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Lovett reflects on changes in public education

Recession has been biggest challenge

POSTED: August 6, 2014 1:15 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS /The Times

Lee Lovett has seen a lot of changes in the school system during his years of working with the Hall County district.

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When Lee Lovett started his first teaching job in 1965, he couldn’t have imagined the way public schools would change over the course of his career.

Lovett, who is now deputy superintendent in charge of finance for the Hall County School System, began teaching within a month of graduating from college.

“I went into the classroom and they handed me a cigar box that had in it a key to the room and 32 lunch tickets,” he said. “They gave me a grade book and an attendance register, and that was the extent of my in-service training.”

Since then, he said, schools have been transformed by social and technological change.

Lovett began his career as an English teacher in the Griffin-Spalding School District, where he worked until 1969, when he became assistant principal at Fair Street School.

He said he was initially hired by the Gainesville City School District to work at Gainesville Junior High School, but was transferred when the district had to reorganize after a court ordered it to integrate.

“It was an unsettling time, but we did not have a lot of resistance at the school,” he said. “It was peaceful. We probably had more apprehension from the parents than the students. Students were fine. People settled in.”

In 1971, Lovett was hired as principal at Tadmore Elementary in Hall County. At that time, he said, “being principal was a simple life because you’re in charge.”

Today, he said, principals have much more responsibility and new problems to address, from curriculum to school security.

“When I was principal from 1971 to 1974, I had 550, (to) 600 students, had no assistant principals, had no guidance counselors, had no lead teacher, anything like that. I simply had a secretary.”

His job, he said, was centered primarily on discipline, which is just one aspect of a principal’s job today. He said even that aspect has become more complicated, with disciplinary committees and regulations that must be considered.

Much of the change comes from the addition of federal regulations and guidelines for things like special education.

During his career, Lovett said, he has seen the addition of kindergartens to the district, of the more comprehensive special education programs that exist today, and of a variety of support programs such as English for Speakers of Other Languages. Additionally, he has seen a huge surge in enrollment.

“Our enrollment, of course, might have more than doubled — I think it’s closer to triple — in the years since I’ve been here,” he said.

Lovett moved to the central office to work in accounting — something he has always loved to do — in 1974. His biggest challenge since then has been adapting the district’s budgets during the recession that began in the late 2000s.

“The decreasing tax base and the adjustment to the state funds, that’s been a real challenge,” he said. “We’ve cut many teaching positions. ... We’ve had to cut lots of other employees. We’ve just had to tighten our belts. However, we’ve continued to do well.”

Lovett said the most important positive change that has occurred since he began working in the central office is technology.

“We used to have to keep up with everything by hand,” he said. “I can’t imagine how many people we’d have to have if we didn’t have the technology. While I sort of fear it, I respect it.”

Lovett lives with his wife, Kathy, a retired teacher whom he met when they both worked in the Griffin-Spalding school district, where they both attended weekly volleyball games for single teachers. They have three daughters and seven grandchildren. One of their daughters, Jill Kelly, works for the district as a media specialist at Martin Elementary.

 



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