Dawson County has quite a few new faces in the school system due to retiring teachers and new hires, but one new hire is working to keep the entire special education department running smoothly.
Hershel Bennett has been hired by the Dawson County Board of Education to fill the shoes of Susan Rutherford following her resignation earlier in the year.
Bennett, a native of east Tennessee, said that Dawson County is similar to where he grew up and that both had a great "small-town" feel that made you feel welcome.
He holds a bachelor and masters degrees from the University of Tennessee, as well as a specialists degree from Lincoln Memorial, so "he comes highly qualified," according to Dawson County Superintendent Keith Porter.
"Mr. Bennett brings a breadth of knowledge to the position that will allow him to serve our students, parents and teachers well," he said. "He is an excellent communicator, who looks forward to meeting and interacting with all stakeholder groups."
Bennett said he moved to Georgia in the early '90s when there was a teacher shortage and Atlanta and the metro areas were recruiting teachers from other states.
He has worked in a number of school systems in Georgia, including Paulding, Bartow, Cobb and Fulton counties.
The most recent, before Dawson, saw him in not one, but two administrative roles.
Bennett served as the assistant principal at Alpharetta High School for two years before moving to the Alpharetta Special Education Student Center for five years.
Following that, he transferred to Centennial High School's special education center for two more years before hearing about the special education director opening in Dawson County.
"One thing that drew me to this position is that, number one; the leadership in the county is outstanding. Number two is the thought that they will do whatever they need to for students to be successful. It was very enticing for me to apply for this position," he said. "My philosophy for education matches this county's school system leadership."
Porter said that it was Bennett's long experience with school systems and their special education departments that led him to recommending Bennett to the school board.
"Mr. Bennett has multiple experiences that prepare him for being our special educator director. He was the administrator in charge of a special education center that provided services to 250 special education students within one school in Fulton County," he said.
"Previously, he was a special education teacher and is certified in a multitude of special education areas as well as educational leadership. Mr. Bennett was very involved in Special Olympics and stated his love for this valuable program."
Bennett said that he is not looking to "shake things up" too much in his new role and that, for now, he is observing how the Dawson County system works.
"Right now, my goal is to come in and see what‘s happening here and what's going on. There's not going to be a lot of changes," he said. "I'm no trying to turn this into another school system. My goal is to come in and support the teachers and the students and do the best we can for the students each day."
Bennett and wife Gabrielle, a pediatric nurse at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, have two daughters Bronwyn, 14, Kinsley, 11, and a son Braeden, 7.
"I'm extremely thrilled to be here. My door is always open for anyone with questions or concerns. I think that even though we are a smaller system than what I'm leaving, the quality and character of the teachers and principals that I am meeting exceeds any system that I have been a part of," Bennett said.
"They are just outstanding people who do the best for kids every day. I am noticing that they have a lot more on their plate than teachers from two or three years ago. There are also a lot more expectations from the state and testing that they are rising to meet those challenges on a limited budget."