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Oxford on the Move: Lafayette County’s Dr. Adam Pugh is on a quest for excellence

When Dr. Adam Pugh started work as Lafayette County Schools Superintendent in early 2012 it meant that he and his family were coming back to the place that feels most like home.

Pugh says he has had excellent experiences in other schools and communities but that it had become clear over the years that Lafayette County is where he belonged. So the chance to lead Lafayette schools was simply too good to turn down.

“We just loved it here,” says Pugh, who served as principal of Lafayette High School from 2002 to 2009 before taking a job as superintendent of Pontotoc schools. “It was a great place with outstanding teachers, students and parents.”

Pugh’s wife, Kim, and three children considered Lafayette County their home and they missed being part of North Oxford Baptist, “a very strong church that means a lot of us.”

They didn’t miss a beat stepping back into the community in 2012. Both Pugh and his wife teach Sunday school classes – he has boys grades 9 through 12 and she has girls grades 9 through 12 – and his children had many friends from before.

The biggest difference for Pugh is that now he is charged as superintendent with leading the entire Lafayette schools system to excellence. It’s a challenge that he enjoys, and works closely with principals and teachers to keep pushing the proverbial bar higher.

Some examples: Lafayette schools, with about 2,850 students in all grades, are adding more dual enrollment classes for high school students so they can start college with credits; Chinese is being taught in the high school through a partnership with Ole Miss (Spanish and German are also taught); and swimming has been added as a sport.

“What we try to do is not so much focus on teaching, but focus on learning,” Pugh says. “Teaching without learning is just presenting material. That is something that I have preached since we have been back. Focus on learning.”

The core principles of Lafayette schools’ approach starts with four questions Pugh frequently asks teachers and administrators:

1.  What are the essential elements we want our students to learn?

2.  How do we know they’ve mastered these essential elements?

3.  What do we do if they have not demonstrated a mastery of these elements?

4.  What do we do if they already know these essential elements?

Pugh, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree from Mississippi State and a Ph.D. from Ole Miss, got his start in education at Eupora schools coaching football and teaching. “I loved coaching football but will be the first to admit I was not very good at it,” he says, laughing.

But the experience at Eupora provided strong mentors, including Ricky Woods and Francis Baker, people who over the years have helped Pugh learn from a strong foundation dedicated to putting students first.

He went to South Pontotoc as assistant principal in the mid-1990s on a tip and recommendation from Oxford’s Britt Dickins, and quickly became a principal at South Pontotoc at a young age.

“It was trial by fire,” Pugh says. “The best kind of education, but it wasn’t always easy. I just had to learn, and lean on some people I trusted for guidance.”

As principal of Lafayette High School for seven years he loved the hands-on opportunity to work closely with teachers and students but once the Ph.D. was in hand he knew it was time to answer to calling as superintendent.

The overarching goal is rather simple, he says. Lafayette’s ambition is to become an A-rated district by the state of Mississippi and keep that rating.

“We plan to get there,” he says.

There’s also the challenge of growth. Lafayette Schools are one of the faster-growing districts in the state and a new elementary school is needed. Pugh and the school board are already looking at options.

“We need to start building for the future,” he says. “But that’s a good problem to have.”

Adam Pugh:

Profession: Superintendent, Lafayette County Schools

Worth Knowing: Pugh started in education at Eupora as a teacher and assistant football coach.

Favorite thing about our community: “This is home, and this community has so much to offer: schools, churches and the university. The growth is exciting because it means opportunity. We know that Lafayette schools are an important part of that.”