Lakeland’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. George Stone—who gained recognition as an innovator in the field of education when he was named Delaware State Superintendent of the Year in 2006—didn’t dream of becoming an administrator when he began his career in education.
"My goal was to teach elementary school," he said. "After teaching a few years, my principal became ill and was forced to resign. No one seemed to be applying, so I thought to myself, if I can help 30 students as a teacher, maybe I can help a few hundred students as a principal. Ultimately I thought if I can help hundreds of students as a principal, maybe I can help thousands as a superintendent. To me it has always been about service to students and not about the title or prestige."
Since he became Lakeland’s Superintended of Schools last June 2010, Stone has set his sights on making the district a leader in academic excellence and co-curricular activities. To get there, he has already had to balance budget constraints that are a sign of the tough economic times we are living in, while maintaining strong academic programming.
We sat down with Stone to find out what motivates him, what he hopes to achieve this school year, and how he plans to achieve it.
Patch: How long have you been the Superintendent of Schools?
George Stone: I became Lakeland's superintendent in July 2010. My first superintendent’s job was in 1996.
Patch: What motivated you to take on this rewarding but demanding position?
GS: This is both a rewarding and demanding position. The time requirements are considerable. Many weeks can easily be 80 hours and the superintendent is always on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
However, the true rewards are not related to management or hours making decisions and solving problems. Inspiring students, teachers, and staff to be the best they can be and understanding they can accomplish anything they set their mind to, is where the true rewards lie. When students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas after years of watching them grow and learn, you can't help but take pride in the work we do.
Choosing to come to Lakeland as superintendent was based upon a desire to live and work in New York. My family was originally from New York and it was always my hope to work here in education at some point in time. After only a year here, I know that it was a good decision to come to Lakeland. This is truly one of the finest districts I have ever known.
Patch: As Superintendent, what do you consider to be your greatest success?
GS: While I have only been in Lakeland a short time, it has been exciting to begin working to make the district a leader in academic excellence and co-curricular activities. In terms of operations, obviously I am proud of passing our budget for the coming year and keeping the district in good financial condition, given how difficult these financial times are for so many people. At the same time, we have been able to maintain our strong academic programs.
In my career years as a superintendent, certainly being named the Delaware State Superintendent of the Year in 2006, and competing nationally was a great success, however, I think more about programs I have initiated that have changed the lives of students. Some have allowed them to be the first in their families to attend college. Others have provided recognition for students who normally would go unnoticed.
Patch: What has been your greatest challenge?
GS: The challenge today is how the district continues to provide the necessary resources for students and teachers when budgets are tight and demands on schools are steadily increasing while at the same time we work to ensure that all students are successful academically.
Patch: What do you hope to achieve this school year and what does the district need to work on?
GS: This year, we will spend many professional development days retraining teachers with instructional strategies that have been proven to have the greatest impact on raising student achievement. We will also be aligning our curriculum with common core standards so that we focus on: how we teach, what we teach and when we teach. We will continue to work on raising achievement scores until all students have attained mastery.
Patch: Briefly describe how you are preparing to do this?
GS: We have done extensive research on the national programs that have had the greatest effect on raising achievement. These are the practices we will be using to train our teachers. We will also be providing teachers with extra time to meet with their colleagues to analyze problem areas and come up with solutions.
Patch: What advice do you give your students about achieving success now and in the future?
GS: I want all students to know that anything can be achieved if they first decide to make it happen and then are willing to put in the time and do the work. They need to understand that there will always be mistakes and problems along the way, but we learn from them just as we do from our successes. As long as they keep trying to improve and don't give up, they can achieve the goals they set.