Superintendent David Jeck didn’t initially want to be an educator. He just wanted to play baseball. Specifically, he wanted to start for the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, as he often says, sometimes opportunities just find you. The roots of Jeck’s own calling came in the form of educational mediocrity.
“I was motivated by a teacher who wasn’t very good,” Jeck said. “I hated that class. I’d go in every day, and he taught in such a way I remember thinking, ‘I can do it better than you.’”
Jeck grew up in Whittier, California, playing baseball, basketball, and listening to old Beatles LPs. Led Zeppelin, The English Beat, The Clash, and The Talking Heads can all be found in his record collection. He still plays guitar and restores old jukeboxes in his free time. He also enjoys cooking, something he picked up from his mother.
“I still have every LP I ever had when I was growing up,” Jeck said. “Reflecting back, my parents were all about the sports and being the best, but I wish I had spent some of the time I put into sports on playing an instrument. That’s something I’ve tried to do with my own kids.
Jeck began his career as a history teacher in Nyak, New York, after a brief stint with communications in college. Jeck also coached baseball and basketball for about eight years. He and his wife of 24 years have moved around, but have lived in Virginia for the last 19 years, the past five in Greene County. They met when they were teaching at the same school.
“I was actually engaged to someone else when I met her,” Jeck said. “About two weeks after we met, I broke off my engagement. It was love at first sight for sure.”
The Jecks have two sons. One is a senior at William Monroe High School in Greene County and the older son is enrolled in culinary school in Vermont. Jeck’s experience as an educator influenced him to focus his parenting on “soft skills.”
“My wife and I have tried to exemplify characteristics like caring for other people, being generous, kind, polite, and learning to deal with adversity,” Jeck said. “They’re going to get the academic piece because they’re being raised by educators. We’ve really tried to encourage them to be courteous, respectful of people, and focus on others before focusing on themselves.”
Jeck sees these skills as a crucial ingredient in the establishing of a student’s future success and happiness.
“The reality is when you go out looking for a job after you’re done with school, those attributes are going to matter to your employer,” Jeck said. “There’s plenty of smart people out there in the world that can’t get a job. You need to have those soft skills to have the ability to communicate with people and be honest.”
Jeck’s first administrative job was as a middle school assistant principal in Louisa County.
“When I taught and coached, I never had any inkling that I would become an administrator,” Jeck said. “I was happy teaching and coaching, but sometimes fate intervenes. I think sometimes leadership opportunities just find you.”
Next, Jeck’s career went from high school principal, to the director of a regional technical education center, followed by assistant superintendent, and then eventually superintendent in Greene County. Jeck tries to channel the passion he had for teaching through his role as an administrator.
“My experience in education has been that sometimes people aspire to be administrators because they don’t want to be in the classroom anymore, and I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing,” Jeck said. “I enjoy working with kids. It’s still the best part of the job, even as a superintendent. That’s the way it should be.”
Jeck says that interacting with students is one the biggest challenges that comes with an administrative position.
“Getting out to the schools gets harder and harder, and it’s harder still in Fauquier,” Jeck said. “In my last school division we had six schools and 3,000 students in the entire division, so it was relatively easy. It’s more difficult the more schools you have, but to me there’s nothing more enjoyable than spending time with the students.”
Jeck is confident in his ability to overcome the challenges of being a superintendent, despite the pressure and responsibility that comes with it, and is determined to make decisions for the right reasons.
“It’s a difficult job, but if you’re grounded in the philosophy that you’re making choices to benefit students, then you’ll find pleasure in the job,” Jeck said. “Sometimes that’s not in the best interest of the adults, and sometimes the adults don’t like that. But I think that’s the way it should be, because ultimately we’re here for the students.”
Rather than exerting his individual authority, Jeck prefers to take a communal approach in his leadership.
“I like to be collaborative,” Jeck said. “I believe in a circular leadership style, not top down. I believe in ‘we’ vision, not ‘me’ vision.”
Assistant Superintendent Frank Finn has been working with Jeck since early May.
“I’m enjoying getting to know him,” Finn said. “He’s good at listening, and you can see him taking things in and observing people, trying to process what people are saying about FCPS. I haven’t found him quick to act or draw conclusions.”
Finn appreciates the way Jeck functions in the workplace and interacts with his employees.
“He’s got a great sense of humor and he enjoys people,” Finn said. “While he’s serious, he thinks when you’re working it should also be a positive experience. He has strong leadership qualities, and he is very genuine. People can connect to him, and that’s going to be good for the school division overall.”
Vision for the Future
Jeck’s primary vision for Fauquier County involves the STEM initiative, short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
“STEM is an important initiative, not because I have a science background but because in the next four or five years that’s where the jobs are going to be,” Jeck said. “There’ll be eight million new STEM-related jobs by 2017.”
Jeck emphasizes the importance of preparing students with the job skills they will need as adults, while pushing education in a direction that allows students to develop left-brain skills and creativity.
“The whole concept of 21st century teaching and learning involves teaching things other than SOL standards, teaching some soft skills, and teaching kids how to work together in groups and problem solve,” Jeck said. “Because of the emphasis we’ve placed on accountability and testing, we’ve moved away from those things and we need to come back to them. Teachers in the school system want to be freed up to be more creative in the classroom, teach collaboration and project-based learning where you’re actually producing something.”
As for FHS, Jeck plans to observe and evaluate the concerns of students and faculty, rather than rush into his own personal initiatives.
“FHS has had enough change, given the new principal and building,” Jeck said. “I want to get input from others. Important decisions about direction and vision have to be made collaboratively. My vision as a leader is important, but ultimately the direction we go should be our vision, not just mine.”
Despite the pressure and responsibility he faces as a new superintendent, Jeck is confident that he’s up to the task.
“Taking a job like this is kind of like getting married,” Jeck said. “You’re never really ready to get married, but you just do. It’s not daunting, it’s exciting. It’s a challenge, and there’s lots of opportunity. It’s got its roadblocks, but the thing I love about Fauquier thus far has been that people want more for their students. They want to give more, and they want more opportunities for them. I think that’s key, and you don’t see that in a lot of places, so we need to take advantage of that.”
~Patrick Duggan, editor-in-chief