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‘The experience of a lifetime’ — Mitch Young reflects on time at Forsyth Central going into Deputy Superintendent role
Mitch Young
Mitch Young took over as Deputy Superintendent for Forsyth County Schools beginning on June 1, after serving for seven years as Forsyth Central High School’s principal.

Mitch Young spent 37 years of his life inside of a school building — from the age of 4 as he headed to school with his dad, who coached high school basketball, to the beginning of his career as a teacher in Gwinnett County to his role as principal at Forsyth Central High School.

As he counted back all his years in school, he realized the only time he ever left was during college and the three years after earning his degree in education when he served as a college basketball coach.

In all these years spent inside of schools, Young looks back on those at Forsyth Central as some of the best.

“Outside of my family, my seven-year experience at Central has been the passion of my life,” Young said.

In the course of the last year, however, he realized he wanted to continue to grow in his career, inspired by other leaders in Forsyth County.

This decision led him to an even greater opportunity, and for the first time since the start of his career, Young left the school building to head to the district office as Forsyth County Schools’ newest Deputy Superintendent.

Dr. Josh Lowe worked alongside Young during his time at Central as an assistant principal, and he has since taken over as the school’s new principal following behind Young. In the past seven years, Lowe recognized a passion in Young not only for Central, but for education and Forsyth’s students that he admires.

“He’s been a terrific mentor, leader and friend for myself and so many people in the Forsyth Central family over the past seven years,” Lowe said. “Mitch came here with a clear vision of the way he wanted to lead our school for students to become healthy and productive Americans who can solve problems, communicate effectively and serve selflessly …. Forsyth Central was very fortunate to have him lead our school for the past seven years. I’m honored and humbled to follow him with the opportunity as principal.”

Young attributes much of the success he has seen at Forsyth Central over the past few years to the staff and administrators who work together as a team to help students. As far as his success as a leader, Young said he took a lot of inspiration from other leaders he has worked with in the past.

A push into leadership

Going back to the beginning of his career, Young first discovered his passion for education as a teacher at Shiloh High School in Gwinnett County. Starting off, he taught social studies while coaching the school’s basketball team, which he said was expected after leaving his job first as an assistant basketball coach at DePaul University in Chicago and then as the coach at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania.

He said at a certain point he wanted to spend more of his energy and time in the classroom. He ended up making a deal with his principal at the time, who could see something in Young before he could see it in himself.

“I’ll let you out of coaching if you promise to go get your master’s in leadership,” Young remembers his principal saying. “Because I think somewhere down the line, you’re going to want to go into leadership.”

In the moment, Young felt the deal was flattering, but he simply wanted to teach and had no plans to ever leave the classroom. He agreed to it, knowing he would eventually need another degree and that he would ultimately get the extra time with his students that he wanted.

Young earned his master’s degree as he came up on his seventh year of teaching, and he decided he needed a change. He ended up in a workshop where he met Dr. Lynne Castleberry, now the principal at Whitlow Elementary, and she convinced him to come out to a job fair in Forsyth County — a decision, Young would soon find out, that changed the course of his career.

Richard Gill ended up hiring him into a teaching position at West Forsyth High School just before its opening in 2007. He remembers Gill telling him that while he was in a teaching position, he also expected Young to take on a leadership role at the school.

“When I saw what a good job he did with teachers, at just protecting them and empowering them to lead, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I do want to be a principal. I want to be able to lead a school like he is because his teachers just feel free and liberated to teach,” Young said.

Young quickly turned that inspiration into action, taking over as an assistant principal at Lambert High School for three years. He worked closely with Principal Dr. Gary Davison, who he said further solidified his decision to work toward a principalship himself.

Young then took over as principal at Forsyth Central in 2014, getting to a point in his career he had never imagined for himself just years before. Looking back on his principalship, Young said he loved the job, and he embraced every part of Central he could.

Forsyth Central, then and now

Mitch Young
Deputy Superintendent Mitch Young worked with other district leaders to release a timeline for Forsyth County Schools’ upcoming 2022-27 strategic plan process.
He remembers being nervous when he heard he would be heading to Forsyth Central. Back then, he said the school did not have the greatest reputation in the county. As the system’s oldest school there were rumors that it was run down, underperforming and simply less than.

When Young first got to the campus, he saw a completely different school than what he expected. The students and families all loved Forsyth Central, and the previous principal Rudy Hampton, had successfully improved academics, implementing the school’s now well-known STEM Academy.

“They knew they had a great place,” Young said. “But they knew some things needed to be changed perception-wise.”

This led Young and the team at Central to the beginning of a rebranding campaign in 2014 where they focused on letting the community know what a special place the school is to the administration, staff and families.

One point of interest Young said they focused on improving was the school’s athletics, where he said the teams were not consistently performing well. Through his time working with inspirational leaders at DePaul University, he learned to understand how important a rebranding campaign can be for a school and how athletics plays a large role in a school’s perception.

He remembers the president at the time comparing DePaul University to a home, referring to academics as the house, but athletics as the front porch.

“You could have a nice, beautiful home, but if the front porch is run down, the whole house can look bad,” Young said.

On top of that, the school staff worked together to change its mascot, update the crest and design a new logo based on older logos found in the school’s past yearbooks. Young made clear to the administration and staff that he did not want to make only cosmetic changes.

“We needed to make sure that the new symbols, the new crest, the FC, the new everything represented a true new beginning at Central,” Young said.

And that is exactly what they were able to accomplish. Through these changes, Young said they raised expectations for the families and community, and they have seen a drastic change in how residents view Forsyth Central.

Where more kids were using out-of-district waivers to leave Central to head to other schools, Young said more students now use these waivers to attend Central more than any other school in the county.

From the year before he took over as principal to this past school year, the graduation rate at Central improved from 82% to 95%, and it improved from 50% to nearly 80% for ESOL, or English as a second language, students.

Students are also more engaged on campus outside of the classroom than they were before, taking part in 58 different clubs where there were only 26.

Overall, however, Young said he is most proud of the relationships and family that Central has built over the years.

“We really proved that if you have everybody pulling together, you can make huge change and huge improvements,” Young said. “It’s never a ‘me’ effort, and I say that over and over. It’s ‘us’ and ‘we,’ and it’s been the greatest ‘we’ experiment I have ever been a part of. We’ve had a great time. We’ve grown closer as a family, and that includes teachers as well as our community.”

Time for growth

After building up this family and improvements at Central for seven years, Young recognized that it was time for him to move on and continue to grow.

He said he started thinking about possible changes to his career about two years ago, and he ended up attending a statewide superintendent development program where he played with the idea of one day pursuing a position as superintendent.

Young said he made his final decision last year when he saw FCS Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden take action and show strong leadership during the pandemic, where many of his decisions were under scrutiny in a political year.

“His leadership has been nothing short of inspirational, and when you have a leader like that, it makes you want to do more,” Young said.

Young officially took over as deputy superintendent on June 1, and he has been excited to get started helping to support others in the county.

He continues to look up to Joey Pirkle, the district’s previous deputy superintendent who retired at the end of this past school year. Much like him, Young wants to focus much of his attention in his new role on principals in the county.

Throughout March, Young met with each of the district’s 43 principals to talk with them about the upcoming school year and how best he can support their needs going forward.

Young said he is excited to also help with professional development and leadership opportunities for teachers and administrators, something he focused heavily on during his time at Central. He wants to build up leaders in the district in the same way that those he now looks up to did for him.

Looking forward in his career, Young said he already knows his goal is to one day become a superintendent himself, either in Forsyth or in another county.

“I want to one day lead a school system, but I know I have a lot to learn before I’m ready for that,” Young said. “And who better to learn from than [Bearden]?”

Although Young is excited to be starting on this new journey, which he hope will lead to opportunities he never thought he would reach, he is sad to leave Central behind.

For him, he said it’s nerve wracking leaving the familiarity of a school building where he has held some of his favorite memories since he was only a 4-year-old boy, spending time with his dad in a high school gym.

Now, he’s working in the district office, away from the bustling sounds of kids and teachers in hallways and cafeterias.

“[It’s been] the experience of a lifetime, and that’s why it’s hard to leave,” Young said. “You’re leaving the known for the unknown. But I’m excited because I also think the only way to grow is you have to change, and it’s time for me to grow. It’s time for me to make another step in growth.”