Dr. Scott Coefield looks back on his time with PCS
Published 10:25 am Thursday, April 21, 2022
By MICHELLE LOVE | Staff Writer
PELHAM – On Thursday, April 14, Pelham City Schools held a special celebration at Pelham Park Middle School to honor Superintendent Dr. Scott Coefield. Coefield announced in January that he will be retiring from the position at the end of May.
Dozens of Pelham educators, parents and members of Pelham city government were present to show their gratitude to Coefield’s career with PCS. Coefield took the position of superintendent in 2014 when Pelham separated from Shelby County to form its own school system.
From the moment Coefield took office, he set a priority to make Pelham as strong a school system as it could be.
“When you’re starting a new school system, you have an opportunity to build a strong house, so to speak,” Coefield said. “Of course, we inherited all the teachers, but you’re building and hiring all of the staff and you’re putting together a strategic plan and you’re doing the budget, so pretty much the success of that school system moving forward depends on the foundation you establish in the beginning.”
Coefield said the advice he gives new superintendents is to form a plan based on three objectives: personify the system to where you build a strong reputation, form a strategic plan that aligns with a proper budget and finally build the momentum to carry out your plans efficiently, which Coefield said is dependent on the staff you hire.
“If you haven’t put the right people in place, it doesn’t matter what your plans are or what money you have, it’s just not going to get done,” he said. “I feel really good that we’ve hired the right people. We’ve got great leaders here in our central office and in all of our schools to support really great teachers. We’ve developed that capacity where if we put stuff on paper and say, ‘This is what we want to do,’ I can trust and feel comfortable that we’re able to do that.”
In the time since PCS was established, Coefield and his team have built two new schools, added on to Pelham Oaks Elementary, reconfigured grade levels, updated the high school and restructured zoning, an impressive feat in just eight years.
Coefield said in the beginning, the biggest issue was bringing the school facilities up to par.
“When they started the school system and I interviewed with the Board, the City Council’s vision was how do we restructure and reposition our schools so it’s easier for people living in Pelham to get their kids to school? That took up a lot of time in those first three or four years,” he said.
Starting a school system from scratch may seem like chaos to those outside of the education field, but Coefield maintained a plan to get everyone on the same page, from Board members to City Council. It was also a top priorty to maintain a positive relationship with Shelby County after they broke away from the system.
“We’ve been great neighbors with Shelby County,” Coefield said. “We think the world of them. We’ve had great working relationships with Dr. Randy Fuller and Dr. Lewis Brooks, their Boards, they’re all great people. We’ve really enjoyed being a part of that family and communicating with them.”
In its career, PCS has earned top marks with its focus on arts programs. Pelham High School’s theatre program has competed in competitions across the state and its Culinary Arts program recently won first place at the 2022 Alabama ProStart Student Invitational in March. Coefield said watching the PCS students succeed academically as well as in the arts instills a sense of pride in himself.
“Any time you see kids succeeding and you see kids, for example, do great in culinary, it’s amazing,” he said. “Culinary is one of those programs that reaches all kids. Kids that academically that may not be their strong suit or even a high-flying academic kid, both those kids can succeed in Culinary. Some people just have that talent.”
The success of PCS students and watching them find happiness in PCS programs is a main highlight in Coefield’s career, he said.
“Miracles are happening in students’ lives all across Alabama in our school systems,” he said. “When I go out into the schools and see these miracles that are happening in our kids’ lives, that’s what reminds me why I do this. That’s what gets me through the rough times. Whatever the controversy of the day is, I think of the kid that is succeeding in culinary, or soccer or theater, and it means a lot.”
While his career has had many highs, there have also been several lows. Coefield and the rest of the Pelham BOE were thrown for a loop when COVID-19 hit. Having no real template for what to do during a worldwide pandemic, Coefield and his team had to think fast.
“I think there’s only two people who have been in the superintendent’s office longer than I have in Alabama, and I also mentor new superintendents, so when they call me I can offer them advice when they need it, but when COVID happened, all that experience and all that knowledge was gone,” he said.
Coefield said he had to resign himself to the fact that no matter what decision was made, someone would be mad, but he added that gave him a sense of freedom to focus on the data provided that would keep the children safe, which was the top priority. He and the other Board members created a template that dictated the actions based on positivity rates. The Board, which is made up of people with very differing points of view, is a reflection of the community itself, according to Coefield.
“Our Board members, we don’t all think alike, but we made the decision early on that what truly mattered was keeping the kids safe, and we needed to monitor the data from people who knew what they were talking about to help us make the decisions we made,” he said. “So, when we reached x percent of positivity, we’d do this action and so on and so forth and we wouldn’t be swayed by whoever had the loudest voice.”
Coefield said in his 33 years of education experience, COVID-19 was the most divisive issue to come up during his tenure.
“Early in my career, I spoke with some of the older administrators and they talked about leading through integration and what that was like and how hard that was because you had so many people divided and trying to be the loudest voice in the room, and I just can’t imagine what that was like for them, but COVID was by far, during my career, the topic that just had people go off and a lot of people were so unreasonable about it.”
As the past two years went by, PCS maintained a low positivity rate and educators were able to keep their children in schools. As the pandemic has slowed down, Coefield started to think about how he wants to spend his time. He started thinking about spending more time with his wife, going on hikes he kept putting off, traveling more, things he felt he should put effort into making time for. This was the journey that led him to the decision to retire.
What’s next is to be played by ear.
“I’m going to figure out what’s next,” he said. “There’s not a big plan, I’m not taking another job. I’m going to try and play a little golf, landscape in my yard…I’m not leaving Pelham to go take another job. That’s not in the plans. I’m just going to try and turn my mind off for a little bit, and I’m kind of looking forward to it.”
Upon his retirement Dr. Chuck Ledbetter will be taking over the position, and Coefield said he has the utmost respect and trust in Ledbetter to lead PCS in success.
“I’ve been knowing Dr. Ledbetter for nine or 10 years through the superintendent’s association, and I have full confidence that he will be a great fit,” he said. “He’ll probably add value to places that may need some change. He’s been successful everywhere he’s been, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be successful here.”
Coefield said he plans on keeping an eye on Pelham and looks forward to watching the system continue to grow.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. I’ll be there for them if they need me for anything, but I’m going to enjoy watching them continue to grow and do things,” he said. “I’ll always keep an eye on them just like I do my other systems where I’ve been superintendent.”