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Sitting behind his desk during his last week in McDuffie County, Mark Petersen seemed to be repeating himself. As he reviewed his five-year tenure as superintendent of schools in McDuffie County, he paused at each accomplishment and then thoughtfully gave the same explanation.
"I wish I could tell you I had a big hand in all that, but the answer is â€˜no.' We hired good people," he said. "The phenomenal growth we've had in the district the last four to five years has come from the dedication of the good people who work in the system."
On June 30, Dr. Petersen will retire from Georgia Public Schools and move to Ninety-Six, S.C., where he will be superintendent of that school system and oversee the building of a new $29 million, sixth through 12th grade building.
He should be ready for the project after opening the new, $17 million Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year. Even though it's on his list because it was the first eighth and ninth grade school in the state, TMJHS is not Dr. Petersen's most proud accomplishment.
The first thing he mentions is McDuffie Schools becoming one of the first few systems in the state to earn District Accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement in 2007.
Next he brings up being inducted to the Renaissance Hall of Fame last year. "That was pretty special," he said, adding that the recent GAPSS analysis of three McDuffie schools quoted the Renaissance Program as being an integral part of the schools' success.
The new, balanced budget is also something the superintendent speaks of with fondness.
"We didn't lay off anybody, we didn't increase the millage rate and we raised our fund balance," he said, adding that the system is currently 7 percent under budget. "With austerity cuts, our folks have received everything they needed, and most of what they wanted, to be able to provide the best instruction for boys and girls."
Increasing the graduation rate from 56.4 percent to 77 percent for all students, according to the Georgia Department of Education, putting an endorsed teacher in every school to teach gifted students, implementing the Naval JROTC program, increasing professional learning for teachers to implement the Standards-based classroom strategies, adding English as a Second Language teachers at Dearing Elementary, administering Early Reading/Language Assessments for all pre-k, kindergarten and first grade students, providing Renzulli Learning software to all students, parents and teachers in the system, providing two to five automatic electronic defibrillators and training at all seven schools, and training all employees in Learning Focused Strategies and Thinking Maps are some of the few improvements that have taken place in the district during the last four years.
"I have to go back to thanking my staff of Davis, Franklin, O'Neill, Williams, Price, and all the principals, who have accomplished the vision that we have laid out since 2004," Dr. Petersen said. "I wish I could take credit for implementing the success, but I had good folks who had the freedom to work outside the box, tried different things, and they worked."
Not only will he be leaving the school system, but Dr. Petersen was a member of the Thomson Rotary Club and the McDuffie County Board of Health. He and his wife, Brenda, were members of Dearing Baptist Church, and avid Thomson Bulldog fans.
"I probably attended more ballgames than anybody else in McDuffie County - football, softball, baseball and basketball, whether home or away, that was something I wanted to support," Dr. Petersen added. "It's a great time for reflection just sitting there by myself watching the games."
The Petersens will miss their Hickory Hills neighborhood and being one mile away from Wal-Mart. Mrs. Petersen has said the only thing that could be better was if Dairy Queen was between their house and Wal-Mart.
"But I told her then we'd weigh 300 lbs.," Dr. Petersen said, smiling and shaking his head. Then he stops and becomes contemplative again.
"I'll miss my staff. We've accomplished a lot together," he said.
On a final note, Dr. Petersen said he wants to thank the parents, community, Rotary Club, and businesses "for their support to put out the best for boys and girls."
"I've tried to be the number one cheerleader of the school system," he said. "For as long as I've been here, I ate, slept and thought McDuffie County Schools."
And he hopes the improvement continues to be "the norm" after he's gone.
"Data doesn't lie," he said. "Evaluate on the results, not the phone calls."