New Henry County school superintendent makes rounds

January 18, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Jared A. Cotton’s first day on the job as superintendent of Henry County Schools was a busy one.

Although Tuesday was a student holiday, there was plenty of learning going on as Cotton visited schools, met faculty and staff and became acquainted with various division departments. Among his stops Tuesday were a meeting of elementary school principals, the central office staff meeting and a professional development session for instructional technology resource teachers.

He also visited the pupil transportation department and seven schools: Collinsville Primary; Sanville, Stanleytown, John Redd Smith and Campbell Court elementary schools; Fieldale-Collinsville Middle; and Bassett High.

He plans to visit other schools today.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cotton said he continues to be impressed with what he has seen in Henry County Schools.

Among the things Cotton said he has seen and likes about the schools are differentiation, or altering lessons so that all students in a classroom will benefit; use of technology, including iPads; and flexible grouping, or changing learning configurations to meet the needs of students.

He said he has seen “committed adults who are excited about what they do,” and he is looking forward to working with them.

“It’s been very positive,” he said of his experience thus far.

“My goal is to take (Henry County Schools) to the next level,” he added.

Cotton said he will spend his initial months on the job listening and learning about the school system.

Over the next few months, he plans to meet with stakeholders, including members of the school board, the board of supervisors, community organizations, each principal and faculties. Among other things, he also will be reviewing data about the school system, including achievement data.

Doing those things will position him to help in setting priorities for the system, he said.

Cotton comes to Henry County Schools from Virginia Beach City Public Schools, where he was the associate superintendent for educational leadership and assessment. He also had served as the assistant superintendent for research, evaluation and assessment for that school system.

In all, he has 20 years of experience in public education.

When asked what strengths he brings to the job and how he thinks those strengths will help improve Henry County Schools, Cotton, 41, mentioned, among other things:

• Technology — “I was a technology specialist in my former life.”

• Extensive involvement in strategic planning, such as 21st century skills for students “to be successful in college and citizenship.”

• Assessing student learning.

• Enhancing educational programs and opportunities.

• Having high expectations for all students.

These are not new to Henry County Schools, but they are things “I support and continue to encourage,” he said.

In fact, he said, among the things that attracted him to Henry County Schools were the system’s focus on 21st century skills and technology, that students are achieving at a high level, and the emphasis on improving achievement.

“The school board shared my high expectations for students ...” Cotton said.

He describes himself as a leader with high expectations and one who is collaborative. He said he likes to work with stakeholders and staff.

“I welcome feedback,” he said, adding that helps with continuous improvement.

He said educators have important jobs and are held to high expectations, and he has seen that attitude in Henry County Schools.

“I have a very strong work ethic. When I commit to something, I bring everything I have to the table,” he said.

He also said, “I’m just gad to get started. You get excited about an opportunity like this.”

Cotton follows Acting Superintendent J. David Martin, with whom he met several times since he was named superintendent in December. Martin had been acting superintendent since July, when former superintendent Anthony Jackson left Henry County to become superintendent of the Nash-Rocky Mount Schools in North Carolina. Jackson served two years as superintendent of Henry County Schools.

Cotton encourages the public to support schools, volunteer and serve as positive role models for students.

He said he has moved to Collinsville but will seek more permanent housing. His wife, Joanna, a sixth-grade English teacher in Virginia Beach, and their daughter, Michaela, a tenth-grader there, will join him after the end of the school year.

“I’m not looking at this as a short-term steppingstone. I’m looking (to be here) long term,” he said.

The Cottons also have a 20-year-old son, William.


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