By Debbie Hall
Dean Gilbert started the new year on the right foot – in his office getting settled in a new post.
Gilbert, 52, was selected to lead the Patrick County Public School division following an extensive search last year for a new superintendent.
“I’d been in prayer a long time about it,” Gilbert said of his decision to apply for the position. He added many people encouraged him to seek the post last summer, after then-superintendent Bill Sroufe announced he was stepping down.
He also had conversations with Acting Superintendent J. David Martin and former Patrick County Schools Superintendent Judy Lacks.
Martin, Gilbert said, was his superintendent while he taught in Henry County Schools. Martin also offered support when Gilbert was working on obtaining his administrator’s license.
Lacks was Gilbert’s mentor when he came to the Patrick County School division, Gilbert said.
“Those two individuals have impacted me and given me a lot of encouragement,” he said.
Gilbert said he was grateful for the confidence expressed by both Lacks and Martin, as well as those who encouraged him to apply, but he still hesitated while waiting on a word from a higher authority.
That, he said, came the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the form of his pastor’s message. It was titled, “When God Messes With Your Plans,” Gilbert said, chuckling.
The message spoke to him, he said. “I feel like God worked everything out for me to be here at this time.”
That assurance, combined with the support and confidence as well as his experience in schools, prompted him to seek the post.
“I’ve done some aspects of just about everything in a school facility,” Gilbert said. “I haven’t driven a bus or fixed food, but I filled in for a custodian,” and pitched in to clean up rather than calling a custodian. “You don’t think about it. you just do it,” he said.
He served as a teacher for three full years, and spent another ⅝ year as a contracted teacher at Patrick County High School. “That’s how they did it,” he said of the contract.
Gilbert then was appointed assistant principal at the high school, and served in that capacity from 199-2003, until he was selected to fill a principal position at Meadows of Dan Elementary School. He held that post until 2007.
Gilbert initially moved to the Central Office as Parent Involvement and Staff Development Coordinator, he said. When Roger Morris was hired to lead the division, Gilbert became an assistant superintendent. “I’ve been in the Central Office ever since,” he said.
During his tenure, Gilbert also has spent 12 or 13 years crafting at least part of various budgets. As such, he is familiar with funding formulas prescribed by the state.
“I’ve already got some ideas on how to present our budget, and when I figure the local match, I want to show people how I got that” number, he said.
Consolidation as a cost saving measure is something that “nobody wants” and has little to do with some revenue streams, he said.
“We received the local match based on the number of students we have, not the number of buildings we have. Whether we have three buildings or seven” will not impact those revenue streams, he added.
The budget, along with staying accredited are his short-term priorities, Gilbert said, adding that he hopes state legislators approve a budget in early spring. The school board must approve their fiscal budget by the end of March, he added.
“You never know what funding initiatives might come down from the General Assembly that governs what we do,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he does not anticipate any changes between now and the end of the school year, but he does have “a lot of things in mind” going forward.
“I’d rather not say right now,” he said.
One thing is certain, Gilbert said the division must find revenue sources to address maintenance issues in aging school buildings.
“We’ve got some serious maintenance issues,” he said.
He also hopes to partner more with Patrick Henry Community College. “I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
Aside from that, Gilbert said he plans to focus on trying “to keep the main thing the main thing, and trying to keep it as simple as possible.”
The main thing is “the education and safety of our students and staff,” he added.
A Fieldale native, Gilbert has lived in Patrick County for nearly 25 years. He and his wife, Revonda Gilbert, have three children: Christian, 25; Makayla, 24 and Ethan, 21.