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Posted: Tuesday, June 26th 2012 at 1:27am

Cooper prepares to take reins of Habersham County School System

By Rob Moore
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Matthew Cooper waves to those in the audience after being introducted as the new school superintendent at Monday's Habersham County Board of Education meeting. (Photo/Rob Moore)
CLARKESVILLE – Banks County Middle School Principal Matthew Cooper has been named superintendent of the Habersham County School System.

A 4-0 vote by the board Monday approved Cooper as the superintendent, effective July 2. Board Member Rick Williams was out of town and missed Monday’s meeting.

“I just feel blessed right now,” Cooper said following the announcement. “I just thank God for the opportunity. I thank the Habersham community and the board of education for their confidence in me. I’m just very excited, ready to move forward.”

Cooper has served as principal of Banks County Middle School for the past seven years, and has worked in education since 1995.

“Habersham County is a great place,” Cooper said. “I told everyone it just has a great feel to it. I felt it when I came up here today. I know there’s good people here and great kids, and I’m really looking forward to starting work next week.”

Cooper and his family plan to relocate to Habersham County as soon as possible.

“As a matter of fact, my wife and I already have already called some Realtors,” Cooper said. “We’d like to move up here in July and be here before school starts.”

“Our kids will definitely be in Habersham schools, no matter what happens with our residence,” Cooper said. “We do have a house to sell, but we’re going to make the sacrifice and come on up here. I think that’s important. I think the superintendent needs to be here in the county, and I think my kids need to be here in these schools and we’re going to make sure that happens.”

Cooper initially will work alongside Interim Superintendent Larry M. Hill to learn the system. The board voted 4-0 Monday to extend Hill’s contract as interim superintendent through Aug. 31.

Even though he will spend two months learning the system’s inner workings with Hill, Cooper has a goal for the system.

“The focus is unity,” Cooper said. “I think it’s important we all come together for a common cause, and that common cause is simple – what’s best for kids, to make sure our kids are successful. That’s the only goal I have right now is that our kids are going to be successful, and I’m going to work with people. We’re going to work as a team – team is very important to me, so as I get to know people it’s going to be with that in mind, that we’re building a team together.”

Habersham County Board of Education Chairman Trent DeMore said the board looks forward to Cooper’s leadership of the system.

“First and foremost, the whole board’s excited about Matthew coming and joining us here in Habersham County,” DeMore said. “And I want to make sure that folks understand that his door is going to be open – come get to know him. That’s what Matthew wants to do. He doesn’t want to get in an office and start making decisions based on what we need – he wants to go out and hear what we need. That intrigued us about him.”

“He brought to us a plan to move our county forward – not just our county, most importantly he talked about those kids, and I know that’s his passion and that’s where we want our focus to be,” DeMore said. “He’s got some great ideas about what we can do to help our staff, and that’s very important to this board with all the state regulations coming down the pike.”

DeMore was complimentary about system employees, and said the board is optimistic how Cooper will interact with them.

“Our staff works as hard as anybody in the state and at times they’re the people we don’t reward enough,” DeMore said. “To hear Matthew’s ideas about how he likes to deal with staff, he’s got some great ideas and I think he’ll convey all those to the principals and we’ll get to work.”

Cooper will conclude his service to Banks County this week, then sign his employment contract in Habersham County, and officially report for duty in the next position next week.

“His first day here is going to be July 2, next Monday,” DeMore said. “He’s not signed his contract yet. Under state law he cannot be under contract with two different boards of education.”

DeMore was optimistic the Banks County Board of Education, at its meeting Monday night, would release Cooper from his employment contract in that county.

“We anticipate that being done, and Matthew can sign his contract later this week,” DeMore said.

Specifics of the contract were not disclosed during the meeting Monday night.

“The compensation package is going to be right in line with what Habersham County’s always done,” DeMore said. “Actually, it’s going to be a little less, salary wise, than what we’ve done in the past, and that’s something that we felt needed to be done, and quite frankly it was Matthew’s idea.”

That salary will be $125,000 per year.

“We’ve got a guy here that wants to come in and prove his worth – and not prove his worth in test scores or anything like that,” DeMore said. “The No. 1 thing that we feel strongly about is unity. We know how important a strong family is. That’s what we want – we want a strong family here in Habersham County, and I think that we can get there.”

Cooper, age 40, began his career in 1995 as a teacher and coach at Ben Hill County Middle School in Fitzgerald. In 1996, he began became a teacher and coach at Fitzgerald High School. He remained in that school system until coming to Banks County in 2002 as assistant principal of Banks County Middle School. He was promoted to principal in 2005.

The other finalist for superintendent was Justin Old, executive director of operations and human resources for the Franklin County School System, a position he has held for five years. Old has worked in education for 15 years.

DeMore had high praise for Larry Hill’s leadership of the system since former Superintendent Robert “Buddy” Costley’s resignation on Nov. 30.

“Mr. Hill knows our county inside and out,” DeMore said. “He’s at the end of his career, and we feel confident that Mr. Hill can be a great segue and bridge for Matthew, and he’s sort of that person there that’s in the middle of conversations that can be had and makes everybody feel comfortable. He brings a lot to the table.”

DeMore and other board members said they feel Hill and Cooper working side by side will be beneficial.

“It’s important for our kids that we make a smooth transition,” DeMore said.

DeMore said Hill stepped up when offered the interim position, though selection of a new superintendent took longer than anticipated.

“We went to Mr. Hill and asked him if he wanted to be interim superintendent, if he would consider it, because we felt he was a guy that would come in and keep the boat going – and it turned into a little bit longer gig than maybe he would have wanted,” DeMore said. “We feel good about it. He’ll certainly go back to be principal of the alternative school and start those responsibilities back. He’ll be tribunal officer as well. He knows that system and does a great job there.”
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