Meet CCS Interim Superintendent Randy Bridges, 'an educator for life'

Posted 2/11/21

This week, the News + Record checked in with Bridges to see how his first month as superintendent has gone, how he's adapting to the pandemic and what his goals are for his time at CCS.

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Meet CCS Interim Superintendent Randy Bridges, 'an educator for life'

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Posted

Dr. Randy Bridges was sworn in as interim superintendent of Chatham County Schools on Jan. 11 at the CCS Board of Education's mid-year retreat. He replaces Dr. Derrick Jordan, who joined N.C. Superintendent Catherine Truitt at the Department of Public Instruction. Bridges will serve in the interim role until the board hires a permanent superintendent. He comes to Chatham with experience as both a long-time educator and superintendent, running school systems in Florence, South Carolina; Stafford, Virginia; Rock Hill, South Carolina and Burlington and Hillsborough in North Carolina.

This week, the News + Record checked in with Bridges to see how his first month as superintendent has gone, how he's adapting to the pandemic and what his goals are for his time at CCS.

First of all, welcome to Chatham County! During a time marked by physical distancing and lots of virtual interactions, how are you approaching getting to know the community and making the most of the time you're acting as interim superintendent?

The pandemic has created challenges in our ability to interact with people, in general, and, specifically, for those of us in the education profession. However, I have met individually and collectively with board members, senior leadership staff and our principals.  My meetings with principals were on-site, which allowed me to actually get in our schools. The conversations with everyone provided a diverse perspective of our schools, the school system and community. While following all of the safety protocols, hopefully, I can meet some of our teachers and parents.

I have to ask... what about Chatham County Schools and this role made the move out of retirement worth it?

I’m an educator for life and always willing to help school systems continue meeting the educational needs of all children. I also mentor and coach principals and superintendents to remain connected to this important work. I hope my experiences in all phases of education will be useful to members of the Board of Education as they go through the process of selecting a new superintendent, and to my education colleagues, as well.

You have quite the wealth of experience in leading school systems — what past experiences or lessons learned in former roles do you think will particularly assist you in your role at Chatham County Schools?

My experiences in leadership positions didn’t involve a pandemic! We are all learning new and creative ways to educate our children. We needed an opportunity to think differently about public education. The pandemic has provided that opportunity, but I hope we never have another one. 

Those of us in public education have experienced excitement and fear for almost a year, but the core business of any successful educational institution is teaching and learning. We may be using a different instructional delivery model during the pandemic, but the core business doesn’t change.

In the time you're here, what are your main priorities?

In many ways, preparing the board and educators for the next superintendent. Being new to this school system and community provides an opportunity for me to ask questions about policies, programs and practices. I am in a great position to ask why we do things the way we do them. I’m not looking at things to determine if they are right or wrong throughout the organization, but, in some situations, sharing how they can be done differently. Occasionally, a different way might be more effective and efficient.

Obviously, I accept the responsibility of being in charge of day-to-day operations and enjoy working with educators to ensure we are aligning ourselves with the strategic direction the Board of Education has established.

Chatham County Schools is pretty widely recognized as a very strong school system. Coming in, what do you see as the district's biggest strengths? What about the biggest opportunities for improvement? How do you hope to maintain and assist in furthering both?

I agree that Chatham County Schools has always been recognized as a quality school system. I consider three former superintendents of the school system as close colleagues. The strength of the school system is the attention paid to the core business of teaching and learning. To be successful in serving children, you begin with having quality people across the board, a school board and central services that supports the schools and ensuring that each school has a highly qualified and effective principal. The principals in turn should recruit, develop and retain highly qualified and effective teachers. With community input, the Board of Education has developed a directional system that is anchored by its vision, mission statements and beliefs. Chatham County Schools has been strong in these areas over time.

You're approaching the one-month mark of your tenure at CCS. How has the job been so far? What are your biggest takeaways?

I have interacted with both internal and external stakeholders who all support the school system and its commitment to serving all children. That is often easier said than done. Our Board of Education makes a concerted effort to work well together, as well as develop a positive relationship with the Chatham County Board of Commissioners. Our board members and commissioners are engaged in a joint effort of constructing new schools and a facility for central services while remaining focused on the academic outcomes of all children during a pandemic. There is clear evidence that positive things are occurring in Chatham County Schools. 

What information can you give about the importance of in-person learning and Chatham County School’s plans? Knowing that the board ultimately makes decisions about changing learning plans, could you share a little about how you’re conceptualizing the decision?

During my career, in-person instruction was the foundation of how we taught children. It worked for years for well over the majority of our students. Education has to evolve in order to meet the needs of all children. As educators began to allow student input on their learning styles, our instructional models started to shift. The pandemic has forced us to look at a variety of teaching methods to educate a diverse student population mainly by using technology. When we eventually arrive on the other side of the pandemic, it’s critically important that we don’t forget the successful practices we learned during the pandemic. We have the opportunity to do things differently, and I hope our educational leaders in Chatham County Schools will take advantage of what’s before us. Support from the Board of Education is an important part of moving forward.

Speaking of in-person learning, throughout the pandemic we’ve seen many pre-existing disparities in learning outcomes exacerbated by the challenges of remote learning, along with more challenges across the board — such as more failing grades, absences etc. Could you talk about the importance of addressing those challenges as we move forward, and about some of the ways CCS is working to overcome them?

Not to be redundant, but the challenges we have experienced during the pandemic can be viewed as opportunities. Is it time to reexamine how we grade and classify students and how we define attendance. Should we seriously pursue designing a customized education plan for every child? Can we successfully maneuver in-person and remote teaching and learning? I don’t believe we should rush to have schools return to what they were before the pandemic. Maybe we should begin by taking the position of wanting students to return with the option of attending school each day. Having the option is key, because I believe we will have students and parents who want something different for their children based on what we have provided during the pandemic. We should form committees at the state and local levels to discuss both what has occurred over the past year and how we move forward using some of those successful experiences.

And finally, last but not least, if you could give a quick introduction to anyone in the Chatham community reading, what would you say?

I have been married to my wife, Vernetta, for 37 years. We have two adult children, Randi and Garrett.  I have three perfect grandchildren, Bryce, Grey and Nova. In my spare time I play as much golf as possible.

This was updated Feb. 17 with two additional Q&A's. 

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