When the staff at Fort Gordon recently asked some soldiers' families in an informal survey why they chose to live in Columbia County, the No. 1 reason was the school system.
The Fort Gordon survey isn't unique; the answer is the same no matter who asks the question. It's clear that Columbia County's school system is the biggest attraction for new residents.
The speed with which those new residents are flocking in can sometimes be a shocker; just check out the portable city (jokingly dubbed "The Cottages at Lewiston") at Lewiston Elementary, or more surprising, the trailers at brand-new Evans Middle School.
The state doesn't award construction money to schools until the students are already enrolled. That means fast-growing counties like Columbia County will eliminate portables only if the population stabilizes or drops.
Fast growth is a symptom of the school system's popularity. And that popularity, more than anything else, should send a signal to the small number of disgruntled and disaffected citizens hoping to "shake up" the school system after the pending retirement of Superintendent Tommy Price.
The signal: Don't get your hopes up.
Any successful venture has detractors; Columbia County's school system gets its share. For example, school officials often do a terrible job of explaining things to citizens (or, in adult and juvenile disciplinary cases, explaining why they can't explain things). Fast growth also attracts criticism of the system's planning process.
But beyond the nickel-and-dime complaints are strong, solid schools that rank far above any other neighboring public school system.
Columbia County's school board agreed this past week to create a 15-member committee to begin the search for Price's replacement. After the members are appointed, they will first determine what kind of superintendent the county needs, and then start looking for the next leader.
That new leader, whomever he or she is, may very well "shake up" the county's status quo, particular in the unlikely event he or she is brought in from outside the area.
But there is little chance the county's trustees will hire anyone whose philosophy is focused more on upheaval than improvement.
Upheaval might be a good strategy with a faltering system. For Columbia County, however, the focus must be on improvement - and on hiring a new superintendent who knows the difference.
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