LIBERTY — A month and a half into his 21⁄2-year contract as the first appointed superintendent of the Amite County School District, Don Cuevas appears to be settling into the position nicely.
For Cuevas the job is “new place, same old story,” he said.
Cuevas, 58, of Gulfport, was hired for showing an aptitude for improving the academic performance of schools with low accountability ratings.
The high school in Hancock County moved from a D to an A while he was there. He’s also worked as an assistant principal and the director of a GED program, but he was most recently the principal at West Wortham Elementary and Middle School, an “A” rated school in the Harrison County School District. West Wortham made an A three years in a row with Cuevas in charge.
His 21-year career in education started with a passion for service and opportunity. Cuevas was a special education teacher after earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Southern Mississippi.
“I’m just a teacher who worked hard,” he said. “I’ve always connected well with kids.”
“Moving academics,” as Cuevas likes to say, is nothing new to him. He’s been doing it his whole career in both rural and urban areas. He said he enjoys finding solutions to difficult problems and feels confident he can impact genuine change in the district.
It’s that experience, coupled with a knack for impacting student performance and growth, that put Cuevas on the school board’s radar as they searched for a new superintendent.
Cuevas was hired last fall and took over for former superintendent Scotty Whittington in January. Since then, he’s put his data analytics approach to work, quickly identifying the strengths and weaknesses of district programs and instruction.
He said the use of data-driven instruction is important because it allows teachers to zero in on the areas most in need of improvement or extra attention.
“The data doesn’t lie,” he said. “We’re going to leave no stone unturned. The middle of the road isn’t good enough anymore.”
The culture of the district is determined by the example set by leadership, he said.
“Accountability is everything,” he said. “I’m a big believer in accountability.”
Cuevas said the teachers and administrators have been putting forward a commendable effort to jump on board with his goals for the district. He said that makes him even more confident in his optimism for the district because motivating teachers is an important step in improving student performance.
“The teachers are seeing us every day in their schools,” he said. “Talking to us — knowing our vision. They’re taking on a challenge.”
He said his introduction to the district was positive and credited an energetic and dedicated staff with strong leadership skills and a desire to improve student performance.
“It’s a mission,” he said. “And people are buying into the vision.”
Cuevas has brought his administrative philosophy, what he calls “covering kids,” which emphasizes meeting the needs of the whole child, academic and otherwise.
“When it comes to kids, you’ve got to give that little bit extra,” he said. “It’s not a secret.”
He emphasized the importance of growth of an individual child on a day-to-day basis and said the job of educators is to ensure academic growth is happening.
“Regardless of the child’s level, growth and improvement is what’s most important,” Cuevas said.