djr-2021-07-01-news-school-supes-twp1

Oxford School District superintendent Bradley Roberson, left, and Lafayette County School District superintendent Jay Foster, right, stand in the Oxford square in June 2021. Both men have distinct visions for the school districts they oversee, including fostering an environment in which both students and educators can thrive.

The Oxford School District and Lafayette County School District each have new leadership starting July 1.

Bradley Roberson, a 19-year employee of the Oxford School District, has served as a teacher, coach and most recently, assistant superintendent during his time with the school system. Starting Thursday, he'll be Oxford's superintendent.

Jay Foster, who has worked for 25 years as an educator, is coming out of retirement to follow in his father's footsteps and lead the Lafayette County School District, beginning Thursday.

Bradley Roberson, Oxford School District superintendent

Roberson, a 42-year-old Ripley native, started his career as a math teacher for OSD in 2000 and worked his way up to serving as assistant superintendent for the district for three years before being selected as superintendent.

He has worked in education for a total of 21 years, having spent 19 of those years with the Oxford School District.

Prior to his most recent role, he also served as Oxford's head baseball coach for five seasons, associate athletic director and assistant principal at the middle and high school level.

During the two years Roberson worked outside of OSD, he served as Senatobia High School's principal during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. He was hired by Foster, who was superintendent of the Senatobia Municipal School District at the time.

Roberson hopes to reach a point where Oxford's stakeholders think of OSD as a "school community" rather than a "school system."

"If we are going to do what's best for all of our kids, then we don't need to be a school system," Roberson said. "We need to transition into a school community. Any school system is only as strong as its community, but any community is only as strong as its school system. And I truly believe that statement."

In accomplishing that goal, Roberson said he'll continue to build on the foundation laid by Brian Harvey, who served as OSD superintendent for nine years.

He's not looking to make any sweeping changes, but will continue to focus on sending kids into the world that are college, career and life ready.

In 2018, the district established a new vision defining the skills, traits and abilities students must possess to succeed in the 21st century, called "Portrait of a Graduate." The goal is to produce students who are effective communicators, culturally aware, ethical, critical thinkers, creative thinkers, resilient, personally responsible and active citizens.

Although the plan has been developed, it still needs to be operationalized, Roberson said. That will take place during his tenure.

During his career as an educator, Roberson has learned that "people are more important to any situation than any initiative or program."

It's easy to get caught up in the cycle of transitioning from one education initiative to another and attribute success or failure to that, but what really determines success is the people implementing the initiatives, he said.

His goal is to meet the needs of every faculty and staff member from bus drivers, cafeteria staff and custodians to assistant teachers, teachers and administrators, to that they can in turn meet the needs of students.

Part of making sure employees' needs were met was conducting a salary study across the district last year, which resulted in every employee receiving a raise for the 2021-22 school year, including a $1,000 pay increase for Oxford teachers.

He aims to maintain a "climate and culture within the district that is conducive to quality work," because people want to be part of an organization that respects its employees and fosters a sense of love and belonging inside of its buildings.

Roberson's superintendent entry plan will be released in mid-July, and curricular initiatives, like Standards-based Learning Reimagined, will be rolled out before August.

Roberson earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Mississippi.

He lives in Oxford with his wife, Nicole, who will serve as a science instructional coach in the district this year, a daughter, Riley, who will be a senior at Oxford High School, and a son, Cullen, who will be in the sixth grade.

"This is home for us, so we are certainly invested in the community and look forward to serving," Roberson said. "This is a service opportunity to do what's best for our kids and our community, and I'm really excited about it."

Jay Foster, Lafayette County School District superintendent

Foster, 49, was born and raised in Lafayette County and graduated from Lafayette High School 1990.

His mother was a teacher for the district and his father, Mike Foster, served as a basketball coach and later superintendent for the district before retiring in 2011.

Foster is coming out of retirement to oversee the Lafayette County School District. After working for 25 years in education, including nine years as superintendent of the Senatobia Municipal School District, Foster retired in June 2020 but decided to reenter the workforce.

Foster and his wife, Jennifer, lived in Oxford when they first got married and started their career in education together. So when he got the opportunity to retire and move back to Oxford on family property, he took it.

Leading LCSD was something he always wanted to do, and he feels that he didn't have education completely out of his system when he retired.

"It's the people that you miss. It's being part of a team, the challenge to make the district the best it can be," Foster said. "Lafayette County has always had a strong history of excellence in all areas and I just was excited about that opportunity so I decided to jump back in."

Foster has two goals: He wants Lafayette County to be the best district it can be, and in turn, be a great place to work.

"I want people to enjoy being here," Foster said. "We have an awfully tough job in education, but it needs to be a place that everybody feels like they're part of the team."

As Foster succeeds Dr. Adam Pugh, who served as Lafayette County superintendent for nine years, he said he isn't the type of leader who makes changes simply for the sake of making changes.

He'll work to see where the district stands, set goals and a vision for the district and work together with the school board to improve.

"We've been an 'A' district," Foster said. "I want to make sure that we focus on how we got there to be an 'A' and we maintain that. I know we have excellent students and we have a great group of teachers, so just making sure we fine tune those little things in order to keep our focus every day."

The most important thing Foster has learned as an educator is how to be part of a team, which means not only sharing in responsibilities with district stakeholders but sharing in the decision-making process as well.

Foster earned a Bachelor's degree in Biology Education from Delta State University and a Master's degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Mississippi.

He lives in Oxford with his wife of 25 years, Jennifer. They have three children — Bailey Brooke, a Delta State University graduate; Katherine Grace, a junior at the University of Mississippi; and John Michael, a sophomore at Northwest Mississippi Community College.

"To be able to give back to a district that meant so much to me and my family over the years, I'm excited and humbled by it," Foster said.

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