Most of the time it was smooth sailing.
As the 2006-07 fiscal year drew to a close for Columbia County schools, the journey as superintendent for Tommy Price also came to an end.
It started with a lot more noise. It's important to remember that Price was only the second superintendent ever hired by the Columbia County school system.
Old-timers around here have a slightly skewed view of what it means to lead the school system. We came around in an era in which two men, Jabez Sanford Hardin and John Pierce Blanchard, served as elected superintendents for nearly six decades.
After Blanchard, the school system was led for a brief time by his former assistant, Don Thornhill, who left for a state job just a few months after getting the job; then by Charles Allen Sr., Thornhill's second-in-command, who served as interim superintendent.
Next to win election to the post was Tucker Vaughn, who later became an unfortunate casualty of the then-partisan elective system; and then Lynn Cadle, who served until a state constitutional amendment, approved by a Georgia majority that Columbia County didn't join, eliminated elected superintendents.
The choice of who would lead the school system no longer was directly in the hands of the voters, but instead went to the elected members of the school board. Naturally, that put a strong spotlight on their first choice.
Tom Dohrmann came to town amid heroic fanfare, but as an outsider didn't do a very good job of meshing with some of the entrenched locals. They're still here. He isn't.
His messy departure also tainted the idea of bringing in a newcomer. Rather than try again to see if a different outsider would work, the board took a safer route.
That was 1998, when long-serving associate superintendent Tommy Price rose to the top job.
How does he match up to his predecessors? Well, no one will ever project the charisma and leadership of John Pierce Blanchard. Rare is quiet, steady hand of a Tucker Vaughn. Even Tom Dohrmann, in spite of his tumultuous tenure, brought a freshness and vigor to the role that only and outsider could spark.
He doesn't have any plaques on the wall as Mr. Personality, but Price brought his own gifts to the table that have served Columbia County well.
More than anything else, like a captain navigating through shoals, he kept the school system on an even keel after the brief and rocky Dohrmann era.
That smooth sailing sometimes came at the expense of internal dissent, which could have helped the system grow stronger. Even the four years in which Lee Muns was on the board, and served as a personal thorn in Price's side, were useful for their continual re-examination of the status quo.
In any event, Price ran a tight ship - especially when it came to the school system's money.
I've always believed a school system works best with a superintendent who is always looking for the Next Big Thing, tempered by a stodgy school board that keeps its hands clamped on the checkbook.
In Columbia County, Price squeezed the pennies, and the board squeezed harder. That's why our system spends nearly 20 percent less per student than the Georgia average, and was already far ahead of the state percentage for classroom spending even before the legislature began requiring it.
And all this, too, while building an average of one new school per year to accommodate the county's rapid growth.
Price has turned the tiller over to Charles Nagle, who like Price and many superintendents before him, spent his time as first mate before taking over as captain. Price's fans will find plenty to like about Nagle, and his detractors won't find much hope for a sea change.
Steady as she goes.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 706) 863-6165, extension 106.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.