About this article
- This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of 400-The Life, a publication of the Forsyth County News. To read the entire magazine, click here.
Jeff Bearden didn’t always know he wanted to be an educator. “I was one of those kids that didn’t have any clue what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I was taking classes at West Georgia College, and there was no rhyme or reason, and I just thought, ‘What am I doing?’” The Forsyth County Schools superintendent later found his passion in education, but his journey to that discovery and time since are represented in seven items he owns he finds most beloved.
Growing up in a military family, service seemed almost inevitable for Bearden and his three brothers. His father spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, with an uncle spending 30. While Bearden’s title of superintendent is different from the TRANSPORTATION SERVICE AWARD (1) his father received, there is a certain affinity between the two. Hulett Bearden’s service also shaped his son. “Probably one of the biggest things for me is when you grow up in that lifestyle where you’re constantly going through transitions. It really makes you sensitive to kids who are going through transitions,” Bearden said. “It’s really important to me that our school system is welcoming to new families and to children – because I was one of those kids.”
Moving so often, when his father would be re-stationed, though overwhelming for many children, was made a little easier for Bearden thanks to his mother, who passed away at only 45 years old. “The first time she had cancer, I was about 5 years old, in ’67,” he said. “She had breast cancer, and it was very unusual for women to survive breast cancer back then. MY WIFE MADE THIS SCRAPBOOK (2) for me on the 25th anniversary of my mother’s passing.
“One of the things about my relationship with my mother that impacts me now is to keep things in perspective. I always talk to our leadership team about the importance of balance – taking care of yourself – mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, whatever that means to you.”
Key to Bearden’s self-care is his FATHER'S GUITAR (3), which he now only plays when alone. After the elder Bearden retired, he wanted to learn the banjo, and the two would play together. While the guitar is not a very old one – Hulett only bought it 10 or 11 years before his death – Bearden said some day, he’ll pass it on to his son, keeping its music in the family. “I get by myself and I play and it brings back a lot of memories, but it’s also a very therapeutic thing,” he said. “I kind of feel that closeness to my father because I know he loved that guitar, and music was a big part of his life and is a big part of my life."
Growing up, the Navy was a big part of the whole family’s life. Bearden served for four years – from 1984 to 1988. “I was in Maine when I was stationed there – I lived there for 25 years. If you look at this LITTLE MAGNET (4), the Air Force base was not far from Presque Isle, which is not far from the Canadian border. The significance of that is when I [served], the Soviet Union was still in existence and our base in northern Maine was the closest base to the Soviet Union. We had lots of nuclear weapons, a lot of B-52 bombers on base, and we were always on a constant state of alert, because if something were to happen, we would have been the first line of defense — or the first line of offense.”
It wasn’t always high-stress on the base, though, and Bearden was allowed off base to COACH GIRLS BASKETBALL (5) at a local high school, where he found his passion for education. “Being a basketball coach had a huge impact on my professional life,” he said. “It was such a good experience, and one of the things I miss the most [about being superintendent] is that direct interaction with the kids, because that’s why you get into teaching to begin with. As a teacher and as a coach, you have an opportunity to establish really strong relationships with your students, and I do miss that part of it.”
Bearden stresses those strong relationships with his family, too, which is why he and his wife try to vacation in ST. JOHN (6), one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, every other year. The pair has been five times since their inaugural trip in 2011.
When not traveling, Bearden is watching UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA FOOTBALL (7) in the comfort of his home. “When I moved to Georgia, it was all about college football, and I got into it,” he said, “and all those years I was in Maine, I would follow Georgia football. I just love the fall of the year and just the whole pageantry about it and how into it people get — it's just cool."