There’s a new (athletic) sheriff in town

Steven Craft brings oversight to high school sports in Fulton

Posted:

Comment

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – The newly hired director of athletics for the Fulton County School System promises “consistency, ethics and equity” moving forward as he works with the athletic directors at each of the 15 high schools in the system.

Steven Craft, formerly an assistant principal and athletic director in the Cobb County School System, took office on July 1 as part of the reorganization of the administrative team for Fulton Schools. Previously, oversight of athletics was under an area superintendent, but managed primarily at the local school level.

The end result was a patchwork of programs implemented at each high school (there are no system-sponsored athletics at the middle school level), with only broad policies in place for guidance. That set-up, promises Craft, will change with consistent operations in place across the system.

In his position, Craft provides overall program leadership for the district’s athletic programs, including planning, staffing, finances, facilities, community relations and compliance.

Just weeks into his stint as the top athletic official for the fourth-largest school system in Georgia, Craft was thrust into a trial by fire – overseeing the dismissal of Milton’s controversial, yet successful, boys’ basketball coach.

Craft says removing David Boyd was never a part of his “marching papers,” noting the investigation into recruiting irregularities started prior to his tenure. It does, however, serve as reminder to everyone that ethics in operations and activities at every level will be strictly enforced.

“I didn’t come in looking for [controversy], and what we did [at Milton] was right,” said Craft, a native of Dahlonega who grew up playing multiple sports in high school. “A big part of my job is enforcing policies, and we need to make sure coaches are on board.”

Craft has the full support of the high school athletic directors, as well as from Fulton Superintendent Robert Avossa who created the position. Avossa said principals were looking for help in running the athletics program, which is nearly a full-time activity at the high school level.

“From a position standpoint, [an athletic director] was something the high school principals saw as an area for improvement,” said Avossa, who spent his first year in office listening to the needs of staff before making changes. “Athletic was clearly one of the blind spots.”

In Craft, Avossa said he has found someone who can work with the high school athletic directors and hold them accountable for the operations within their schools. When issues arise, the local directors can turn to Craft for support and consult – a piece that was missing before the position was created, said Avossa.

“I think overall, the local athletic directors did a good job of policing themselves and managing their programs. [Athletics] comes with a pretty complex set of regulations and rules,” said Avossa.

He noted that Craft’s position was revenue neutral, created by shifts in other administrative positions.

While some parents decry the focus of athletics in schools, Craft firmly believes it is one part of the four-legged stool that provides the foundation for a successful school.

“You want to see students exposed to four components in every school — academics, athletics, fine arts and service and leadership,” said Craft. “These are the pillars of a school, and all contribute to a well-rounded adult.”

Within his newly created position, Craft is charged with creating a blueprint for athletics at all Fulton schools. In that regard, he has a few priorities.

“Top of the list is to support the athletic directors at each high school,” said Craft. “Number two is to make the position of athletic director a full-time position, with no other duties.”

He said running a successful athletics program requires the full attention of the athletic director, and when that person is also teaching classes or filling other positions, it is very difficult.

“Just dealing with the various booster clubs requires a tremendous level of communication and coordination,” said Craft.

And speaking of booster clubs, Craft is well aware of the inequities that exist from school to school, primarily from north to south. While some schools in North Fulton have booster clubs managing funds in excess of $1 million (basically a small business, says Craft), other schools may have only a handful of members and literally no budget to speak of.

But before the cringe-inducing “redistribution” word is uttered, Craft is adamant there will be no forced sharing of privately held and collected funds – however, there may be a higher level of scrutiny on how the funds are used.

Bringing us to Craft’s third goal: promoting athletics equity across the county so that a basic level of services and resources are established.

“Fulton County does an incredible job of providing resources to athletics – great stadiums, great gymnasiums, great equipment,” said Craft. “But can we do better in working together to provide a basic level of what each athlete needs to be successful?”

Craft is also looking at the middle school feeder programs, which are currently a privately run program. Under school board policy, varsity coaches are not allowed to interact to a great degree with the feeder programs, which Craft says can be an impediment to building successful high school programs.

“Isn’t it the goal of the feeder program to develop middle school athletes to be high school athletes?” said Craft, rhetorically. “You want your middle school football teams to be running varsity plays.”

Craft said other school systems incorporate middle school and high school programs, so it may be a matter of seeing what is working elsewhere and trying it in Fulton County.

“We are going to be looking at what the middle school program should look like, with a focus on quality of product,” said Craft.

About Steven Craft

Director of Athletics, Fulton County School System

Prior to joining Fulton Schools, Steven Craft served as assistant principal at Pope High School in Marietta from 2008-2012, where he also was the school’s athletic director. He worked for many years as a teacher and coach at schools including Tucker High School, South Gwinnett High School and Lassiter High School. He was named Assistant Coach of the Year twice, in 2005 and 2007.

Craft holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of Southern Mississippi, an education specialist degree in curriculum and instruction from Piedmont College, a master’s degree in educational leadership from Jacksonville State University and a bachelor’s degree in broad field social science education from the University of Georgia.