College of Education
Making an Impact: For Gibbons, it’s about students succeeding
Brian Gibbons has always wanted to impact young lives—that’s why he got into education. When he became Director of Federal Programs for Aiken County Public School District in January, 2023, that impact expanded. He counts it a privilege to serve students from all walks of life in a large, diverse county. Brian came into his new role after five years as an instructional program support coordinator; prior to that, he taught in elementary education. He feels that the Anderson University College of Education gave him a good start, providing field experiences earlier, beyond what would have been possible in other education degree programs.
Tell me about what you do for the Aiken County Public School District.
I graduated in 2004 with a degree in Elementary Education, and from there came back to my hometown of Aiken and started teaching. I taught at Aiken County Public School District until I got my master’s in administration in 2018 (from another institution). At that time I noticed an opening in the Department of Federal programs within our district office; it was something I was interested in and it met my skill set. I was able to work within the department for about four and a half years before being named the director in January.
The reason I got into education was to possibly impact student achievement and student success. At this level we really managed all of the Federal grants—Title 1 2 3, 4, McKinney Vento Grants, extra funding that came along as a result of Covid and along with a few other things. From this department we have the ability to work with all of the schools that are involved in those grants to impact a large number of students.
What is the size of the Aiken County Public School District?
We have 39 schools. As far as land size, Aiken County is comparable to the size of the state of Rhode Island. We have students from all different walks of life and types of areas all the way from North Augusta, the Savannah River border and Augusta, Georgia, to Lexington County on the other side.
How did you discover Anderson University?
I'm from Aiken, and I learned about Anderson through some of the alumni who came through my high school and came through our church ahead of me. Lee McDerment was one who came through our church and came through Anderson, and he came back to work with the youth and in our church; that's really where I started hearing about Anderson. I noticed that some of my friends started going there and I really got interested in it. I had the opportunity to play Soccer at Anderson for a few years.
What are some of your favorite memories of college at Anderson?
I really just fell in love with the whole experience there. I enjoyed the family atmosphere at Anderson. It seemed like a home away from home. Aiken is a small town, Anderson’s kind of like the next step up. It was bigger but not too big. I had a lot of friends that went with me, but then also the opportunity to meet friends there. I enjoyed taking part in the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) activities on campus. It just felt like the place you wanted to be.
What are some favorite places to hang out on campus?
We hung out in the student center a lot of times. We had a good base of people in our dorm in South Rouse—we’d just hang out together, play video games or watch TV or go hang out on the soccer field.
Tell us about your teaching experience.
I taught third and fourth grade from 2004 to 2018, so 14 years. I’ve been in federal programs now… this is my fifth year. When I was at Anderson, I did my student teaching at Calhoun Elementary. The thing that I noticed about Anderson after graduating and mixing with people from other colleges is that Anderson did a good job of getting teachers in the schools early. I felt like we had more field experience time than a lot of my other colleagues coming out of their schools. So I was really thankful for that. Once I graduated I had those experiences, really just being in the classroom and interacting with students on that level. Calhoun Elementary is where I spent most of my junior and senior years. I remember we were in Starr-Iva for a semester, and I know there were some others.
Describe the transition from the classroom into more of an administrative role. What were your feelings as you were considering moving into a different area?
At the time when I started to feel pushed toward administration, I was just looking to really increase that level of influence and responsibility to where I had experience as a teacher, and I felt like I could use that experience to help other teachers or to help them impact their students in different ways. And I didn't necessarily start out with a focus on this department. Specifically, I was thinking about maybe school administration, and started thinking the assistant principal route might be for me. But the more I looked into it the more I saw that the things that we do in Federal programs fit my skill set. It was really of interest to me and I think that what really drove it was just the desire to influence on a different level—maybe influence more students through work with teachers or work with school administrators, whichever it may be.
Share some of the joys and challenges. I know the last few years have been like no other years.
I think that's been a great challenge. Just figuring out how to meet the changing needs of students and their families and educators as we go through the pandemic, and as we hopefully are coming out of the pandemic. I think a great joy in this position has been whenever we've been able to really meet the needs of our students or our teachers or our principals through... maybe we're able to help with an activity that they're doing, and maybe we're able to provide funding for something that they're really needing. But when we see the students are really connecting with it, or the parents are really engaged with it, and it's something that we had a part in, that's a big joy. I think by far the greatest challenge lately has been just determining the changing needs of the pandemic and trying to find ways to meet those needs for students and parents and teachers, and really all stakeholders involved.
What kind of advice would you give someone interested in education?
I think it's important for them to know that it is a calling, and with that, every day is not an easy day. Every day doesn't feel like a win… but it's worth it to really work through that and just persevere. I just know that, like with anything else, education is hard work, and it comes with challenges. Sometimes you try something and it works, and sometimes you try things and it doesn't. And I think really the new teacher, we need to know that. It's okay to feel like it's hard work.
When the students understand what is being taught and you are able to reach that student and help them learn, it is worth all the hard work to put into it. I think my advice would be not to give up, and to understand it’s a challenge, it’s a calling that is rewarding, but it does come with hard days.
Do you have a favorite teacher from when you were in school?
My favorite teacher was my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Gerstenberg. I think she had a reputation of being strict, and I think that's why they put me in her class. But she made an impact on me just through her hard work, and the level of respect that she gave to you, whether we really earned it or not. I remember she always called you by your last name. You were going to be respected, but you would also have something she expected of you, and that just made a big impact on me. As a senior in high school, I was a teacher cadet and I was able to go back and crown my favorite teacher, and I chose her. I was also able to attend her retirement ceremony.
At the end of the day, what gives you a feeling of accomplishment?
So, in this role I said, I'm very new to it. But I feel accomplished when I feel like I was able to make an impact in my role with the decisions that I was able to make or something that positively affected change in some way. I feel successful when I am able to do something to move forward with our district goals or initiatives, or what we're trying to put forth. It's hard work, and every day you don't go home with the same level of accomplishment, but just feeling progress towards those goals makes me feel like I've done a good job that day.
Why should someone consider Anderson as a place to go?
Well, I enjoyed Anderson for all of the aspects that were offered. I came from a Baptist church and went to a Baptist school and found that it was really in tune with your relationship with God and your Christian walk, and I was very happy with that aspect of it. I feel like the education that I received as part of the education program prepared me for my career as an educator, and also the community that we just had as students there. I wouldn't recommend anywhere else.