By MARINA WATERS
When Jerry Boyd took on his previous role with the state department of education, before becoming Washington County’s new director of schools, he knew he’d miss being involved in a school system, but he didn’t know just how much.
“I just know where my place is,” Boyd said. “My place is closer to the work. I really feel a strong calling to be in a role where I am supporting multiple schools and more importantly, the classrooms and students in a district … You’ve got to make sure you’re connected to the schools. That’s what I missed the most.”
Now Boyd has 15 schools, over 8,000 students and more than 500 teachers to lead as the newly named director of Washington County Schools. He said, just a week after his first official day on the job, his initial goal is to build relationships.
“My intent was to establish relationships,” Boyd told the Herald & Tribune. “You can’t really move forward until you’ve made those connections. That’s where I started last week and that’s what I’m continuing to do. I’ll be doing that for some time. Last week was a great start. I certainly learned a lot during the first five days on the job about Washington County, the school system, the community, what has worked and the successes we’ve had as a school system.”
Last week the school system held a drop-in reception at Boones Creek School for Boyd. There he spent a couple hours talking with teachers, parents, students and community members who all seem eager to get to know him.
Boyd is originally from Texas, but considers Cookeville, Tennessee his hometown where he grew up, became an educator, raised a family (two daughters and a son with his wife, Stephanie), and served as Putnam County School System’s director from 2012 to 2020.
“That community shaped me,” Boyd said. “Even though I wasn’t born there and wasn’t from there, I spent enough time to be a product of the community. You just put a lot of yourself and make a lot of sacrifices and have a lot of vested interest … I just hope that I made an impact on the community in the various roles I played there and I hope to continue to be a valuable team member here in Washington County.”
Boyd served as the assistant commissioner for standards and materials and district operations with the Tennessee Department of Education before accepting his role in Washington County following Bill Flanary’s retirement from the post. Flanary officially announced his retirement Jan. 14 and Boyd was hired on March 22.
“I know he’s there anytime I need to call him, but so far I’m letting him enjoy his retirement,” Boyd said with a laugh. “I haven’t had a need to call him yet.”
Boyd said he’s looking forward to being a part of the community and immersing himself in local history just as he has in Tennessee’s history, including its relationship to Texas.
“I have a lot to learn,” he said. “I didn’t have Tennessee history when I was in school. I moved here from Texas, so I had Texas history. But the interesting thing is the connection between Tennessee and Texas. The first president of Texas was a governor of Tennessee. I didn’t really realize that. The commonality to this area to Davy Crockett (and the Battle of the Alamo tin Texas), there’s that too. It’s interesting.”
He’s not here just for history or for taking leisurely motorcycle rides with his wife, Stephanie, who plans to finish out her school year as an eighth grade English and language arts teacher near Nashville before joining her husband in Jonesborough.
Right now, Boyd is looking to build connections and get to work on setting goals within the system.
“I want to make sure to connect to district staff, school staff, community members and everyone who serves in Washington County Schools to really get a good idea about what the goals are currently,” Boyd said. “I want to plug into and become a part of the existing goals, but also maybe inject opportunities to improve or maybe ask questions to look at some of those goals.”
Those overarching goals, he said, revolve around student success, supporting employees, prioritizing student safety and leading an efficient and transparent body of government.
He also realizes the county, as well as the country, is still moving through the COVID-19 pandemic, which turned the education world on its head throughout the past year.
Boyd said he looks forward to seeing the results of Washington County’s newly branded summer camp, which is designed to bridge learning gaps brought on by the pandemic. But he also feels the emotional health of students has been highlighted throughout the past year and must remain a focus in the future.
“The support for mental health, the thought about supporting the whole child, not just academically, but socially and emotionally and their physical wellness, is always a concern,” Boyd said. “But I think when you didn’t have the physical school environment to just wrap around students, it really highlighted that the needs are there in a big way. To move forward, we have to make sure we are prepared to provide it no matter what environment the students are in.”
Boyd plans to visit the county’s schools in the coming weeks, (he’s been to Boones Creek for his reception and to Boone to meet a student who earned a perfect score on her ACT), as he continues to learn about the community, which, he said, is part of what made his decision to come to Washington County a pretty easy one.
“I knew about the region,” Boyd said. “I had been here before. As far as the quality of life and the beauty of this area — not just physical beauty, but how nice and friendly the people are — I knew about that.
“Making that decision of ‘could we be part of that community?’, that was a very easy and quick decision. It matched what we felt we wanted for us.”
He’s not just wanting to see the best of the Washington County School System, though. Boyd is also ready to see the challenges and problems that could use a solution.
“I know everything is sunshine and flowers and roses when you’re new and people are trying to be nice and welcoming,” Boyd said, “but I know there are things that are not so nice and I’m trying to be part of the solution — even if it’s uncomfortable. That’s what I’m here for, too.”
He’s also anxiously awaiting the day his wife can join him in Tennessee’s oldest town.
“I’m really looking forward to Washington County being my home, but, quite honestly, until Stephanie gets here, my home’s wherever she is,” Boyd said. “Once she gets here, we can really focus on making Washington County our home. I’m looking forward to that.”
Immersing himself in the community isn’t just a short-term goal. Boyd said he’s ready to get to work, using his tried-and-true method of focusing on his “four P’s” of leadership: people, purpose, processes and partnerships within the community. And that’s work he hopes to complete well into his retirement years here in Washington County.
“Looking down the road, I hope this is a place that when I get to the point of retirement, that I’m in a good position to retire from here,” Boyd said. “I’m working from a standpoint of a long-term commitment and relationship with the community of Washington County and the educators and families of Washington County and then all the professionals of this Northeast Tennessee region. I want to be a part of this region and be a productive member of that.”