By Debbie Hall
Acting Patrick County School Superintendent Dr. J. David Martin hailed his six-month tenure at the helm of Patrick County Schools as the “experience of a lifetime.”
Martin, of Henry County and a member of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, began his tenure in Patrick County on July 1. His consulting firm, Real Synergy LLC, also was retained to help recruit a new school superintendent.
The board appointed Dean Gilbert to lead the division, beginning Jan. 1.
As his final school board meeting neared an end Dec. 12, Martin said thanked the community and school division “for welcoming me. I knew I had arrived when I was not treated as someone special but simply as another set of hands to help with the heavy lifting.
“I’ve learned a great deal about Patrick County over the last six months. First and foremost, Patrick County schools can teach 132 other school divisions in the state how to get remarkable results and full accreditation with the least amount of funds required by the state. I have learned it is the best kept secret,” Martin said.
“Second, the students are different. What I mean by that is, imagine my surprise walking into a kindergarten classroom three months after visiting during the first (part) of the school year, and being welcomed by the students, ‘Good Morning Dr. Martin; or walking down the hall in the high school and actually have students to make eye contact with me and greet me.
“Third, the students in the school division like coming to school because they feel safe, but more importantly, they feel loved,” Martin said. “No matter which of the seven schools I am in, from the custodian to the cafeteria workers, teacher assistants, teachers, support staff, everyone wants to be in the school because they like being around students and the students know it.”
Noting his experiences in the 20 years he served as a superintendent in various school systems, Martin said “you can have the best equipment, the latest teaching strategies, but what matters most is having a school staff that likes to come to work every day, and creating a sense of family with themselves and the students. Now, that is the real secret behind being accredited the last four years.”
He also thanked “principals and assistant principals for working with me the last six months. Each is very different, and different is good, but they all have the common thread of being committed to the school and the students that they serve,” Martin said.
He also thanked the transportation, maintenance, technology and food service departments, as well as the central office staff.
“Thank you for making me part of your extended family. Your work ethic is unmatched. You may not see the immediate impact you make with students, but it is apparent to others,” Martin said.
“I have a very special thank you, to the heart and soul of Patrick County Schools: Sara Leigh Collins. She has been an employee of this school division for 60 years. I’d like to publicly thank her for her counsel, but more importantly for her friendship,” Martin said. Collins serves as clerk of the school board and in a number of other capacities.
To the school board, “well, you took a chance on me, and all I can say is thank you. I have gained so much from Patrick County,” Martin said.
He became emotional when handing the reins to Gilbert.
“Dean, I trust you with this very special school division, but you have known this for a very long time. I trust you because your heart is here and you know how to make everyone feel special,” Martin said, and added his comments were “not really a swansong or saying goodbye,” but that he is a “colleague and friend who plans to be here. I thank you for making this the experience of a lifetime.”