Support From the Top, Down


Henry County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jack Parish understands transportation’s key role in the educational process

As superintendent of Henry County Schools, Dr. Jack Parish understands pupil transportation’s importance in the school system, and in each student’s education. From his position as both the lead administrator of the district and president of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, Parish sees the invisible lines that make those connections.

“School transportation provides the safest way for students to be transported to and from school,” said Parish from his office in McDonough, located 30 miles southeast of Atlanta. “The mission of Henry County Schools is ‘Ensuring Success for Each Student.’ Student transportation services is vital to our achievement of this mission.” Henry County’s transportation department, led by transportation director Beverly Skipper, moves 22,000 students to and from school with constant support from the district’s administration.

“Dr. Parish involves himself in every possible meeting that pertains to our school system,” said Skipper. “He makes it a point to meet with our drivers during the pre-annual drivers’ meeting and give out the perfect attendance awards. During severe inclement weather, Dr. Parish is on the job with us to make sure our buses and children are safe to continue the school day.”

Local Roots
Born and raised in Henry County, Parish is a product of the same local public school system he serves. Although he lived too close to his school for bus service, he had the opportunity to ride the school bus during field trips and athletic events. After graduating from Stockbridge High School in 1974, Parish began his path of higher education with a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University. He followed with a master’s degree in education from Georgia State University, an Education Specialist degree from West Georgia College and a Doctor of Education degree from the University of Georgia.

With degree in hand, Parish began working as a teacher and a coach at Riverdale High School in nearby Clayton County. From there he made his way back to his hometown, where he has now worked for the past 20 years as an assistant principal, principal, assistant personnel director, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and, for the past seven years, as superintendent.

“Dr. Parish is an exemplary leader who embodies integrity, work ethic and sound judgement,” said Dr. Ethan Hildreth, Henry County’s assistant superintendent for administrative services, another of the district’s proponents of the importance of school transportation. “Not only does school transportation ensure that students reach the classroom, the bus driver and the bus environment help set the tone for the school day and are quite literally the first and last school experiences of the student each day.”

Common Issues
Like most school districts around the country, Parish and his team have had to deal with cuts to their annual budgets. At the National School Boards Association’s legislative conference in February, officials spoke about the state of the economy and its affect on school finances. In California for example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed slashing $4 billion from next year’s K-12 education spending. Georgia has seen similar budgetary woes.

“The budget crisis during the past five years has resulted in greatest part from state austerity reductions, and these reductions have resulted in the school system having to scale back on needed bus purchases,” said Hildreth. “Even in the face of this, however, the Henry County Schools transportation department has continued to do an outstanding job.”

Unlike a number of school districts that limit their school bus service to students who live at least one mile or more from their schools, Henry County offers transportation to all of its students. With state funding only providing for students who live more than one and a half miles from school, most transportation funding in Henry County Schools is provided through local revenue.

“Our Board of Education has continued to make the commitment of offering transportation to all of our students because it is not safe for our students to try to walk to and from school. Like many suburban communities, we do not have adequate sidewalks connecting neighborhoods and communities to the schools,” said Parish.

To cut costs, the district runs a two-tier system, has reduced idling time and makes its routes as efficient as possible, without overloading the buses.

“Dr. Parish and I both are presidents of our associations and work toward the increase in funding for transportation,” said Skipper, the current president of the Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation. “The State Department of Education is receiving only a small portion of monies to fund the transportation departments.”

A (Very) Short Retirement
After close to three decades in K-12 education, Dr. Parish has decided to leave his position with Henry County at the end of the school year, and he will also end his term as president of the state’s superintendent association.

“Jack was my assistant superintendent before I retired,” said Herb Garrett, executive director of the GSSA. “He’s gentleman, a scholar and a quality superintendent.”

His retirement will be short lived though. Starting in August, Parish will make a transition to higher education with a teaching position at the University of Georgia.

“This allows me to remain in education and share some of the experience I have with aspiring school leaders,” said Parish.

In honor of Parish’s many years in K-12 education, Georgia’s general assembly is in the process of passing House Resolution 1278, which commends “Dr. Jack Parish for his devotion and tireless commitment to both students and educators and to improving the quality of education in Henry County and in the State of Georgia,” reads the resolution. As of this writing, the bill had been read and adopted by the House.

Reprinted from the April 2008 issue of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.