Lee Lovett has seen many changes in 50 years as an educator, but some things have remained the same.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is students,” he said. “Their basic needs are the same as they were in the 1950s and ‘60s.”
That includes being accepted, cared for and mentored, Lovett added.
And while the region’s culture evolves and American norms shift, this mission remains, according to Lovett: “You teach a child not a subject.”
Now officially retired as deputy superintendent of Hall County Schools, Lovett has had time to reflect on his years as a teacher and administrator.
So, too, have his former colleagues.
“Lee Lovett has dedicated almost 50 years to this community and our children,” Hall Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. “The number of lives he has touched in a positive way is incalculable. I am blessed to have worked with a man of his character and am fortunate to continue to call him my friend.”
When Lovett first came to Hall County in 1969, schools were on the cusp of desegregating. It happened quickly, as Butler High, which served African-American students, was shuttered and Gainesville High integrated.
“I guess it was business as usual,” Lovett said, sticking to his theme that teaching students, whoever they are and wherever they come from, is the priority. “The mission remains …”
In the ensuing decades, the county’s Latino population gradually ballooned, and the overall student body grew from about 12,000 to more than 28,000 during Lovett’s tenure with the school district.
“We’ve sort of grown into it,” he said.
There are other ways to measure change, too.
Technological advances, from carbon copies to copiers to fax machines, printers and computers have changed the landscape of teaching and reaching students.
Then there’s the matter of money.
For example, the school district’s general operating budget is now pushing $300 million annually, whereas it hovered in the $20 million range when Lovett started out.
“One of the main growth factors that has been helpful … is the growth of the tax digest,” he said, adding that both commercial and residential development have remade the county and region.
Special purpose local option sales tax revenue, supported by voters, has also helped the school district finance its expansion, Lovett said, paying for the construction of facilities to bolster education at all levels.
Adding kindergarten in the late 1970s and focusing more attention on special education in the last two decades are benefits of this financial growth, Lovett said, for which he is pleased.
Lovett has worked for a number of superintendents, from “storytellers” and “characters” to finance gurus and “change agents” like Schofield.
“We’ve never had one as creative as (Schofield),” Lovett said, adding that programs of choice like the World Language Academy have set the district on a path to reach the interests of all students. “My role is to support their vision.”
Lovett said a good memory means he’ll fondly remember the people he worked with and the students whose lives he impacts.
Many of his former pupils have gone on to successful careers as doctors, for example, and a greeting from them when he is seen in public is a nice reminder of his life’s work.
“That’s always good to see,” Lovett said. “That makes you feel good.”
As he leaves a career in education behind, Lovett takes with him an immense amount of historical and institutional knowledge about the local schools and the Hall County community.
But if he’s needed, Lovett said he won’t be hard to find.
“I have told people I’ll be available for those questions,” he said.