Dr. Marvin Connelly Jr., the new superintendent of Cumberland County Schools, hasn’t had a lot of direct involvement in athletics during his long career in education, but he views the school athletic program as a vital part of the total education package.
Connelly said most of his ties to athletics came during his stints as principal at both the middle school and high school levels.
“I’m not an athletic kind of guy myself, but I love athletics,’’ he said. “If you live in North Carolina, you have to love sports, especially basketball.’’
Connelly served as principal at Raleigh’s Athens Drive High School, and one of the prized possessions in his current office at the Wake County Schools is an autographed baseball from one of Athens Drive’s biggest professional stars, Major League Baseball standout Josh Hamilton.
Connelly said he has a passion about insuring that teams under his watch are successful, while still focusing on the fact that student-athletes are not just athletes who happen to be students.
“Obviously, high school athletics are a crucial part of the total school program,’’ he said. He said research and data show that the dropout rate is lower for students involved in athletics as well as extracurricular and cocurricular activities.
“I think it’s important for schools to have strong extracurricular and cocurricular programs,’’’ he said.
Connelly expects coaches and athletic directors to understand that the athletes are students first, and that athletics is as much about what happens off the field as it is on.
“I think when you can build that character in your players and character in your coaching staff, winning is important,’’ he said, “but you’ve got to win on the field and off the field.’’
Connelly said he plans to meet with various leader groups within the school system, including the school system’s athletic directors and principals. “We would want to talk with them and see what the successes are, what the challenges are and how I may partner with them as a group to build upon the successes and overcome the challenges,’’ he said.
He plans to try and spend some time in Fayetteville and Cumberland County between now and when he officially takes over from interim superintendent Tim Kinlaw in July.
“I want to make sure I’m listening to folks and getting with as many stake holder groups as I can during this first 100 days,’’ he said. “I want to focus on listening, hearing their successes, hearing their concerns as we begin to do some work and develop our strategic plans.’’
PHOTO: Dr. Marvin Connelly Jr.