Get to know your local leaders: Caldwell County Schools Superintendent

Get to know your local leaders: Caldwell County Schools Superintendent

While school systems are predominantly geared toward standardized testing and textbook learning, Caldwell County School System superintendent, Dr. Donald Phipps, says truly preparing children for after graduation goes far beyond a grade they receive at the end of the year. 

“I hope if I have a legacy in North Carolina when I’m all said and done, it would be that schools now are reflecting all the stuff that goes on inside of a school day…beyond instruction,” he said. “The instruction is what we’re really here for but there’s so much more that we do that we get involved with.” 

Phipps, who has been a superintendent for a total of 12 years, says being a superintendent has always been his dream career. 

“Every path I took professionally pointed me to, and gave me some experience, to put in my tool-kit and allowed me to do the next job,” he said. “When I look back, every step along the way helped me do something to be prepared to do this.”

Focusing on mental health, extracurricular activities, hands-on classroom events, and community relationships are just some of the tools Phipps utilizes to ensure this legacy is left.

“We want to pique the interest of students...and not just pique interest and let it die, but let that lead to the classes that they take.”

Throughout the school year, Phipps says he advocates for the hands-on programs each individual school hosts. These range from cooking competitions, to hair donation, assembly programs and service projects.

“As we train our students and help them grow into whoever they’re going to be and whatever role they go into, if they have a service mindset about them then they’re going to contribute back to society and approach the things they do with the right mind set,” he said. “Soft skills are also a priority.”

“We can (develop these skills) through the cooking classes and things, and even doing things in Kindergarten classes on a Friday that pulls all of the things the students have learned together, that’s the fun stuff that I don’t ever want us to lose.”

Phipps said his hope is that students graduating from the school system will continue with character projects beyond graduation. 

“They may do it through civic groups, maybe doing it through athletic teams, they may be doing it through church groups and things like that, but we certainly have to have that responsibility...there’s much more to schooling than the academic component.”

For his current top priorities, Phipps says he has his sights set on pushing for a more in-depth use and understanding of technology within the classroom, and overcoming learning loss gaps due to COVID-19.

“If we’re going to go after devices, what are we doing with the devices? Are they more than just a replacement for a textbook? A student in a science class may need a probe to check the PH of soil that they’re working on…they might not need the same things that a 7th grade language arts class needs,” he said. “So to buy one device like a chrome book, and then put it out and pat ourselves on the back and say that we really have our technology in a great place now…that may not be the case.”

Phipps says he intends to make sure that students have the exact technology they need for the classes that they’re in to be able to appropriately learn. 

“I want it to be a resource and not a replacement,” he said. “That’s where I want technology to be.”

In addition, Phipps said the mental health aspect is another focus area.

“The resources are not there, they’re not provided by the state or federal government to the level that they need to be to try and meet that need.”

“It’s not dismissing anything and it’s not giving out a free pass, it’s a real struggle that individuals have, that we need to find a way to help them work with.

Demystifying the standard beliefs of weakness around admitting someone needs help, as well as ensuring students have access to counselors is one way he foresees this area of opportunity being addressed, he said.

“It’s important. It’s infused in everything that we deal with and we’ve got to tackle it from a community perspective and not just a school system perspective.”

The connections made with members of the community, he said, is both one of his favorite parts about his job, as well as one most beneficial to the school system's success. 

“The people that are involved in those relationships have used them in a positive way, it’s never used to take advantage,” he said. “It’s always just reaching out to a friend that can help solve a problem or get a project off of the ground or do something that needs to be done.”

“It’s never like cashing out favors, it’s working with each other to help each other for the good of our community,” he said. “It may be Mark Poarch (president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute), or Deborah Murray (executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission), or somebody with one of our towns that we’re trying to do something with”

“I’ve lived in a lot of places around the state and Caldwell County is the most supportive community I’ve ever been a part of,” Phipps said. “I say that from the hat that I wear being associated with the school system. 

“I want to help our school system become a premier school system in the state,” Phipps said. “I want to be doing things in such a way here that it gets attention outside of Caldwell County and people want to know what we’re doing, so that we can help each other.”

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