Where I Lead: Helping students be the best version of themselves

Stephen Pruitt, ’91,
became president of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)in July after previously serving as education commissioner in Kentucky. Pruitt also served as senior vice president at Achieve Inc. for five years, focusing on Next Generation Science Standards.

What made you want to go into the education field?

I’m a third-generation educator. I think I was a little bit in denial about what I felt like I needed to be or do at first. As time went on, it just became clear that my home and my heart are in education and it’s where I needed to go.

How did UNG prepare you for your career in education?

I went to North Georgia in my junior year, and there were things that I got to do there that I would not have gotten an opportunity to do at other schools, especially bigger schools. Tom Davis was my adviser, and he was also the chair of the chemistry department. He gave me opportunities to learn things about chemistry but also education that I don’t think were typical in a chemistry department.

(Physical chemistry professor) Dr. Tom Richardson would come in and sit in my class by invitation and give me incredible feedback about my presentation, about how I would interact with my students, about how I would say things in chemistry to make sure it was completely chemically correct. It really spoke to University of North Georgia’s focus on developing educators, whether you were in the education college or the sciences college. There was just a commitment to developing good educators. To this day, even when I’m presenting to a group of 300 people, there were little things he showed me that I still try to do.

What is your most meaningful accomplishment in your education career?

I was a classroom teacher. I’m proud of Next Generation Science Standards, I’m proud of having been the commissioner of education in Kentucky, and I’m certainly proud to be the president of Southern Regional Education Board, but the thing that made me who I am is the 12 years spent in a high school classroom in Georgia.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing education today?

Opportunity and access for each child. The thing that continues to face us is providing an equitable education for each child, and it goes beyond just the achievement gap everybody talks about. It’s really about ensuring that each child has an opportunity to be the best version of themselves. If we can ever figure out how to crack that nut, I think we’re going to see our economy, our country and the states in SREB take off in an incredible way because our kids will have meaningful, enriching and contributing lives.