The four-year director of schools, who formally retired effective July 31, has worked under eight directors: Paul Nelson, J. Craft Akard, Jim Fleming, Wallace Ketron and John O’Dell as a teacher and building administrator and O’Dell (the last elected and first appointed director), Glenn Arwood, Jack Barnes and Jubal Yennie in central office.
She started as a teacher Monday, Aug. 5, 1977, at Colonial Heights Junior High School, now Colonial Heights Middle, stayed in county schools as a teacher, coach and assistant high school principal until going to the central office in 1999 and became director in 2015.
She applied to be director to replace the retiring Arwood and was a finalist, but the board decided to promote another finalist from central office, Barnes. She didn’t apply when the board chose Yennie, the first ever outside director who hadn’t worked in the system.
“I’ve learned so much from them,” Rafalowski said Thursday of the eight, adding that she believes Tennessee made the right decision in having all public school superintendents and directors appointed by elected school boards.
WHAT ABOUT THE SCHOOL BOARDS?
She said she’s also worked with dozens of great school board members, current and past. One of those, she said, is current board Chairman Michael Hughes.
“She’s exceeded every expectation. We hate to see her go, even though we feel we hired a very good director” in David Cox, who formally started Aug. 1, Hughes said Friday. Cox will be the second director in the history of the school system who didn’t come from inside it, but he is a Hawkins County native and taught there and in Kingsport before going to schools in Virginia and Maryland.
Hughes cited Rafalowski’s “tenacity and leadership” in getting the new Sullivan East Middle School and West Ridge High School through the pipeline and toward their completion and opening. Opposition to the schools has continued after $140 million in countywide bonds funded them and city school capital projects and even after contracts were let and construction got underway.
“I believe that will be her legacy,” Hughes said, adding that he’s seen firsthand her work ethic through late night and early morning phone calls.
WHAT ARE HUGHES, RAFALOWSKI’S FINAL ANSWERS?
“One a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give her a 12,” Hughes said. However, Hughes said he also is impressed by Cox, a sentiment Rafalowski shared. She and Cox are graduates of East Tennessee State University.
“The more I was around him, the better I felt about leaving the school system under his tutelage and guidance,” Rafalowski said of Cox, who knows the area and has roots here. “It’s been a rarity we went somewhere that somebody didn’t know him.”
On Friday Cox said he looks forward to the new school year and found Rafalowski most helpful and friendly.
And she said she won’t be a stranger to the school system, as she plans to help mark milestones with the two new schools. After all, new schools are bookends of her career, which began as the county school system completed a series of new schools, including Sullivan North High, where she worked, and Sullivan South. It ended on the verge of the new middle and high schools being built.