Dr. Marcus J. Newsome leaving Petersburg Public Schools June 30
PETERSBURG — Dr. Marcus J. Newsome announced his retirement today after 40 years as an educator, including 16 years as a superintendent, the last three of which he spent working for Petersburg Public Schools.
His retirement will be effective on June 30, 2019.
In his letter of retirement to the Petersburg Public Schools Board, Dr. Newsome wrote, “I share your pride in knowing that we are in a much better place than we were three years ago … Together, we have established a solid foundation for the future.”
Dr. Newsome took over in July 2016 after announcing his retirement from Chesterfield County Public Schools. He delayed that retirement to come and work for Petersburg after conversations with the Virginia Secretary of Education and state superintendent of public instruction.
“I asked a couple of friends at the state ... what I could do to help out in my retirement …”, Dr. Newsome said. “Those conversations led to me taking the position with Petersburg.”
When he arrived in 2016, Lakemont Elementary – then Robert E. Lee Elementary – was the only of Petersburg’s seven schools to be accredited. At Dr. Newsome’s departure, all of Petersburg’s seven schools, plus a pre-kindergarten program are accredited. Lakemont Elementary, Pleasants Lane Elementary, Vernon Johns Middle and Petersburg High are currently accredited with conditions.
“I knew that there were challenges coming in …” he said. “I was naïve about how daunting the challenges were at the time. I had no idea the financial challenges were as deep as they were.”
With the city already owing PCPS nearly $3 million just one month into his job as superintendent, the City cut its funding to the school system by 30 percent.
“I was not anticipating that. I knew that we would still be able to move forward but instead of turnaround taking three to five years, I think it took us three to seven years. I think we are about halfway through the turnaround process,” he said.
The list of accomplishments made by the school system under Dr. Newsome’s watch is lengthy. Along with accreditations, the schools have increased student reading levels by more than 20 points, issued a Chromebook to every student in grades 2 through 12, which are loaded with textbooks and e-learning material, strengthened community connections through the City and Schools Partnership with 200-plus community partners and earned the district’s first-ever Meritorious Budget Award for the Association of School Business Officials International in 2017, among many others.
Upon taking over, the teacher workforce was heavily reliant on substitute teachers, with about one in six teachers being a substitute teacher.
“We have significantly reduced that,” Dr. Newsome said.
Petersburg schools have now filled that gap with a number of provisional teachers, who are working toward their teacher licenses.
“We still have a lot of work to do in recruitment but a provisional teacher is closer to where we need our course to be than a substitute teacher,” he continued.
Teacher shortage is a state-wide issue that has affected Petersburg more than other localities, and an issue which Dr. Newsome has fought to correct. His three years have seen a total nine percent increase in teacher salaries which is used to retain and attract higher quality teaching talent.
“School systems in distressed communities take on a greater burden of the teacher shortage,” said Dr. Newsome. “I’ve been working with the state, I’ve been working with my colleagues. That has now made the teacher shortage the number one education issue.”
On top of tackling these issues, PPS has also hired numerous credible and experienced executive level employees from across the state to help steer the school system toward prosperity.
“Every decision we made was in the best interest of the students and I don’t think we could have done more than we’ve done,” he said.
But, Petersburg Public Schools still isn’t finished building and giving students the best possible environment for success. Along continuing to correct teacher expertise, Newsome says infrastructure is the biggest problem for the future of the schools.
“This is going to be a long-term process. Right now, I don’t see an immediate fix…” he said. “We were able to move our students out of the Peabody Middle School facility because it was not conducive for children or employees and we moved them into a much better facility at Vernon Johns. We have other facilities that quite frankly, need to be replaced. Again, that’s a long-term fix and I hope that the next administration will make some progress in that area.”
Petersburg Public Schools is already in search of a successor, having hired B.W.P Associates, an educational leadership search firm, to lead the search for Petersburg’s next superintendent.
Dr. Newsome said he hopes a successor has “experience in challenging communities” and “the ability to come in with credibility with the community and with the school board and with the staff.”
His letter to the Petersburg School Board went out today.
School board Chairman Kenneth Pritchett said, “We deeply appreciate Dr. Newsome’s service to Petersburg City Public Schools. The School Board and I wish that Dr. Newsome’s retirement announcement were coming several year’s later, yet we understand his choice and wish him and his family all the best in the future. We are grateful to have had Dr. Newsome as our superintendent, and we know that Petersburg schools are stronger now than we were three years ago. The school board is now hiring a talented and experienced superintendent to build on the foundation we have built over the past several years, and move Petersburg City Public Schools to the next level.”
Dr. Newsome ends his career after beginning his career as a teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools as an art teacher, later becoming a mathematics teacher. From there, he moved to Prince George’s County (Maryland) Public Schools – among the nation’s largest with 130,000 students – where he worked his way through the ranks to become dean of students, assistant principal, principal, director, executor and director.
“I’ve been humbled by the opportunity, humbled by the challenges,” Dr. Newsome said. “There is no Superman who can turn the school system around, no one person can do it by themselves, this is a team effort and I’ve been humbled by the number of people who want to be part of this turnaround.”
Sean Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 804-722-5172.