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Our Views: Salute to graduates and a school leader

As students earn their diplomas, Gainesville’s retiring school chief also takes her next step

POSTED: May 11, 2014 1:00 a.m.

We have reached that time on the calendar when our young men and women “walk the walk” in cap and gown, gripping their diplomas with pride as they march into a promising, if unsure future.

They will continue to make us all proud — parents, grandparents and the community at large — by taking on great tasks and building the world of tomorrow in business, academia, the military and other disciplines.

We celebrate a few of these high achievers today in our annual Turn of the Tassel graduation section, inside today’s paper. As in other years, we found grads at our local schools who have unique and ambitious plans to begin filling their resumes, their minds and their lives.

Those choices are more varied than they were at one time. Generations past had limited paths to choose: There was college, but only if your family could afford it or you were lucky or qualified enough to get a scholarship. Find a job, depending on your skills and career goals. Join the military and defend your country. Or, in the case of many, go to work on the family farm.

Today’s grads have those same choices plus many more. Technical colleges give many a chance to learn a trade in high-tech fields that need skilled workers. Churches offer mission work that open minds to a different side of the world.

And thanks to the HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grants, college is more affordable and available to those who qualify.

Yet they also have many more challenges before them. A changing economy has eliminated many employment options over time. College grads, in particular, are being tossed into a global marketplace where the rules seem to change almost daily and the industries of the past and future appear equally hazy at times.

But before they reach for that horizon, this is the time to celebrate their years of accomplishment in the classroom and beyond. They made their schools special places by sharing their dreams with classmates and faculty, who themselves were made better through their shared experience. Students come and go as the years zoom past, but the best ones left their marks on the halls (not just with graffiti) and made their school colors more vibrant with their energetic spirit.

And as we celebrate their years of achievement and advancement to life’s next chapter, we offer the same salute to one who is moving on with them, someone just as bright and ambitious but with a bit longer resume already to her credit.

When the students at Gainesville High, Gainesville Middle and the city’s elementary schools take the next step, they’ll be joined by their

superintendent, Merrianne Dyer, who is retiring after six years in the post. Like the students who take the diplomas she signs, she has left her mark on the schools she leaves behind.

A 1970 Gainesville High graduate, Dyer began her tenure with city schools as a teacher in 1986, later becoming a principal at Enota and Fair Street schools. She was called on to serve as superintendent in 2008 at a difficult time; the system was millions of dollars in debt, the previous superintendent ousted as a result of fiscal neglect despite classroom progress. The move split the community and left the school system reeling and badly in need of steady hand.

Dyer’s years with city schools gave her instant credibility with parents, students and faculty. She was able to turn everyone’s attention back to the classroom, where students continued to progress and achieve their goals despite their growing numbers and the system’s logistic challenges.

Meanwhile, Dyer and Finance Officer Janet Allison began whittling away at the system’s $6 million deficit even as the recession cut into tax revenues and limited their options. As a result, the district was put back in the black without a tax increase, now with an $8 million balance, endearing her to city taxpayers as well.

They didn’t do it with fancy tricks, austere cuts or a magic formula, just hard work and an honest, transparent approach that prioritized key needs. With the budget back in order, Gainesville was able to expand facilities, including the new Fair Street school building that opened last fall.

Through it all, Dyer remained the humble leader willing to share credit and responsibilities with staff and administrators. That team approach helped Gainesville schools succeed and overcome so many challenges.

And now, 44 years after she walked across the stage for her own Gainesville High diploma, this lifelong Red Elephant will hand the helm to Wanda Creel on July 1.

Like her fellow graduates, Dyer has big plans to stay involved, travel, spend time with family and savor life. She may not be backpacking across Europe to “find herself,” though, because this grad already knows who she is and what she can accomplish. And Gainesville schools and the entire community are better off as a result of her service.

We offer our gratitude and best wishes to Dyer and all of this year’s graduates as they pass the baton to a new generation of school leaders.

What lies before them is new and exciting, and the schools they leave behind were made better by the time they spent there.


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