Profile: Samantha Fuhrey
Changing Community Views About Poverty
BY JULI VALENTINE/School Administrator, June 2020
COMMUNITY SUPPORT AND stability means a lot to Samantha Fuhrey, superintendent of the Newton County schools in Covington, Ga. She grew up in a military family that moved frequently, yet Fuhrey made memorable connections with so many of her teachers that she was inspired to become one herself.
Now she’s in charge of a school district in which 68 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, trying to build a sense of community and belonging.
“My passion is for my community, my love and care for my students,” says Fuhrey. “I just think the world of the almost 20,000 kids that we serve.”
For someone whose youth was spent largely on the move, her professional life has maintained a steadying anchor. Fuhrey has lived in Newton County, a southeastern exurb of Atlanta, for almost 30 years and worked in the district for the last 20. When the superintendency became available in 2013, she wanted to maintain the momentum the district had been building during her time there and made her move into the chief role.
“I had the institutional knowledge and the background to be able to take on the leadership role as we were not in a position to have wholesale turnover. It would just have set the school system back paces,” says Fuhrey, who was honored in February as one of four finalists for AASA’s 2020 National Superintendent of the Year award.
One thing she’s added to her resume to help her community is the role of certified poverty coach. This certification, awarded by the Beegle Poverty Coaching Institute, allows her to meet with different stakeholder groups to promote the transformation from being poverty-aware — that is, knowing poverty exists in the community — to being poverty-informed, or understanding how people are impacted by their economic circumstances.
“It’s a lot of hard work because you’re having to change people’s mind frames and the way they have always thought about things,” Fuhrey says. “You’re really attacking what is an implicit bias within people that they sometimes are ashamed to admit they have.”
That hard work has paid off and fellow superintendents have taken notice. Fuhrey serves on a regional education service agency with Michael Duncan, superintendent in nearby Pike County, who says Fuhrey has built an effective team in her district that views everything through an equity lens.
“She’s done an amazing job helping Newton County understand the challenges faced by children and families in poverty and developing a communitywide approach to building support systems,” says Duncan. “This is because of Samantha’s leadership and the community’s courage to accept the equity challenge she set forth. Communities and school districts around our nation spend time talking about equity, but Newton County puts it into action every day for every child.”
While working to change public views of poverty and its effects on the youth she serves, Fuhrey says she remains impressed with the resiliency and attainment of the student population. Last year, 1,369 graduating seniors earned more than $51 million in college scholarships, the largest amount ever awarded to Newton County students.
“That’s a very large accomplishment for our children, but collectively speaking [I’m most proud of] the tenacity that our people have across the system — from the children to our teachers and leaders — to just keep pushing forward with the eye on the prize,” Fuhrey says. “Even when we’re down, we keep pressing forward.”
JULI VALENTINE is digital content editor at AASA. Twitter: @julesbergman
BIO STATS: SAMANTHA FUHREY
Currently: superintendent, Newton County School System, Covington, Ga.
Previously: deputy superintendent, Newton County
Greatest influence on career: The students with whom I have worked over the course of my career. They are why I hit the ground running every day.
Best professional day: In May 2019 when 1,369 students graduated and earned the largest amount of academic, athletic and fine arts scholarships in the history of our school system, totaling more than $51 million. The same graduating class posted the highest graduation rate ever, 87.6 percent.
Books at bedside: Clarity for Learning by John Almarode and Kara Vandas; The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy; and The Coffee Bean: A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change by Jon Gordon and Damon West.
Why I’m an AASA member: Membership ensures legislative representation and advocacy on behalf of all public education students, specifically those students I serve in my community.