The first African American woman to serve as superintendent for Baldwin County Schools, Geneva Braziel never deterred from her path toward success because she was determined to make a difference in the lives of young learners.
“Growing up, a professional career was not something that you really envisioned because you didn’t really see that around the community you grew up in, but you can see your environment and know that you wanted to do better,” she said. “Sometimes it was really hard because we didn’t have resources that some of the other kids may have had. My parents always pushed me to do better than what they did, and even though they weren’t college graduates, their strong work ethic and commitment has really gotten me to where I am now.”
A Milledgeville native, Braziel attended public schools, graduating from Baldwin High School in 1990. She earned a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education from Georgia College in 1994.
“Originally out of high school, I wanted to be a fashion designer and merchandiser. My family convinced me to attend Georgia College where I majored in sociology,” she said. “Then I decided I wanted to be a school counselor, and back at that time, you couldn’t be a counselor without teaching, so that’s why I decided to get my teaching degree in middle grades education.”
Braziel kicked off her education career at Boddie Middle School in 1994 as a sixth grade science teacher. While educating middle-schoolers, Braziel pursued a master’s degree in school counseling from Fort Valley State University, which she earned in 1998. She transitioned to Baldwin High to work as a counselor in 1999.
“The most disheartening part of the job is when you’re not able to reach a child and get that child to where they need to be because you do want to see every child be successful,” she said. “Kids today have so many more resources than we’ve ever had, right at their fingertips. In today’s world, they want immediate gratification, but it doesn’t always work that way; you have to be patient and persistent. Those immediate sacrifices will make for a brighter future.”
In 2002, Braziel became assistant principal of Southside Elementary School and continued to fulfill her responsibilities until Southside Elementary and Davis Elementary combined to form Eagle Ridge Elementary. In 2005, she made her way to the board office as a curriculum director and proceeded to fill various director positions prior to accepting the superintendent role in 2008.
“I feel good to be able to come up in the school system, from a student to a superintendent. I always feel good when I’m able to give back. I know people gave to me and my ultimate goal in life is always to help someone else, especially children,” she said. “What inspires me the most while being in the school system for 20 years is seeing some of my former students come back, seeing their success and knowing I had a hand in it; there is no greater reward. Some are now even teaching and helping to develop the next generation.”
The school system has attained several accomplishments during Braziel’s tenure as school superintendent, including: getting all schools within the school system accredited by SACS and the Georgia Accreditation Commission; getting featured in the 2010 GLISI Success Cases magazine; receiving a Career Academy grant, which supported the development of the Baldwin County College and Career Academy; n recognizing the school board as a board of distinction in 2012 and a quality school board in December 2013 by the Georgia School Boards Association; and distinguishing Oak Hill Middle School as a “High Performing School” among the top 10 Title I schools in the state last year.
“I’m appreciative of the school board entrusting in me to lead the school system. I never envisioned, when I decided to get my degree in education, being in this position, but I’m thankful for the opportunity,” Braziel said. “We’ve faced a lot of challenges and we’ve survived several million dollars worth of budget cuts. Challenges keep the adrenaline flowing, and at the end of the day you’re working to do what’s best for the students.”
After serving two terms as superintendent for the school system, Braziel will resign June 30, though her current three-year contract ends in November.
“I’m really proud of the partnerships with our local colleges and community,” she said. “As a community, we all need to encourage children to strive to do better.”