Jared Belew, the new principal of Spout Springs Elementary School in South Hall, has an admitted baby face.
“I do get that a lot,” he said.
But as Belew grows older — he’s 40 now — the young look is becoming something of an advantage. He’s no longer “having to work against” it, he said.
When Belew started at the school in 2005, most of the students’ parents were older than him. Now, most are younger.
“So it’s kind of interesting” to see that change, he said. “A lot of it is about being consistent and building that trust — no matter what your age is. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to kind of establish who I am and my reputation.”
Belew spent the last four years at Spout Springs serving as assistant principal. He said his focus now that he’s leading the school remains unwavering.
“I’m not going to change because of the position,” Belew added. “Even though the job title has changed, the relationships haven’t changed. And we do have an excellent staff. It’s not just about hard work, it’s about the right kind of work.”
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said Belew “has been a cornerstone of Spout Springs Elementary.”
“His appreciation of excellent instruction and the appropriate use of technology, combined with his desire to be a servant leader, will serve Spout Springs well,” Schofield added.
Belew said he treats every day like a job interview, and intends to show care, create a safe environment and build partnerships with students, parents, faculty and the South Hall community served by the school.
“Sometimes we think of our students as being teacher-proof ... it doesn’t matter what we do here as an institution, our kids are going to be OK because of where they come from,” Belew said. “Sometimes there’s not a sense of urgency in terms of providing education.”
Though the school is in an area with higher socioeconomic levels than other parts of the county, the population pushing north from metro Atlanta means the face of the community is looking more diverse.
“Dinosaurs die, so you really have to look at how you can adjust and change,” Belew said.
Spreading influence, rather than exercising authority, is Belew’s approach to getting buy in.
“If you do that, then you’ve got a great system,” he said.
But what does that mean practically speaking?
“We really do believe in a whole-child approach,” Belew said.
At Spout Springs, that can be seen through the school’s involvement in service projects across the community to get students to understand the impact they can have on a local level, even at their age.
For example, students have supported homeless shelters, held food drives for hurricane relief efforts in other states and participating in litter cleanups along the shores of Lake Lanier.
“I think we would be foolish as educators not to find opportunities for our students to do that,” Belew said. “Sometimes it’s organic, sometimes it’s planned.”
There are 762 students enrolled at Spout Springs this year, down from a previous high above 800, but still the one of the district’s largest.
These students will advance to either C.W. David Middle and then Flowery Branch High, or to the new joint campus of Cherokee Bluff middle and high schools just across the road from Spout Springs.
The opening of Cherokee Bluff this year presents “a little bit of a transition for our community,” Belew said.
One of the things he’s stressing with the start of school this month, Belew said, is that right now everyone at Spout Springs is a Seminole, the school’s mascot.
“We’re a collective here,” he added. “This is who we are.”
Belew said the school’s history and stake in the community reveals itself when former students return later in their lives to recount what Spout Springs meant to them.
Belew recalls high school graduates returning for one last visit to where it all started before they head off to a university, trade school or working world.
He remembers a special-needs student returning to share their story of success and accomplishment through middle and high schools.
“We have a lot of kids who want to come back and they want to be a part of this,” Belew said. “We tell them once you’re a Seminole, you’re always a Seminole.”