Dawson County School Superintendent Keith Porter's announcement that he would retire at the end of the school year left friends and colleagues praising his service and dedication.
"I've known Keith his whole life," said Elaine Wilson, a member of the Board of Education. "We may fill his position, but there will never be a replacement for Keith Porter."
Assistant Superintendent Lisa Perry said that it was Porter's lessons in selflessness that have taught the system how to approach education.
"Working with Keith has been an absolute pleasure. He has taught me a lot about leadership, about being the person you should be," she said. "Keith always puts others first. I think that's vital in being a good public servant. He has been an exemplary model in that."
Porter, a county native and product of the local school system, announced his decision Monday. In a letter to the board of education, he wrote that he has "greatly enjoyed and appreciated the opportunities that I have been granted in serving the Dawson County School System for the past 30 years."
Porter spent the past five years as superintendent. His last day will be May 31. While the board of education has not set a date, the search for his replacement likely will begin in January.
Education runs deep in Porter's family.
"My grandmother taught for well over 30 years, mainly first grade, in Dawson County," Porter said. "She was a huge influence on me going into education. Even as early as first grade, she would allow me to grade papers and pretend like I was a teacher."
Not only was his grandmother a teacher, but his daughter, niece and sister-in-law are as well.
"My mom and dad really stressed education. They worked really hard to put me through school and give me those opportunities," he said. "I'm really indebted to them for what they did to allow me to become an educator."
Following graduation from the University of Georgia in 1984, a then 21-year-old Porter took a job as a teacher at Dawson County High School. He taught and coached there for six years before becoming assistant principal at Dawson County Middle School.
After four years in administration, Porter spent the next decade in curriculum and instruction. That included five years as curriculum director, two as executive director and three as assistant superintendent.
"I truly enjoyed working with curriculum and instruction," Porter said. "I was able to work from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade with teachers who taught those grades.
"The board approached me when [former superintendent Nicky] Gilleland made the announcement that he was retiring. They asked me to consider the position. I decided that was the direction I wanted to go."
Porter's colleagues say he will be missed.
"When he retires, the school system will certainly miss his integrity, his honesty, his willingness to always do the right thing, even when it's a hard thing to do, [and] his commitment," Perry said.
"He has come up though this school system first as a student, then as a teacher and coach to an administrator and then leading us. You don't find that often. I think that has a lot to do with his level of commitment."
It was that very upbringing the board sought when hiring him, according to Cecil Bennett, vice chairman.
"He does everything right and sometimes he goes to the extremes to make sure that he does do everything right," Bennett said. "He's been wonderful to work with here. Sometimes I tell him that he's too good for his own good."
Porter credited the system's accomplishments to support from the community.
"I could not have asked for a community that valued kids more than Dawson County has," he said. "They have proved that continually through the past five years.
"I also want to thank my family. I truly appreciate all the sacrifices they have made for my career through the years. They are excited about me retiring and moving into the next chapter of my life."