Rafalowski settling in as interim Sullivan director of schools

Rick Wagner • Jul 20, 2015 at 4:58 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — After 38 years in the Sullivan County school system as a teacher, coach, school administrator and central office supervisor, interim Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said she still has the fire for education in her heart.And even if the interim is not dropped from her title and she goes back to her former supervisor’s position, Rafalowski said she’s not ready to retire.“I am happy. I do it because I love what I do. I’m passionate about education and I’m passionate about Sullivan County schools,” she said. “Sullivan County schools is not about me. Sullivan County schools is about over 10,000 students and 1,600 employees. And it is all of us working together to ensure the success of our students in every realm of what success means.”That includes academic learning, the ability to make good life decisions and growth in community service.Less than two months after she became interim director of schools, replacing immediate past Director Jubal Yennie, Rafalowski said things are going well in the school system as it prepares for the start of school in August, the 2015-16 budget and a long-term facilities plan.“There’s a part of me that still thinks I have something to offer. When I’m no longer insightful, impactful and passionate, I wouldn’t burden the system,” Rafalowski said. She also said she wouldn’t work for any other K-12 system, having had her whole career as an educator and K-12 student in Sullivan County.She said that former students of hers are teachers in the system in more than half its schools.“So far I think this transition has been smooth,” Rafalowski, the first female to head the system in its history, said recently in her office. “I’m really excited and pleased with the team that has been assembled here.”Rafalowski also said she draws examples of good leadership from the seven superintendents or directors under whom she served: Paul Nelson, Jim Fleming, Wallace Ketron, John O’Dell, Glenn Arwood, Jack Barnes and Yennie.“I can take bits and pieces from each one of them,” Rafalowski said.Her application references were Yennie, O’Dell — the last elected superintendent and first appointed director — Arwood and Nave, a former Indian Springs Elementary principal who left the Tennessee Department of Education to return to Sullivan County.She applied once before for the director’s position, but it then went to Barnes.Her new office location, she said, doesn’t lend itself to collaboration as much as her old one, but said she makes a point to move to other areas each day.She said the central office staff, the smallest since she joined central office in 1999, is a gifted group with vision.New members include Karen Nave, who is interim supervisor of operations. The position is over technology, communications and safety and is one to which Rafalowski would return if she does not become permanent director.At times, Rafalowski also has overseen athletics and transportation. She said folks in the central office wear various hats and are cross-trained to fill in for others when needed.Another new central office employee is Andy Hare, a county commissioner from Piney Flats also interviewed for the interim slot and who after that left the principal’s post of David Crockett High School in neighboring Washington County, Tenn., to accept the Sullivan job as supervisor of student services.Hare started his education career in Sullivan County and worked a year in Kingsport before going to Washington County,“It’s always good to have a breath of fresh air at the table,” Rafalowski said.She said she didn’t think about being the first female superintendent or director to head the system until immediate past Director Yennie mentioned it June 1, the night the school board voted 6-0 with one absent to name her interim director. His last day physically on the job was June 23, and he started as a superintendent in Albany County, Wyo., July 1.After graduating from the old Sullivan West High School, a building that now serves as the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8, Rafalowski earned her bachelor of science degree from East Tennessee State University, a master of arts in education and master’s in education leadership from Union College.As for the facilities study, which resulted from a year-long process, she said that Yennie’s recommendation is on the table and she looks for it to be a beginning point for school board discussion, including whether the county would consider no longer using Sullivan North and allowing Kingsport to acquire it.It is based on but does not completely match consultant DeJong-Richter’s recommendation from Tracy Richter.The basic plan includes building a new 1,700-student high school to serve the area now served by North and South high schools in about five years and building a second new school in the Sullivan East zone by about 2025 or 2028.“I do think the initiative has been taken on the part of both boards,” Rafalowski said.“I think they are at the crossroads of where they want to go,” she said. “It’s hard to say if there will be a new school four years from now or five years from now.”

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