FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Fayetteville Superintendent John L Colbert, Ed.D is retiring at the end of the school year. He’s been an educator for nearly 50 years and made history within the district.
Ahead of that retirement, 5NEWS sat down to reflect on his storied career and the legacy he leaves behind.
"47 years ago, I was hired as a special ed teacher at Bates Elementary," Colbert said.
Colbert started with Fayetteville Public Schools in 1975 and has spent nearly his entire career working in the district, rising through the ranks from the classroom to administration.
"As you see, I've done it all - teacher, principal, over curriculum with the elementary ed and then over all the support staff, including custodians, cafeteria workers, and all," Colbert said.
Colbert became superintendent in 2018 after his predecessor was fired amid scandal and controversy, something that didn’t faze the seasoned leader.
"I felt real good that I could come in and have that trust from all the staff, from the community and all. That really made a difference, I think yes, yeah. And it was smooth sailing," Colbert said.
That trust is Colbert’s proudest accomplishment, building on the One Fayetteville vision, bringing together all district employees, families and the community.
"We are one team with the same goal and trying to make a difference for all kids and all mean all that's my little philosophy. And so we do try to make sure that we make a difference in the lives of all kids," Colbert said.
In the last five years, there have been challenges, including a global pandemic.
"It was a big challenge but we did it. We did it. We kept the doors open, to not have to close and make sure that our teachers and kids remain safe," Colbert said.
COVID-19 brought with it a lot of firsts and a lot of lessons learned.
"I guess making sure that we continue to keep that line of communication open, being transparent. We did that quite a bit. But I think that we need to make sure we always do that," Colbert said.
That transparency is his biggest piece of advice for his successor.
"And be honest and be upfront, and making sure that you put students first. That's why we're here," Colbert said.
Some of those students will be getting their education inside the brand new John L Colbert Middle School – the district’s newest building on Rupple Road – named in his honor.
"Oh, my goodness. It's just - I'm speechless, actually. Every time I think about that," Colbert said.
In October 2022, Colbert revealed the school’s new mascot, chosen by students and teachers from a list of choices submitted by the community. They'll be known as the Cobras.
Despite the excitement over what the future holds for the district and himself in retirement, Colbert says the transition will be bittersweet. But the mark he’s left on this school system is undeniable.
"Not only serving as the first African American superintendent but the first superintendent who went from teaching to the superintendency level. So that's an honor. That's an honor," Colbert said.
The school board is doing a search for the district’s next superintendent with the hope someone could be hired before Colbert retires in June 2023.
In the meantime, the district will cut the ribbon on its new middle school in mid-June and open to students in August 2023. Colbert says he’d love to be there to welcome the first class of Cobras to the new building.
To watch an extended version of Colbert's interview with 5NEWS Anchor Erika Thomas, download our free 5+ app for Roku or Fire TV.
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