Not yet finished

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By Tom Wilmoth

For Dr. James Blevins, making the decision ? and announcement ? of his retirement as superintendent of Bedford County Schools was emotional.

And though that decision is now public, he also knows his work for the school system isn't yet finished. As Shirley McCabe pointed out at last week's board meeting, there's still a budget yet to do.

"I want to make sure I continue to do what the board wants," he said.

Blevins will officially retire at the end of this school year, having served in Bedford County since July 1, 1998. He will do so having some four decades of service in education. His next step? "I don't have a next step," he said Friday morning. "I just felt it was time. I wanted a little less stress in my life."

What that will mean is taking time to work with his horses ? he shows Arabian horses ? and even possibly work with some friends in Nascar. He also is looking forward to fishing and spending time with his 16-month-old grandson in Maryland.

"I have no particular plans," Blevins said.

Blevins said he had thought for some time about retiring and had promised the board when his last contract was signed that he would let them know whether he was interested in having that contract extended. "The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was time to retire," he said.

With the Jefferson Forest High School renovation project completed, retiring now made sense, deciding "it would be a great time to have new leadership and a good time for a smooth transition."

Blevins praised all of the workers within the school system. "The school system is doing a great job because of all the people in the school system," he said. "I'm just lucky to have all of these wonderful individuals...I've been blessed to have really good people to work with over the years."

When Blevins arrived 10 years ago, he came to an empty desk ? literally ? with empty drawers and empty walls. "There was nothing," he said. "Every file had been cleaned out. There wasn't even a piece of paper or a pencil."

But his successor shouldn't expect that. "I will assure you they will not come into this office with an empty desk," Blevins said.

What that person will inherit is a school system that is more open to the public and the press, a challenge Blevins said he has worked to provide. "We really tried hard to be very open and have an open form of government for the school system, making sure that the citizens get all of the information."

He said Bedford County Schools has been able to attract qualified people as teachers and he said one of his first challenges was helping establish a textbook fund.

"That was a big deal back then," he said of his early days as superintendent. "We didn't have a textbook for every child."

Also from the outset he was confronted with the problems at JFHS. Mold, a type of fungus called stachybotrys chartarum, was found in five classrooms in April, 2001. JFHS closed for the remainder of the school year and high school students finished the school year at Forest Middle School, after a three week break to allow the middle schoolers to finish their school year.

That came amidst the tumultuous battle over whether to build a new school or renovate JF. "It was a split board for a period of time," he said. "Jefferson Forest has always been the most unique challenge."

He said the board has worked at coming together with the board of supervisors to help make decisions. "People saw a strong need for those two groups to come together," Blevins said, adding that there is that need to balance the needs of the taxpayers with that of the school system.

The No Child Left Behind Act has also provided a challenge to the school system for the past seven years. Blevins said while "it's a good accountability system" it also has its pitfalls. "They are going to have to make some clear changes in it. You cannot expect 100 percent of the kids to do everything. That's not a realistic goal."

Blevins started his teaching career as an elementary teacher. He credited a seventh grade and high school teacher for fueling his desire to teach.

"Once I started I enjoyed it," he said. "I always that I was at the top of my profession when I was teaching."

Blevins said he looks forward this year to seeing the Virtual School, Bedford County's option for homeschoolers to utilize an online learning experience with the school system, to finish out its first year and to have the first Early College class to graduate from Central Virginia Community College. And, of course, there's the challenging of crafting one last budget.

Then, it's off to retirement.

"I'm just another employee who's retiring," he said. "I don't want all the hoopla. It's really not about me."