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The doctor will see you now

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We saw new Chester County School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Graves at Lewisville High School's recent baseball banquet. We saw him at a couple of games during the Lions' run to the state title as well, where his Auburn education and allegiance was the target of some playful teasing by a University of South Carolina Gamecocks fan. We saw him at all three of our high schools' graduations, at a recital and at a lot of other public gatherings. We don't get up early enough, but you might see him going for his every-morning six-mile jog.

In short, we've seen him a lot, and that's good.

Graves officially began his work in Chester on May 1, coming here from Abington, Virginia where he served as an assistant superintendent. When the Chester County School Board began it's search process for a successor to Larry Heath, it first asked the public what it wanted in it's superintendent. The result was a list so packed with superlatives, one board member jokingly asked if such a human being existed. One of the desired traits, though, was someone who will live in Chester and be committed to Chester. It was stressed over and over that whoever took the job could not be a person that punched a clock and hightailed it home somewhere beyond the county line. Being the highest paid public servant in the county comes with expectations, one of which is that they will live here and be a visible presence in the community.

When Graves was still just a candidate for the Chester job, he came for a visit and said if chosen, he would quickly set about the task of ingraining himself in this county. He's made good on that promise.

There is one place you won't often see Graves, that being in his office. This too, is a good thing. Graves said last week that he's a hands-on administrator. He can't see the needs of students or the work of teachers sitting in the district office. Up until school let out, he said he spent part of just about every day visiting schools.

For the time being, Dr. Phil McDaniel, who has served as interim superintendent since last August, is still on hand to help make for a smooth transition. He, along with the board and district financial staff, recently completed tough work on the new budget. Graves didn't get here in time to have a lot of input in that, but he knows spending has been cut tremendously in recent years. He knows more hard times are ahead too, telling the News & Reporter last week that the district is facing no less than $1.3 million in cuts next fiscal year because of federal stimulus money running out. He didn't sugarcoat that a cut that large will probably mean a loss of good, valuable people. That's hard to hear, but having someone be a leader and communicator was also high on the criteria list for the new superintendent.

Seeing Graves at ball games and other school or community functions doesn't blunt the reality of difficult choices having to be made financially in the future, but it does offer proof that he wants to be here and wants to meet the people he serves.

As time goes on, we expect to see great things from Graves and our schools. In the early going of his tenure, though, we're literally just glad to see him.