Lanier County Schools – Lakeland, Georgia

June 27, 2024

Lanier County Schools

An Academic Anchor


Empowering, Engaging, and Inspiring Excellence Everyday

Located in the scenic community of Lakeland, Georgia, the Lanier County School District serves a total of 1,650 students across two campuses, combining a high school and middle school at one location and a primary and elementary school at the other. Embracing the motto “Lanier Leads – Ready to Learn, Ready to Live, Ready to Lead,” the district is dedicated to preparing its students for a successful future.

A Both-And Leadership Philosophy

As he nears the end of his first year in the role, Superintendent Gene Culpepper shares his personal leadership style, which encompasses a “both-and” approach, striving to balance and excel in all areas of the district without compromising one for another. “I don’t want to sacrifice good on this side of the district, to bring about something on the other side. I want to do good on both sides,” he explains. “I want to support the community, I want to support athletics, which is also a source of community pride. I also want to focus on and support academics and workforce development. And I think there’s a place for all of those things as we try to build the whole child and move them forward.”


Early Childhood Initiatives: A Strong Start

Assistant Superintendent Kristin Doyon highlights the district’s focus on early childhood education, particularly through their “birth to five” initiative. This program, bolstered by a Literacy for Learning, Living, and Leading in Georgia (L4GA) grant, emphasizes community partnerships to bring literacy to the district’s youngest learners. She relays, “What we have seen over the last several years is an increased partnership with many of our community stakeholders, including in-home daycares, church nurseries, after-school programs, working with our family connections office and our local library,” she relays. “With all of those partnerships, we have made sure that we have gone out to the community, and especially in some of our most remote places, and we have lots of those and lots of dirt roads, just making sure that we’re bringing literacy to our earliest learners.”

STEM and Technology Integration

Lanier County School District is working to integrate technology and STEM education. As a one-to-one district, every student is equipped with a Chromebook, thanks to an initiative several years ago by the Board of Education, which was made possible through local and E-RATE funding. “You have to keep buying technology because every few years it goes out of date,” Culpepper acknowledges, “But we are still one-to-one, and we want to continue to maintain that focus.”

Although Lanier County Schools is still developing a comprehensive STEM program, efforts are underway to incorporate these activities into the elementary and middle school levels. “One of our lead gifted teachers that serves both elementary and middle school grades, has focused a lot of her efforts on STEM-type activities,” elaborates Superintendent Culpepper. “We don’t have a full-blown STEM program because we’re just getting started. But she has done several activities and projects that are STEM-based in the classrooms that she’s in.”

Expanding Opportunities for Middle and High School Students

The district is also dedicated to providing accelerated learning opportunities for its older students. With both middle and high schools co-located on the same campus, students can take high school courses as early as seventh grade. “It happens with band, it happens with athletics, but it’s also happened with career technical and agricultural education, what some people would call vocational education years ago,” Culpepper expands. Additionally, dual enrollment opportunities are available for high school students, through partnerships with Georgia Military College, Valdosta State University, and Wiregrass Technical College. “We have several kids who have earned multiple college courses worth of credit before they graduate from high school,” he says.

Building a Close-Knit, Supportive Community

Doyon, who chose Lanier County as a home for her family, underscores the district’s welcoming community atmosphere. “This is a place where we want to raise our daughter and a lot of it comes from the fact that it is close-knit and it’s a great place for kids,” she portrays. “We do have extremely high poverty rates, some of the highest in the state of Georgia. But we’re still keeping up with our counterparts that are in more affluent districts. We are supporting our kids holistically, we’re meeting their needs socioeconomically, in addition to their academics.”

Culpepper recounts his involvement in community development during and after the pandemic when the Chamber of Commerce and the Development Authority of Lanier County both lost their executive directors. Asked by a chamber member to help define the role of a new executive director, Culpepper joined a committee of community members. “There were representatives from the Board of Commissioners, representatives from the chamber, representatives from the Development Authority, I represented the School District, and we had some other community members and business partners who had people on this committee. We didn’t have any authority we had just been tasked to try to build this job description,” he explains. Over a year and a half, they crafted a job description, and the position was eventually filled by Terry Moore.

As the newly appointed Executive Director for the Lakeland Lanier County Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority, Moore was also drawn back to the community, as he describes, “I grew up in Lakeland, I went to school here from kindergarten to high school, graduated, went to college next door, Valdosta State. I went into the military, spent 41 years away, and recently moved back. Both of my parents were educators in this community, and I had always wanted to come back and give back.”

Officer Peterson

Workforce Development and Community Partnerships

Further emphasizing the importance of community engagement, Culpepper adds, “One of my core beliefs is that the school system is a part of the community, and the community is a part of the school. There has to be a symbiotic relationship between your government entities, your parents, between your school. If you build a community culture where people want to be there, good things can happen. And they will happen.”

Workforce development is a critical focus for Lanier County Schools, as illustrated by various initiatives that connect students with local businesses. Through collaborations with entities like Affinity Homes, Georgia Print Co., Farmers and Merchants Bank, and South Georgia Medical Center, students gain valuable work experience, while also enhancing the relationship between the school system and the community. Culpepper notes, “We’ve got several students at the local drugstore and scattered out in a lot of the small businesses around Lakeland and even some in Valdosta. We have about 480 kids in our high school, but we have over 100 students that are involved in workplace learning.”

Enhancing Security and Mental Health Supports

Safety and infrastructure are paramount in Lanier County School District. Recent school safety grants have enabled significant upgrades, including high-definition cameras, a new intercom system, and ballistic glass installations. The district has also invested in the Centegix safety alert system and employs resource officers on each campus to ensure a secure learning environment. “We want our law enforcement officers to be viewed as positive,” Culpepper maintains. “We want them to be present as a positive thing in kids’ lives and not just when something bad happens in the community. It’s very important, I think, to help young people understand law enforcement is not your enemy. They’re here to protect us.”

While the district has made notable progress, Culpepper says challenges remain in the area of mental health support. He notes that Lanier County Schools has one school social worker and collaborates with local health organization Legacy, but the need for more comprehensive mental health services is real. “We struggle to see enough mental health counseling for the families and students. There’s also the hurdle of resistance to those services,” he admits. “We have this year added the opportunity for behavioral telehealth services. We started that back in the fall, to add one more layer of support for our students and families on campus without them having to drive 20 miles to Valdosta or a neighboring community. We do have counselors, but they’re too few. And the services that we see, they need to be beefed up significantly to meet the social-emotional needs of our students.”

Vision for the Future

As Lanier County School District moves forward, the emphasis is on strengthening community relationships, enhancing literacy programs, and supporting teachers. In summary, Superintendent Culpepper remarks, “I want to transform the culture inside our schools, and between the schools and the community so that there is trust between them so that students, employees, and parents want to come to Lanier County to be a part of both the community and the school.”


Lanier County Schools

What: A school district focused on community engagement and student success

Where: Lakeland, Georgia



J. Glenn Gregory, Architects –

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