Great Bridge High graduate Jared Cotton could have attended some of the commonwealth’s best universities after high school, but he chose to start at Tidewater Community College.
Named superintendent of Chesapeake Public Schools (CPS) over the summer, Cotton earned his Associate of Science in Education at TCC, where he developed a passion for teaching.
“The day I earned my degree was when I decided to become a teacher,” Cotton said. “It was still a struggle because there was a lot of pressure to be a doctor, pharmacist, something to make money. But I really enjoyed working with kids. And my professors at TCC inspired and believed in me.”
His parents couldn’t afford for him to go away to school, but he found the direction he needed close to home.
Cotton holds a doctorate in educational administration and policy studies and a master’s in educational administration from The George Washington University, and a bachelor’s in middle school education from Old Dominion University.
“I had so many interests, including science, physics, astronomy, history, medicine and law. I discovered that as a teacher, I could explore all of these areas and get children excited about them as well,” he said. “I’m proud of the start I had at community college, and now as superintendent, I have the opportunity to change the trajectory of many students’ lives and give them all of the resources to be successful.”
While at TCC, Cotton learned piano at the Chesapeake Campus. He taught tennis camps at the YMCA and was a lifeguard, swim team coach, and residential counselor at the Pines Treatment Center in Portsmouth.
His 25-year career began when he started teaching fifth grade at Crestwood Intermediate. He worked his way up the ranks in CPS from instructional technology specialist to principal and assessment director. He also served in leadership roles in Virginia Beach Public Schools and as superintendent of Henry County Public Schools in southwestern Virginia for the last six years.
He was recently named Virginia’s 2019 State Superintendent of the Year by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.
During his first weeks on the job in Chesapeake, Cotton hosted meet-and-greet events at Chesapeake’s seven high schools. He connected with students, teachers and staff and brought a message of “inspiring hope in others by doing our best work.”
He challenged staff to remember their why.
“What we do in education has such a powerful impact on our students’ lives. We need to reconnect with our why because that’s what gives us the motivation and drive to continue our work,” he said.
A proponent of community college, Cotton says CPS will continue to partner with TCC for dual enrollment and career pathway options for students like the ones in mechatronics, collision repair technology, welding and electrical wiring.
“When we work together, we can accomplish much more than we can do alone,” he said. “Strong partnerships are absolutely essential for student success.”
Cotton encourages students to learn as much about the different opportunities available post-high school.
“It’s worth the time to find out what you like and don’t like while still in high school. And if you can find your passion before earning your diploma, that’s even better,” he said.
Cotton’s mother, Delores Bolton, who died in 2016, was a TCC alumna and nurse. His sister, Merrie Cotton, earned her Associate of Science in Science and went on to become a physical therapist with an advanced degree.
Cotton and his wife Joanna a former educator, have two grown children. Their daughter, Michaela, is a community college graduate who earned her degree while still in high school. She also has a bachelor’s from University of Virginia. Son Billy also started at TCC and now is working in the HVAC industry.