Andrews said. "He was very good at counseling with people. Even if they didn't agree, they still left knowing they were heard and somebody cared about them."
Gibson said of the training he received from Andrews believing in him, "I'll be forever be indebted to her."
Muscogee County assistant superintendent Rebecca Braaten, whom Lewis brought with him from Polk County, Fla., would assume Gibson's duties as chief administrative assistant, Lewis said. The district's AD duties, however, probably would be separated as a different position, Lewis said.
"I haven't made that final decision yet," Lewis said, "but that's my thought."
Varner supports that thinking.
"I think we're a big enough system," Varner said, "that we need and deserve a system-wide athletics director."