Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story on interim Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry, the only finalist for the job.
If you’ve had a teacher step in at a pivotal moment to help you succeed, Liberty County’s top educator said he can relate.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry points to an experience with a teacher more than half a century ago as one that brought him into education and shaped his outlook on the profession.
It happened when he was a senior at R.L. Cousins High School. Perry, armed with a band scholarship offer, was struggling in biology.
That’s when Perry said his band director, T.K. Adams, overheard the biology teacher saying Perry would be failed.
Adams intervened, going to Perry’s parents.
They in turn got the biology teacher to work with their son and help him pass.
“Had it not been for that one band director, the rest probably would have been history,” Perry said. “I would have gone down a different road. My life would have been far different.”
Perry also credits an upbringing by parents who valued service and education.
Growing up, the rule was “you are supposed to serve others,” he said.
Perry’s late father, the Rev. D.E. Perry, and his mother, Annie, were “servants,” he said, who were involved in local education “as advocates for all children. And, being raised up in a Christian environment, my father just taught me you are supposed to help others. I saw him serve and serve and serve. That’s how I grew up, that’s all I knew, helping other folks.”
The road away from the small town of Oxford, Ga,, which today has a population estimated at less than 2,000, first led Perry to South Carolina State, where he earned his bachelor’s in music education in 1969.
His master’s came from Virginia State in 1972 and Perry has a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern that was awarded in 1996.
A clarinetist who likes to play jazz music, Perry has spent most of his adult life in in education, apart from some time as both a dealership owner and as a car salesman — time Perry credits with helping him gain an understanding of the business world.
Since arriving as interim superintendent in June to replace outgoing superintendent Dr. Valya Lee, Perry said he’s tried to get everyone in the district working for a common goal.
“There were too many situations where everybody was kind of going in their own direction,” he said. “My thing was to try and line everybody up, get everybody focused on student achievement and providing a safe and orderly learning environment.”
Perry has also said a priority is to improve relationships in the community.
“Everybody needs to be a part of and feel good about we are doing,” he said, part of which is finding ways to motivate students to learn and getting those parents who aren’t involved in their children’s education on board.
“Teachers can work hard, but children need to participate,” Perry said. “When it comes to discipline, I am very old fashioned. Grown folks don’t go to public schools in grades K-12. These are children, and my expectation is that children will behave and respect the teachers and be ready to learn. School is serious.”
As for winning over parents, Perry said it’s simple, even if his recipe sounds backwards.
“You have to make their children successful,” he said. “If you take care of the children, you’re going to have more support from the parents. If you’re transparent, if you have that customer service where if a parent is having problem with their child and the schools, then somebody needs to address that quickly, then you’re going to get more support.”
Perry said there are things outside the control of local districts, but “one of the problems in education as I see it is that we probably have not always done a good job at the things we have control over, such as asking ourselves ‘are we really serious about every child?’”
That means taking all parents seriously, he said.
“Parents will make a difference and they do make a difference, but we have to have confidence in parents, regardless of who they are,” Perry said. “I believe most parents care about their children, even when they
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parents care about their children, even when they don’t always act like it.”
He’s said he’s got an open door policy for parents, though when they have issues they’re expected to start with the teacher.
“If you are a parent in our district and you have a school level problem with your child, and you can’t resolve it with the teacher, and you can’t resolve it with the school principal, I want to know about it,” Perry said. “If you’re dissatisfied, that’s hurting you and your child and it’s negatively effecting the image you have of us. That’s a no win situation for you and for us. So, in a nutshell, we have to talk to parents more and find ways to convince them we are doing the right things.”
But at the end of the day, Perry said it’s the kids who come first. All of them.
“When I say that I am committed to helping all children, I truly mean that, because of what happened to me early on,” he said. “It’s truly scary, when you think about the way the road can lead this way or that, and had my band director not done what he did, I probably would not have met my wife, our two children would not have finished college, my three grandchildren in college – none of that would have happened, and I know I would not be here today.”