One of the most rewarding aspects of District Administration‘s mission to serve K12 district leaders across the country with actionable, solutions-oriented journalism is the privilege of speaking with some of the most innovative and inspiring superintendents in the country. Despite significant leadership turnover, it’s an exciting time for newer leaders who have been given the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants.
Recently, the National School Public Relations Association recognized 25 superintendents who have served fewer than five years in their annual list of its “Superintendents to Watch.” 2023’s honorees were recognized for their ability to leverage technology in “innovative and effective ways” to engage with their school communities while expanding two-way outreach efforts.
We had the pleasure of speaking with one honoree, Philip Brown, who is in his second year as a superintendent at the Jackson County School System in Georgia, in celebration of this recognition and to learn more about his district and leadership style.
Here are some takeaways from our conversation:
Note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
First off, congratulations on the recognition from the NSPRA. What does that mean to you?
It doesn’t really mean anything to me. I think it’s more of a validation to our staff, meaning we’re doing the right work. When you’re in these roles, you understand that it’s not about one single person, but the organization. We’re a team that works together to give kids the best opportunity to succeed in the future. That’s what we’re here for. To open doors for them to live out their hopes and dreams.
You’re often celebrated for your transparent communication dating back to when you were a principal. Why is that such an important aspect of your leadership philosophy?
I think being transparent, authentic and genuine with people allows you to connect not only with the people you work with, but the community. When people feel like you’re accessible and willing to have a conversation—oftentimes, those conversations make us better—whether you’re being validated for the work you’re doing or being criticized by those trying to help you work through things so we can make our organization better. At the end of the day when we make our organization better we become better for kids.
How would you describe these last two years of being a superintendent?
It’s been rewarding. Coming from the high school principalship, working with a board of education and partnering with them, it’s been great. They’ve been extremely supportive of the work that we’ve been doing.
In 2019, Jackson County had 7,900 students. Today, we’re over 10,700. There’s been a significant amount of growth in such a small time frame. We opened a new middle school, which opened in August of 2023. We’re now in the process of opening up a new elementary school in August of 24′.
The name of that school is Heroes Elementary School. Coming out of the pandemic, we thought it was important to recognize local heroes inside of our community, whether that be law enforcement, healthcare, firefighting, EMS or our veterans. The theme of the school is to show our students that there are heroes around us every day who are doing great work. Teachers, too, are doing this great work in our local community.
We’re creating a narrative that says you don’t have to play in the NBA, MLB or the NFL to be a hero. There are heroes around us every day that sometimes as a young kid, you don’t recognize. We want our kids to be able to recognize who they are.
Lastly, what are your goals for the Jackson County School System? In what ways are you setting students up for success?
It’s all about looking at the individual student. As a high school principal—and even now—as kids would walk across that graduation stage to receive their high school diplomas I think, ‘What have we done as a district to provide that kid with opportunities in the future?’
We have a college and career center here in Jackson County where we have significant career pathways that students can complete from construction and heavy machinery to healthcare science and agriculture. At the same time, you’ve also got to prepare students for four-year colleges and beyond, all while helping them become better people in the process.
What are we doing on a daily basis as an organization to put kids in the best position to be successful? That’s how I like to look at it.
More from DA: NSPRA names its 25 superintendents to watch for 2023