Diplomas for the 2013 graduating class at both LaFayette and Ridgeland high schools will bear the signature of a new superintendent: Damon Raines.
The Walker County Board of Education last week announced that Raines had accepted their offer to head the 14-school system following the retirement of Superintendent Melissa Mathis.
"He was definitely our first choice," said Patty Hart, chairwoman of the school board. "It was important for us to find someone that could continue what is here while bringing some fresh ideas to further improve our system."
Raines has 14 years experience with the nearby Catoosa County Public Schools, where he has been teacher, assistant principal and principal. He currently serves as director of operations for the system and its 17 schools.
"My passion is the students and seeing them achieve," Raines said. "My background in business and eduction led to this. I'd always thought I was following a path that would lead to my ending up as a superintendent some day, but this was kind of out of the blue."
Hart said the board narrowed down about 25 initial applications for the superintendent position to the 10 candidates they interviewed. From three finalists, Raines was clearly the board's top pick, she said.
"You feel comfortable with him immediately," Hart said. "He is so energetic, conscientious and has a lot of great qualities that will make his acceptance by staff, faculty and the community a given."
Raines said one thing in particular he finds very attractive is Walker County's willingness to bring cutting-edge technology and teaching techniques into its schools.
"Living this close to them [his Catoosa County home is about three miles from the county line] I've heard very positive things about their teachers, their commitment to their kids and their rising graduation rates," he said. "I feel humbled and excited to step into this role. There are a lot of opportunities there. Their future is very bright."
Raines' contract with Catoosa County runs through June 30, so he will not officially assume his position in Walker County until July 1.
In the meantime, Raines said he will begin the transition to the new school system - meet teachers and students, drive bus routes and visit facilities - as well as train his replacement in Catoosa.
"I'll have quite a bit going on before I officially assume my new job," he said.
Craig Davoulas, the school system's director of personnel, will continue to serve as interim superintendent, a position he has held since Mathis retired last fall.
"I support Damon completely in his new position," Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese said. "While I can say a lot about what Damon has done, I am most impressed with who he is.
"Damon is a man of character and integrity. His work ethic is impeccable.
"I consider him a friend, and I wish him the best in his new position. Damon Raines will be an excellent superintendent."