With Kathy Collins packing her belongings and headed for retirement, McDuffie County school officials had been searching for someone to take over the duties of assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
But it had to be someone who could continue the system's award-winning progress in test scores and pupil achievement.
According to Superintendent Mark Petersen, the Board of Education recently approved the right man for the job. Dr. Barry O'Neill has been a science teacher, assistant principal and principal in the Columbia County School System for nearly 25 years.
In addition, O'Neill has been a vocational director and a secondary curriculum director. He also is teaching college classes in the evenings at a branch of Cambridge College.
"We've got a lot of experience in Barry, and I'm real pleased that he's with us," Petersen said.
Of the 46 applications the school system received for the position, only three candidates were interviewed. Petersen said O'Neill was the choice to take the school system in the right direction.
"He rose to the top, and comes with great recommendations from several people, including several superintendents," Petersen said.
According to O'Neill, his experiences in dealing with education on the elementary, middle, high school and college levels will help guide him in this new job.
"Being a smaller county, they don't have, like in other counties, different directors at each level," O'Neill said, referring to his former position as curriculum director for Columbia County high schools. "I'm going to be the whole ball of wax here, but I'm comfortable with that, having been an assistant and a principal at various levels."
O'Neill, who officially starts at the new position this month, said he is particularly eager to get started because of the reputation the school system has.
"I'm just excited to be a part of what McDuffie County is doing," O'Neill said. "As I've done the research on the system, I'm very impressed with what Dr. Petersen and Dr. Collins have done just recently in helping the students and the county meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). It's quite remarkable."
Initially, O'Neill said he will spend time getting familiar with the system and the personnel. He said he doesn't foresee making any changes because what has been in place is working.
"I'm certainly not going to come in and interfere with anything that's been successful," he said. "I just want to continue to get input from the teachers and from the administrators. That will help me to see how we can continue to make a good system even better."
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