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July 2, 2018

Starting sixth year on job, school chief “happy” here

Photos/Lawrence Emerson
“I’m going to make mistakes and make a decision that will rub folks the wrong way,” Superintendent David C. Jeck says. “I can’t dwell on it. I used to do that.”
He comes to issues that may relate to both the county and school board with an open mind. He understands there are fiscal restraints and generally takes a non-adversarial position in regards to our dealings
— County Administrator Paul McCulla
David C. Jeck
• Age: 53

• Home: Orlean

• Work: Superintendent, Fauquier County Public School, 2013 to present.

• Salary: $170,274 

• Experience: Superintendent, Greene County Public Schools, 2008-13; assistant superintendent, Greene County, 2006-08; director, Charlottesville/Albemarle Technical Center, 2005-06; principal, Louisa County High School, 2001-05; principal, Bassett High School, 1999-2001; assistant principal, Louisa County Middle School, 1996-99.

• Education: Doctorate, education, University of Virginia, 2010; master’s, education, University of Southern Mississippi, 1994; bachelor’s, social science and secondary education, Nyack (N.Y.) College, 1988.

• Family: Wife Rhonda; sons David Jr. and Caleb.

• Hobbies: Woodworking, cooking, golfing, restoring a 1966 Cadillac convertible, traveling and rooting for the L.A. Dodgers.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
A special education student who felt “inferior” for years, the California youngster could in no way envision himself as the chief executive of a public school system with 11,000 pupils and 1,800 employees.

But, David Jeck has come a long way from his elementary school days.

In five years as superintendent of Fauquier County Public Schools, Dr. Jeck, 53, has focused on developing relationships with students, teachers, support staff members, elected officials and other citizens.

“I’m proud of walking into a building and students know who I am . . . . That means I’m doing my job,” he says during a recent interview in his office on Warrenton’s Hospital Hill. “I can’t even remember my high school principal’s name. They ought to know there are people at this level who are looking out for them.”

The Whittier, Calif., native grew up the youngest of seven children and attended a special education school from second through fifth grade because of a reading comprehension disability. After retesting in middle school, he moved out of special education and into a program for gifted students.

But, years after graduating from high school and college into his career as a coach and teacher, Dr. Jeck “always felt inferior” — stemming from his experiences as a special education student.

“Everyone was smarter, better.”

But, unexpectedly landing a job as an assistant principal at Louisa County Middle School in 1996, he “started to feel success. Then, I thought I could do this.”

Helping students find their gifts stoked his passion for teaching.

“I think sometimes leadership opportunities find you,” he says. “God had a plan. I believe in providence, and this was part of a plan. I really do love it here, and I love this community.”

During his tenure in Fauquier, on-time graduation rates have risen and opportunities for students to excel — through science, technology, engineering and math classes and early childhood education — have increased. But, Dr. Jeck gives the credit to others.

“Everyone is gifted, and we must find out what they are gifted in,” he says.

Fauquier’s 95-percent, on-time graduation rate has continued to improve since he became superintendent. Last year, 95.9 percent of students with disabilities graduated on time.

“My big personal goal is I want any (Fauquier public school) kid, after they graduate, no matter their background . . . that as they go into their first job, college, the military, for people to look at them and say, ‘Those kids are different. They are articulate, problem-solvers; they can communicate with others and treat others with respect, and they follow the things they’re most interested in’.”

Dr. Jeck served five years as superintendent of Greene County’s 2,950-student school system before coming to Fauquier in 2013.

He began teaching and coaching in 1989, a year after graduating from Nyack College in New York.

Somewhat laid-back, he has learned to not take himself too seriously over the last five years — something he believes sets him apart from other superintendents.

“I take my job seriously,” Dr. Jeck says. “Hopefully I’m serving the community . . . . When it becomes about you, you’re doomed.”

But, he welcomes feedback from anyone.

“Don’t surround yourself with only people who agree with you,” he always tells principals.

“I’m going to make mistakes and make a decision that will rub folks the wrong way,” Dr. Jeck says. “I can’t dwell on it. I used to do that.”

Instead, he focuses on the idea that, “I’ve gotta make decisions that are in the best interest of kids.”

A recent decision to allow students at Fauquier’s three high schools to participate in national walkouts against school violence drew “pushback” from some parents and other citizens, he notes.

“That was a very impactful event for me, because I don’t think there’s a school leader who doesn’t wake up and find it pretty daunting to be responsible for the safety of 11,000 students.

“I was supportive of the kids,” Dr. Jeck says. “We made big progress as a result and they (students) deserve credit for that.”

This fall, 15 new security specialists will start working in Fauquier schools.

Woodworking, which he took up about five years ago, has helped Dr. Jeck cope with the stress of the job. He finds peace in taking walnut, cherry, mahogany and turning it into furniture, bowls and other items.

“There’s no ambiguity . . . you finish it, and it’s done,” he says of the hobby.

Rising Kettle Run senior Harper Crater serves on the student advisory committee, which meets about four times a year with Dr. Jeck.

“As a person, I think he’s very genuine and empathetic towards students,” Harper says. “It makes me happy that he’s not afraid to ask us the hard questions. I was relieved that he was asking us (about school safety), because we are the ones in the schools.

“He shows up to things. We see him around a lot.”

Dr. Jeck also embraces social media, communicating regularly with parents, students and teachers via Twitter and YouTube.

Responsible for balancing the school system’s budget with board members and county supervisors, he continues to advocate for employee raises.

County Administrator Paul McCulla has worked with at least five other superintendents during his tenure.

“I found Dr. Jeck to be an open, honest individual who genuinely seems interested in trying to work with all entities to accomplish his missions as superintendent,” Mr. McCulla says. “He comes to issues that may relate to both the county and school board with an open mind.

“He understands there are fiscal restraints and generally takes a non-adversarial position in regards to our dealings and takes the position of lets’ roll up our sleeves and see if we can’t solve the problems.”

Dr. Jeck also has earned the respect of school board members.

“I would describe him of a person of vision and conviction, highly relatable and in the best sense of the word, humble, in terms of being able to divert from his own intentions ad ideas to incorporate the ideas of other people,” says Brian Gorg (Center District).

“He has a real knack for hiring people, and when he makes mistakes on hiring, he lives up to it,” Mr. Gorg adds.

School board Chairman Donna Grove (Cedar Run) helped choose the new superintendent after Jonathan Lewis retired.

“We knew we had to look for someone who connected with teachers and the community . . . who communicated better,” Ms. Grove says. “We felt we needed someone who made the connection stronger. Five minutes with Dr. Jeck and you knew he was going to be that person. He can connect with folks, regardless of who they are.”

Although the school system has made progress, Dr. Jeck realizes impoverished students, those with disabilities and others need more help.

“We have a good team (of administrators), all pulling that direction to provide rigorous, engaging curriculum, so they all have the same opportunities,” he says.

Dr. Jeck’s goals include further establishing three academies/specialized programs —  iSTEM, environmental studies and cyber security — at county high schools to provide more advanced opportunities for students.

“I’m a ‘big picture’ person,” he says. “What’s it going to take to get there? The details come along with it. My personal style is always looking at what’s next.”

Although superintendents average three years in a school system, Dr. Jeck says he hopes to finish his career in Fauquier and has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“I think about how happy I am in this community. When you get to be my age, you want to leave a legacy . . . leave a place better than you found it.”

> Click below to watch the superintendent discuss the budget in one of his regular videos

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Stacie Griffin · July 2, 2018 at 12:27 pm
We are so lucky to have a superintendent who empowers his administrative team, respects every employee in our schools and engages our students. I see him working very hard to make Fauquier County schools competitive, innovative and provide opportunities for all children. He has built a bridge in our county with parents, businesses and community leaders.

As a parent and active volunteer supporting our Fauquier County public schools, I am so grateful to have Dr. Jeck leading the team.

Thank you David Jeck for everything that you do for all of the children in our county. You are definitely making our world a better place.
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