FORSYTH COUNTY — The superintendent of Rome City Schools has been named the lone finalist to lead the Forsyth County school system.
The Forsyth County Board of Education made the announcement about Jeff Bearden on Tuesday after meeting in an executive session.
The decision of the five-member panel, which was unanimous, caps a months-long search to replace Buster Evans, who is leaving Forsyth at the end of the month to become assistant commissioner of education with the Department of Corrections. Evans, who has led the school district for six years, announced his plans in February.
Last week, the local school board tapped Keith Porter, a longtime Forsyth resident and former superintendent in neighboring Dawson County, to serve as interim school chief. Porter will continue to work with the county through the summer to help with the transition from Evans to Bearden.
Bearden began his tenure in Rome in January 2013. Before that, he served for two years as superintendent of Fayette County Schools. With five high schools and high student achievement, Forsyth has long been compared to Fayette on performance standards.
Bearden started his education career in Maine and has worked in public education since 1984, following a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. He received his master’s degree in education from the University of Maine and his doctorate from Nova Southeastern University.
Chairwoman Darla Light said the school board believes Bearden is the best qualified candidate to lead the rapidly growing school system.
“He is a visionary. He has a vision of what Forsyth County can be and he also has the fire for Forsyth County,” she said. “He’s so excited about coming here. He’s excited to take us to greater heights.”
After its vote, the school board shared the news with the system’s leadership, which was holding a retreat at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center. The system’s principals, assistant principals and other leaders then got to meet Bearden via Skype.
“I am humbled and honored and very excited to be selected as the finalist to be your next superintendent,” Bearden told them.
He also talked about his upbringing and educational experience, which includes serving as a superintendent or assistant superintendent for the past 15 years.
“All of those experiences, I think, have prepared me very well for this next challenge in my professional life,” he said.
Forsyth would be Bearden’s third school system in three years.
“I can speak for my wife, Lisa, on this one: We are tired of moving. We are ready to settle,” he said. “We have visited your community several times and were incredibly impressed. It just seems like a perfect fit for us both personally and professionally.”
As Fayette superintendent, Bearden took a team of staff members to Forsyth to explore the county’s use of technology, particularly the Bring Your Own Technology initiative.
“What I saw in your community and your schools ... is a strong sense of community, a strong sense of purpose, a strong sense of family,” he said. “You’re a really large school system, but it didn’t come across as a large school system. It had a small school feeling about it, and that’s a compliment to you. I’ve been nothing but impressed.”
His recognition of Forsyth’s community feel and its desire to maintain that were among the reasons for Bearden’s selection, Light said.
“The philosophies and beliefs he has align with the philosophies and beliefs of Forsyth County, part of which is keeping this small-town feel that we have, no matter how big we get,” Light said.
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