NEWBERRY COUNTY — Jim Suber Jr. has worked for the Newberry County School District since 1980 and in that 36-year span, he has been a teacher, a coach, an athletic director, an assistant principal, a principal, and an assistant superintendent.
In May, he added another line to his resume — Superintendent of the Newberry County School District — after Bennie Bennett was tragically killed in a wreck April 16.
“On April 16, all of our lives changed,” Suber said. “When you lose a beloved superintendent, and such a fine man as Mr. Bennett, not only was it a shock to all of us, but it presented substantial challenges as we were to move forward. Not only was he a superintendent, but he was a mentor, a fine Christian man and, in my opinion, an exemplary leader.”
But Suber said Bennett had prepared the District for that type of moment.
“I think one of the marks of an exemplary leader is they give their staff, students, teachers and administrators the tools, equipment and resources that they need to perform their tasks in whatever their role may be. They point them in the right direction, but get out of the way and let them work,” he said.
The day after the wreck, a Sunday, members of the Newberry County School Board and the senior cabinet members met. The first decision they had to make was about school on Monday.
“I finally said, ‘I feel Mr. Bennett’s long finger pointing down at me and saying, “Jim, it is not about me, it is about students, about preparing them for graduation, preparing them for state testing and getting them back in the classroom, providing a quality education,’” and that is what we chose to do,” Suber said.
Suber said all the staff members stepped up, not only having to deal with their emotions, but also having to explain to the students what had happened.
“I admit the last two and a half months of this school year have probably been the biggest challenge I have ever been through professionally, but Mr. Bennett surrounded us with so many quality people that are willing to step up and take on those roles in tough times,” he said. “I do not think there has been a time where the motto of the School Distinct was as strong — One District, One Team, One Mission.”
The early years
Born in Union, Suber was raised in Whitmire by his parents, Muriel Suber and the late Jim Suber Sr. Growing up there, Suber said he did the typical things you could do in a small textile town.
“About all there was to do when you got to the school level was become involved in extracurricular activities after school,” he said. “I played football from my sixth, seventh grade year on up and played basketball in middle school and high school. Playing under the coaches I played under gave me the inspiration to want to become a coach and be a teacher.”
Suber held on to that inspiration and after graduating from Whitmire High School, went to Newberry College where he majored in physical education.
When he was a sophomore, he was given the opportunity to be a volunteer assistant at Whitmire in football and basketball. He did that for the next three years.
“That was my extracurricular activity during my sophomore, junior and senior years at college,” he said. “A lot of work and a lot of late night studying, and a lot of travelling, but it helped launch my teaching and coaching career.”
After he graduated in 1980, he became the head boys’ basketball coach and physical education teacher at Whitmire High School. Suber said this gave him the chance to work under the educators who had taught, trained and mentored him over the years.
Those mentors included Coach Lefty Johnson, Suber’s former head football coach and later principal at Whitmire; Coach Irby Raines, who gave Suber the opportunity to become the head basketball coach because he was ready to retire; and Coach Ken Coleman, who was Suber’s former principal and mentor who had a lot to do with him going back to Whitmire.
During his first year, Suber taught physical education, health and economics and government.
“At a small school, you assume a variety of responsibilities. I started out as head boys varsity basketball coach, and varsity football defensive coordinator,” Suber said. “Then, throughout my years at Whitmire, I became head football coach, and served as athletic director for a number of years as well.”
Suber would move up the ranks in administration, eventually becoming assistant principal and then principal of Whitmire High School. Then in 2004 the K12 merger took place in Whitmire, combining all the schools into Whitmire Community School.
“I was serving as the principal for Whitmire High School. At that time it was a seventh through 12th grade facility. I then became the principal at Whitmire Community School in the K12 building,” Suber said.
Time to change gears
After Bennett began working in Newberry during the 2006-07 school year, he changed one of his assistant superintendent positions to be assistant superintendent for operations and administration.
“He offered me that position, and I had nine wonderful years as one of his assistant superintendents,” Suber said.
Suber said he enjoyed his time at Whitmire, noting that he had a great staff in a great community.
“Obviously, being a hometown boy, I look forward to going back there, but there comes a point in time in our career where we have to move on and accept bigger challenges,” he said. “When the offer came, I just knew it was my time to accept a bigger challenge. It was something stressful to start with, simply because of the fact you do not really know what you are getting into. Mr. Bennett made it such a smooth transition. The people he had on staff worked closely with me to make sure the transition was a smooth one.”
Suber said he was told early in his career that once you make a career move, don’t look back and don’t second guess yourself.
He said he has taken that advice to heart, noting that when you take on additional responsibility and step into a leadership role, God has put you there to make a difference — in the lives of students and of adults.
“It has certainly been a challenge throughout the nine or 10 years I have been here, but a rewarding experience,” he said. “I would not change anything I have done in my career. I have had a great career and I look forward to continuing as superintendent.”
While working for the Newberry County School District, Suber earned his master’s degree in Secondary Administration and Supervision from Clemson University, thanks to a partnership the District had with the University.
Although he went to Clemson, Suber’s office is decked out with Carolina football as he is a lifelong fan. He is also a fan of the North Carolina Tar Heels, which can also be found decorating his office.
The Newberry County School Board officially named Suber superintendent in May. Suber said his first goal as superintendent was getting the District through the transition period.
“The most important thing you can do as a leader is to surround yourself with good people. I think we have been able to do this this summer,” he said. “One of my former mentors told me many years ago that when the door of opportunity opens to hire personnel or additional personnel to replace somebody, do not always look to hire somebody that has the same strengths as you. Be willing to realize what your weaknesses are and hire people that are strong in areas that you may not be as strong in.”
Suber says his ultimate goal is to provide quality education for students in Newberry County, regardless of their grade level and regardless of what school they attend.
“This entire profession is about coaching, just coaching a different group of people,” Suber said.
Suber is married to Tammy Suber, and they have three children — Jennifer, Jessica and Jordan — and four grandchildren, Riley, Skyler, Stella and Phobe.
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @ TheNBOnews.