Members of the Dawson County Board of Education found out this week they'll need to find a new superintendent for the school district. Dr. Damon Gibbs will retire at the end of the school year.
Gibbs, who spent the bulk of his professional career with the Hall County School District, was named superintendent of the Dawson County School District in 2014.
Gibbs said Dawson County today reminds him of the southern part of Hall County when he was attending school in the Johnson High School cluster of schools.
"It's a very small-town feel, it's a growing community, it's people that are committed to their children and committed to their school system," Gibbs said. "As superintendent, it has allowed me an opportunity to have 28,000 people in this community focused on one group of kids."
Gibbs said despite the small size of the district - 3,800 students and 540 district employees - Dawson County has had its challenges, especially with the mental health of a number of public school students. In fact, Gibbs said he began working on social-emotional learning his second year as superintendent - well before the current focus on mental health challenges among teens.
"I think one of the things that we know is going on across our state is that there's a mental health crisis in teenagers," Gibbs said. "I think what you see in a small community is the impact is just magnified because [there's] an impact on the entire community...when it [a crisis] happens in Dawson County, it impacts everybody."
Of course, the COVID pandemic was - and continues to be - a challenge for school districts all over the state. Gibbs said he's proud of the way his team handled the health crisis.
"What we've tried to do in Dawson County is make some common-sense decisions that are data-driven," Gibbs said. "We tried to have some consistency because our kids thrive in a consistent environment, so we tried to provide that consistency not only for our kids, but for our parents who were trying to go back to work."
Gibbs' final day on the job will be May 31, 2022, and he said he'll be there to provide a smooth transition for the next leader of the school district.
"My advice would be to continue to work with the Board of Education and to find ways to better meet the needs of our children here in Dawson County. Those needs change every year," Gibbs said. "There's no way that what I've put in place will stand for the next decade. Each year, I believe you have to evaluate your service model and things that you do for kids and make adjustments that make sense for them."
Listen to WDUN's interview with Dr. Damon Gibbs on the audio player accompanying this article.