SYLACAUGA – Dr. Todd Freeman is spending his last week as the city school district’s superintendent. His last day is Friday.
On March 12, he begins his new job as superintendent of Vestavia Hills City Schools.
As Freeman packs up the personal items in his office at the Board of Education, the superintendent does so with the sadness of leaving but also with a sense of hope for the school system’s future.
Freeman said his more than four years in the school district’s top job have been the most rewarding professional experience he’s ever had.
“I’ve grown as a professional, as a friend, father and husband because of the time I have been here,” he said. “The years have been impactful. I can’t describe it. I’m grateful the Board of Education gave me the opportunity to serve. I hope I have added value to the community. It certainly has to us, my wife and I.”
Freeman is a native of Clay County and graduate of Clay County High School. During his four-plus years as Sylacauga’s superintendent, he said the school system owes its success to the community’s support.
“The evidence shows quite a commitment from the community. Sylacauga’s citizens pay 28.5 mils of property tax that support our schools,” he said.
In his last blog to the community, Freeman said the tax commitment by residents has afforded the system the opportunity to invest more than $32 million in capital improvements to academics, arts, athletic and support facilities since 2010.
In addition, the superintendent said the City Council annually provides funding that enhances the learning experiences afforded the district’s students.
Among the projects completed under Freeman’s leadership was a new Central Office downtown, renovations and additions at Sylacauga High School and the renovation of Legion Stadium.
In February 2015, residents approved a bond issue that extended the mill tax. The extension allowed Sylacauga City Schools to do other renovations.
Among the highlights of Freeman’s tenure was the purchase of the First National Bank building downtown and turning it into the system’s new Central Office. The district saved a significant amount of money by making that purchase instead of constructing a new facility.
“We paid a little under $200,000 for the building and furniture. It was a great deal for us,” Freeman said.
A new roof was put on the building, and the second floor was renovated. The structure has 10,000 square feet of space upstairs. The first floor was renovated as new carpet was installed, new ceiling tiles installed and more. This area will be used as a community room.
The school system spent $790,000 on the construction.
“We were able to invest in an old building ... that had been part of the city’s downtown since the 1960s,” Freeman said. “Our employees that work here are now part of downtown and its revitalization.”
One area the school system is focusing on is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers. Also the Career Technical Education program continues to grow, with more than 700 students involved from third grades 3-12. Freeman said CTE will continue to grow with students interested in health, computers, mass media and the arts.
Some other programs Freeman is pleased with:
Digital by Design, in which every student in grades 3-12 gets a Chromebook, exposing them to the internet;
Renovations and additions to the Fine Arts Department that included going from three teachers in the department in 2013 to seven today, giving students opportunities in music and the arts;
Gym work at Pinecrest and Indian Valley elementary schools;
Renovations to Legion Stadium for both the home and visitor sides, with financial support from the Talladega County school system; renovations to the two gyms at SHS, expansion of the media center, new physical education locker rooms, a weight room and fitness room;
Renovations to the SHS auditorium with new seating, carpet and more.
Freeman said he did not accomplish all of his goals.
“We didn’t achieve our goal of increasing the graduation rates,” he said.
“I haven’t done as much as I wanted to.”
Still, he said the future was bright for Sylacauga City Schools.
“The system has a strategic plan in place that will move the system forward,” he said. “We have teachers that love children and want them to be successful, we have great administrators and an exceptional school board that also love children and want them to be successful. These ingredients will help this system move forward in a most consistent way.”
The outgoing superintendent believes the district’s partnerships within the community are another reason for its success.
“I am most proud of the work we have accomplished because it has been a team effort with the help of so many, including the Chamber of Commerce, SAFE (Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement), (City) Council, Parks and Recreation, B.B. Comer Memorial Library, Coosa Valley Medical Center and the Schools Foundation. The community has bought into this school system,” he said.
Freeman said the district staff and schools are near and dear to his heart. “They love their work, and you can feel that when you walk in the door to come to work,” he said.
The school superintendent has been activity in his community. He is a member of the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, SAFE, Easter Seals and First Baptist Church.
“Serving on boards has been good for me. I’ve learned and grown through these memberships, while it has helped me strengthen partnership with business leaders,” he explained.
A reception thanking Freeman for his service to the schools will be Friday, March 9, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the board’s Central Office.