Randy M. Brittain

Mining Deep Roots for Golden Results by JAY P. GOLDMAN

Some town members can still visualize Randy Brittain as the imposing 6-foot-4, 280-lb. offensive tackle and defensive end on the varsity football team at Douglas County High School in Douglasville, Ga.

His physique hasn’t changed much in the generation since, and yet Brittain commands an even bigger presence in the same community where he was born and raised and where he returned after college to commence his promising career as a professional educator.

Brittain, who turned 50 last October, has served as superintendent of the burgeoning Douglas County system, about an hour outside Atlanta, since 1996. His personal connection to his hometown for a half-century is rather remarkable in this age of turnstile governance changes and given the enormous growing pains of the suburban system he now oversees.

“We laugh that his family’s ancestors came here in the middle of the 1800s to mine gold,” says Mary Sue Murray, who retired recently after 20 years as a school district administrator. “Of course we think we found the gold mine in Randy.”

Lavish praise for the quiet, generally reserved superintendent has come from some unlikely quarters, too. Deborah Murray, publisher of the Douglas County Sentinel, concedes she’s not the type to heap accolades on school officials in her newspaper’s editorials, but she’s been almost gushy in her assessments. “He’s the first superintendent I’ve ever given an endorsement for publicly,” she says. “I’m impressed with how he deals with sensitive issues. He never dodges.”

Murray pointed to two recent examples—Brittain’s deft handling of a student concealing a BB gun and a bomb scare at one of the schools. Of the latter, she says, “He put out the word immediately it was a hoax.”

Brittain’s leadership style is clearly grounded in his lifelong community connections and his faith. On a résumé full of community linkages, he lists his involvement in his Baptist church at the top, ahead of individual honors and chairmanship of the local United Way’s board of directors. “I feel a great deal of loyalty to my community,” he says.

The superintendent’s deep roots played an enormous part in the pair of successful 1 percent sales tax increases that he helped to engineer in 1997 and 2001 to support more than $170 million in major capital projects. Brittain eschewed media campaigns in favor of coalition building and telephone trees to gain the voters’ approval.

The additional bonding led to the opening of three new schools last fall with a fourth scheduled to begin in September.

Once-rural Douglas County had 17,000 residents, mostly white, and a single high school when Brittain was in school. “We thought a TV in the classroom and 16-millimeter movies were new technology,” he muses. Today the county’s population has swelled to 101,000 with minority enrollment of 38 percent districtwide and four high schools. The superintendent recently orchestrated a deal with the local electrical utility to connect every school through a fiber optic network.

“I attribute a great deal of the success to him,” says Brenda Head, board chair of the chamber of commerce. “This community has a lot of confidence in him.”

Brittain is Douglas County’s first appointed superintendent since an amendment to the Georgia constitution began to phase out elected superintendents a decade ago. He says he probably would not have pursued the post without the change in state law. “Certainly there’s some politics involved in a superintendency, but I’ve never had a desire to beat the campaign trail or raise money for an election.”

By some accounts, Brittain always has led by personal example rather than vocal exhortation. His senior-year English teacher and football coach, Herb Garrett, says the same qualities that wowed him about his pupil 30 years ago impress him now: The man is bright, articulate and purposeful. “He operates completely above board, and those who know him will tell you that he is a man of integrity,” he adds.

Garnett, now executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, recalls Brittain as a stellar footballer, but his team senior year came up short in a one-win season. “Even in the face of disappointing week after disappointing week, he was still a positive force in an otherwise negative environment. I don’t know if he’d remember it that way, but I do.”

Jay Goldman is the editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: