Dawson County Schools’ new superintendent, Nicole LeCave, officially stepped into her new role following previous superintendent Damon Gibbs’ retirement in May.
Since then, she has been hard at work working with her team and staff to prepare the school system to go back to school this fall. The Dawson County News sat down with LeCave to discuss her goals and several important focuses for her first year as superintendent.
The story continues below.
History and background
LeCave has been employed by Dawson County Schools since 1998, and 14 of those 24 years have been in administrative leadership positions. She has served as a teacher, assistant principal of curriculum and discipline, district-level coordinator, director for teaching and learning, and assistant superintendent, and her most recent role was serving as the Deputy Superintendent beginning in 2020.
LeCave holds an undergraduate degree in middle grades education, a master’s degree in curriculum and instructional supervision and an educational leadership certification from the University of North Georgia, which she earned by completing the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement (GLISI) Rising Stars Future Leaders Performance-Based Program. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in educational law from Liberty University.
LeCave has been married to her husband Sean, a 27-year veteran of the United States Marines, for 20 years. Together they have four adult sons and a daughter who will graduate from Dawson County Schools in 2024.
LeCave said that she loves working in the Dawson County School System, and that she couldn’t picture working in another district.
“I’ve worked my whole career here; people ask me all the time ‘why don’t you want to go anywhere else’ and honestly I can’t imagine working anywhere else,” LeCave said. “I’ve built a lot of relationships here, we have a great staff, and I think the best thing about Dawson County is just the community and the parent support that we get; that's not true other places.”
Goals as the new superintendent
In her new role as the superintendent, LeCave said that her first goal is to keep working toward the goals that were set forth by the district’s strategic plan, which was written in 2020.
“We wrote our strategic plan back in 2020 and we partnered with the community and our parents, our business partners and postsecondary partners, and when we did that process we rewrote our district motto so it’s ‘1Dawson, Excellence Together’,’ LeCave said. "I’ve spent the spring pretty much meeting with our stakeholder groups, our governance councils, our parent cabinet, and really trying to just share with them my focus of staying true to our strategic plan; we did get a lot of feedback and input so I want to make sure as a district that we are reaching toward the goals in that plan.”
In her previous role as Deputy Superintendent, LeCave was instrumental in the work that has been done so far to reach those goals set forward in the strategic plan. Now as the superintendent, she said that she believes in those goals just as strongly as she did before.
“I was a part of that work, I believe in that work, I also feel like coming off of the last two years with Covid we have asked a lot of our staff and our teachers so I feel like providing them with some consistency and really staying the course of the work that we’re doing,” LeCave said. “The goals are still relevant and we feel like we’re working on the right work, so I don’t feel the need as an incoming superintendent to overhaul that. My immediate goals would be to make sure that we’re staying aligned to that strategic plan.”
This year, LeCave also plans to expand parent and teacher forums in order to continue encouraging feedback, and to create a student advisory council to get valuable feedback from the students. All of this, she said, is aimed toward upholding the school system’s transparency and allowing students, parents and teachers alike to have a voice.
“I thrive on feedback, I ask for a lot of it and some people see that as a fault, but I feel like it’s really important to be a great listener especially in a role where you impact so many teachers’ and students’ lives, so I will continue that as well,’ LeCave said.
With current events in the news, safety in the schools is another issue that is very prevalent in social media and community forums. As the superintendent, LeCave said that safety is her top priority and the most important step in cultivating the best possible learning environment for the students.
“You can’t do anything if our students and staff don’t feel safe and secure,” LeCave said. “We’re not doing school safety in response to something tragic that happens; every single day that we come to work here our principals and our teachers keep our kids safe, so part of our continuous improvement process is training, tabletops, drills — all of those things are things that the school district does on a regular basis.”
LeCave added that, as a parent herself, she understands and shares the concerns that other parents have.
“My child goes to school here, so as a parent I want the same thing for all of our kids that I want for my very own child, and the first thing on that list is do they feel safe and secure, supported and valued — so that will definitely be at the top of our list,” LeCave said.
She added that, while each school in the district has a great deal of safety protocols in place, the goal is for the schools to be welcoming while also being safe and secure.
“We also want to make sure that we’re fostering an environment for our staff and teachers that is welcoming, that they feel safe but they also feel free to make mistakes — we’re a school, we don’t want to be like a prison — so there’s kind of a fine line that we’re trying to walk as well to make sure that we do what our community and parents value,” LeCave said. “They love the family-friendly, small schools, I value that too, so it is a balancing act, but the safety of our staff and students will always be top priority for us.”
With the ongoing growth in Dawson County, one of the questions that keeps arising in community meetings and community forums is whether or not the school system is equipped to handle that growth. LeCave said that the district is well prepared to handle the challenges that added growth will bring.
“My message about the growth would be that growth brings challenges that this district has planned well for and I would be happy to talk with anyone about how our board and how our previous leaders have done that,” LeCave said. “Yes we are going to grow — our facilities are in great shape to take in students, so yes there are challenges but with growth also comes a lot of opportunities.”
More students means more staff, she added, and many other opportunities that come with a larger student body. Most importantly, she said that the school system should never try to dictate how many children are in the district, but that its goal should be to serve every child that walks through the school doors.
“From our perspective, we’re going to serve the kids that come, whether that’s 10 or whether that’s 1000,” LeCave said. “We’re going to serve all students because that’s what you do in public education, so what I feel like is important for me to do for my staff and teachers and students is communicate the message that we’re ready for this growth, and that even though there are challenges, with growth comes opportunities and we focus on the opportunities.”
Theme and motto for her first year as superintendent
In her first year as superintendent, LeCave said that she and her staff are doing everything they can to exemplify the school’s motto: “1Dawson, Excellence Together”.
“I want to foster that 1Dawson culture, I think we’ve done a good job of that,” LeCave said. “The other part of our motto is ‘Excellence Together’ — so we’ve got the “1Dawson” and I feel like we’ve really established that culture, but my theme this year and our focus is going to be defining what it means to be excellent together, so we’re really working with our leadership team this year and really focusing on what does it mean to lead with excellence or serve with excellence.”
Moving into the upcoming school year, LeCave said that she is encouraging district leadership to focus on three “E’s”: embracing goals and growth, expanding opportunities and expecting excellence.
“For my first year I want to model that for my staff, teachers and students, but I also am one person and I have challenged our leadership team to really define for themselves what does it mean to lead with excellence — what are you going to do this year that at the end of the year when we can get done you can say ‘wow that was great and that impacted our kids in a positive way’,” LeCave said. “I think we have to be in a constant state of how can we be better because our kids deserve it.”
LeCave said that in everything she does she aims to follow her leadership philosophy: adding value to what she’s doing and serving others.
“I feel like if you are lucky enough to work in a leadership role like this one or like our principals, that’s not work you have to do, it’s work you get to do; so that should always be considered an honor,” LeCave said. “I hope that I can model my core values of really serving people; I feel like that’s the most important thing I can do as a leader is just remove barriers and make sure that our staff has the resources and support that they need to do the things we’re asking them to do, and as a result our kids will learn and grow and be ready for college or a career after they graduate.”
LeCave said that she’s incredibly humbled and honored to have been named the new superintendent, and that she never wants that role to be about her but rather about the students the system serves.
“This position is certainly not about me and I don’t want it to be that way; I’ve built a lot of really strong relationships here and I value those, and I have been well received and welcomed into this position and I do consider it a really big blessing,” LeCave said. “At the end of the day we’re here to serve our kids, and we have to always be focused on their learning and their growth. I am excited to be a part of this team, I could not have handcrafted a team that I feel more confident in so I’m excited to be a part of that and to see what we accomplish together.”