Photos courtesy of the Columbia County Board of Education
Meet Columbia County’s new school superintendent.
Eagle Scout. Outdoorsman. College athlete. Educator. High school coach. Administrator. Farmer. Yes, farmer.
Dr. Steven Flynt, the Columbia County School District’s new superintendent, says the best thing he ever learned in life is to be open to trying new things – even if he doesn’t know much about them.
“It’s probably uncomfortable for anybody to try something new,” says Flynt. “As you continue to get older, you need to look for areas where you can grow and learn.”
He has been growing, learning and making the most of opportunities his entire life. Flynt, who previously served as associate superintendent for the Gwinnett County Public Schools, began his latest venture in the spring when he assumed his new position in Columbia County. Building on the encouragement and guidance he has received from his mentors in education, he’s ready to pay forward the experience he has gained throughout his career.
However, he says, “You have to be your own person. You have to be yourself.”
From the time the DeKalb County native entered a neighborhood kindergarten to the day he earned a doctorate of education in educational leadership from the University of Georgia, he has been surrounded by strong leaders.
Yet, when Flynt was a high school student, he began to notice a disconnect between the material he was learning in the classroom and its application in the real world.
“The connection of how it would help me in life was difficult to see at the time,” he says.
As a result, he gravitated toward hands-on science classes such as biology, chemistry and physics as well as industrial arts programs.
“These classes have a natural connection with the real world experience,” he says. “They were more exciting because I got to do labs and participate in activities to connect what I was learning to how I would use it later.”
And that realization motivated him to pursue a career in education. “I struggled to connect between the curriculum and the material, and I thought I could do a better job with that,” he says.
He earned an associate of arts degree from Young Harris College, where he played soccer for two years. Continuing his college soccer career at Lees-McRae College, he was awarded a B.S. in biology from the Banner Elk, North Carolina school.
While he was enrolled at Young Harris, he was a student teacher at a high school – an experience that presented a couple of challenges. His students were practically his own age, and at that time, many schools were built with an open concept with no walls between classrooms. Not one of the best innovations in education, he says, but it didn’t derail his career plans.
After graduating from college, he earned a master’s degree in science education from Piedmont College. He and his wife, Kristin, whom he met when they were working at Stone Mountain Park one summer, went through the program together. An elementary school teacher, she also played college soccer at Emory University and coached high school soccer.
Flynt began his career as an educator when he took a job teaching biology and physical science at Miller Grove Junior High School in DeKalb County in 1993.
“My first year of teaching, I had a very good experience in DeKalb County. I never looked back,” he says.
A year later Flynt, who also coached soccer and swimming when he was a teacher, started teaching high school science before being promoted to assistant principal and principal positions.
“I had taught for close to 10 years. The high school had grown a good bit, and we were on the verge of expanding and growing extremely larger,” says Flynt. “I was asked to take a leadership role, and the principals encouraged me to do that. I moved into administration at my school, and I had a good first experience. I was able to do different jobs. When you have that kind of growth, you get to do a lot of things.”
He moved into his first administrative post for the Gwinnett County schools in 2008, climbing up the ranks to the position of associate superintendent in 2016. During his 13-year tenure as a Gwinnett County school administrator, he helped open 35 schools in a system that gained 8,000 to 9,000 students a year.
Although he had multiple opportunities for career growth within the Gwinnett County school system, Flynt started thinking about pursuing a superintendent’s position a couple of years ago.
“This was the only superintendent’s position I applied for. I applied for it because I knew of the work that had gone on in Columbia County, and I knew about the region itself,” he says. “The timing of the opening fit very well.”
Between his coaching duties and the high school lacrosse careers of the two oldest of his three daughters, Jessica and Emily, he was familiar with Columbia County through athletics. He and his family had traveled here to compete against the school district’s sports teams.
While this is his first full academic year in the position, he officially started his new job on April 1. He eased into the post by coming to the district three days each in February and March to attend budget meetings and to meet school principals and administrators.
“You learn a lot about an organization when you see where the money is spent,” says Flynt. “The first couple of weeks were devoted to relationships, and I will keep focusing on building relationships both internally in the district and externally in the community.”
His immediate focus includes studying data, identifying areas to work with individuals, learning about what has happened in the past and looking at growth and facility needs.
“Facility needs are something that every school system needs whether they’re growing or not,” he says.
Getting back on track after the coronavirus pandemic is a priority as well.
“During the global pandemic and learning from home, and then coming back to in-person school, we’ve seen the importance of our teachers and that in-person connection. Students achieve more when they have that close relationship with individual teachers,” says Flynt. “It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t perfect in any district, but we were able to adjust pretty quickly. We saw how dynamic we could be.”
However, there still is work to do to recover from the last 17 months by striking the right balance between students’ needs.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to continue to find the things we need to learn from this,” says Flynt. “Some students were OK, and it was more challenging for others. Sometimes you have to provide remedial education, but you also have to provide some acceleration.”
He believes the similarities between the Columbia County and Gwinnett County school systems will serve him well.
“Any time you’re coming from the outside, you have a different perspective. I was in Gwinnett County when we grew extremely fast, and there has been a lot of growth in Columbia County and the region. All of the opportunities here remind me of Gwinnett,” Flynt says. “We always need to look for what we can improve on. I think we’re poised to make the changes necessary, but not move too quickly.”
Change of Scenery
When he’s not on the job, he enjoys the outdoors. In fact, the Flynt family lived on a Gwinnett County farm from 1995 until about two years ago.
“We’ve always lived on acreage,” says Flynt. “We enjoyed the animals and the land. You learn a lot when you work around animals. We had goats, donkeys and horses. We built fences and barns. All of us learned how to drive a tractor.”
They gave up farm life after their two older daughters went to college, where they still play lacrosse. “We didn’t have as much help then,” he says.
The Flynts and their youngest daughter, Sarah, a freshman at Lakeside High School, have settled in Evans, and the superintendent is enjoying getting to know his new community.
“I knew this was a great place, but it has been reinforced time and time again. I feel fortunate to be here,” he says. “I’m looking forward to being part of the community, not just an employee of the school district. I have an open-door policy, and I hope people will reach out to me.”
By Betsy Gilliland