More than four decades ago, Gary Hough arrived in Fayette County from western Pennsylvania armed with a clear, personal mission.
"I came here to teach," Hough said recently.
After spending five years teaching third- and fourth-graders in classrooms at Ansted and Minden elementary schools, Hough was elevated into school administration, serving as principal of several Fayette County schools in the ensuing years.
When asked what drew him to education as a chosen field in the first place, Hough replies simply, "I believe our greatest asset is our young people."
Hough retired in 2018 as the Fayette County Schools' associate superintendent. He had served three years in that post.
Since retirement, he has been involved with leadership coaching for three principals, in addition to consulting with the current director of transportation, Bryan Parsons, last year as a transportation plan was hatched for the expanding Oak Hill school campus. Hough also served as a substitute teacher and a substitute principal at times.
Retirement didn't suit him, though, so now he's returning to full-time work. Only this time, he'll be the boss.
A 63-year-old Fayetteville resident, Hough took the oath of office from Circuit Judge Thomas H. Ewing as the county's new schools superintendent during a special ceremony on Tuesday at the Fayette County central office. Also being sworn in were newly elected board of education members Cindy Whitlock and Steve Slockett, the latter entering his second four-year term.
Hough is embracing the opportunity to get back into the educational field full-time. "I tease: I said I got an F in retirement," he says with a laugh. "I couldn't walk away from what I consider the important work I've done in life, maybe not important to other people but important to me inside. ... This was my calling in life.
"My children both chose the profession; they both started here in Fayette County. They know Dad is pretty committed to the profession, and so are they."
Along with work on ongoing school renovation projects, continued academic achievement progress is another of Hough's main goals for the school system. "We've still got a lot of work to do in academic achievement," he said, pointing to long-term intervention, a program to aid students in need of assistance. Also, he wants to "have our kids master a subject well enough that they can perform in no matter what realm it's in in the application process.
"I would like Fayette County within the next couple of years to be in the top half of the state in academic achievement," he said, before eventually striving to be in the top 10 percent. "We're in the lower half, but we're gaining."
Hough says he wants to build confidence in parents that they can expect their children to get a good education from Fayette County Schools. "Particularly the last few years, we've made a lot of progress. The challenges are great because of all the environments children came from (indicating some affected by the drug crisis)," he said. "We want to build that confidence (with the parents).
"We have a lot of kids that achieve really well in that upper 10 percent. It's just trying to move as many as we can (up to that level)."
Of the man he's succeeding in office, the retiring Terry George, Hough said, "He took over when Fayette County didn't have a facility plan to correct problems (we had lost one school — Collins Middle — and lost sections of Mount Hope Elementary, Meadow Bridge High School, and Fayetteville Elementary was falling into a very difficult situation). The county was under state control for five years.
"Under his leadership, the county developed a comprehensive plan to address facility issues, manage budgetary issues and do a plan to address academic achievement. At the present time construction is underway at the currently funded projects (Fayetteville PK-8, MTHS, OHHS and Valley PK-8) and planning is underway for Meadow Bridge PK-12."
In addition, Hough noted, George led the way as the system obtained funding and oversaw construction of the new Oak Hill Middle School and New River Primary. Also, work was completed on the Oak Hill High STEM lab/safe school entrance/offices and classrooms at Midland Trail High to transform that facility into a 6-12 school, and realignments occurred at Fayetteville PK-8, Valley PK-8 and MTHS 6-12.
"He took over when Fayette County was ranked 54 of 55 counties in academic achievement," said Hough. "Even though counties aren't ranked anymore, we have made progress in comparison to state averages in language arts and math performance."
Hough knows guiding the school system as it continues to negotiate the Covid-19 minefield will be a challenge. But, he says, many steps are being taken to prepare for that.
"We have been busy obtaining materials from the supply chain (sanitizing equipment, temperature monitoring devices, gloves, masks, etc.)," he said. "We purchased a learning platform for distance learning and additional devices for students to use with the platform (this platform is downloadable that wouldn't require internet access for students to use at home). We are currently training teachers on this platform."
The local system and others statewide are awaiting operational direction from the West Virginia Department of Education for the upcoming school year, and a county-level committee comprised of school administrators, teachers, service personnel, health department, health providers and law enforcement is poised to complete a final plan after state guidance is received.
"The focus will be safety of students while providing productive learning," said Hough.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe