As a kid growing up in a household with three brothers and an ex-military dad, Gregory Adkins had one concept reinforced for him over and over: that the relationships built through teamwork are critical to your success, no matter what you do. It’s served him in his personal pursuits as an endurance athlete and part-time farmer. And in his professional one, which has seen him rise from middle school biology teacher to school superintendent overseeing 121 schools and 95,000 students—all within the Lee County system—over the course of almost 30 years. “Without my wife to support me as a partner, it would have been tough,” he says.
Both of Adkins’ parents, one grandmother, and a great-great grandfather were schoolteachers. “We jokingly say that there are only two professions in our family: the military and education,” Adkins says (he also served six years in the Army National Guard). But his own entrée into the schoolhouse was slightly circuitous—if potentially preordained. Though he received his Bachelor of Arts in secondary education, he stayed on an extra year at the University of Akron to dive more in-depth into his first passion, geology.
But during his first stint in the classroom teaching science to seventh and eighth graders, “A funny thing happened,” he says.
“It was the subject matter that had drawn me in, but I couldn’t help but make a real emotional connection to those kids. I really cared for them, and wanted them to do extremely well.” His eventual move into administration was fueled by that same care—and gave him an opportunity, he says, to have more of an impact on his profession and the children it serves.
Through it all he’s relied on an ever-shifting cast of team members: his school’s administrative staff when he was a teacher; teachers, staff and parents when he was a principal; and a whole cadre of experts on everything from IT to transportation to student assignment as superintendent these last two years. In this latter kind of role, he says, “It becomes less about positional power than on building good relationships. I work with people who have much greater expertise in any given area than I do. But I still have to lead and that means our relationships have to be built on trust; I have to trust them, and they have to trust me to support what they’re doing.”
Clearly a subscriber to the ethos that no one can get as much done as an already over-busy person, Adkins and his wife, who works two days a week as a medical analyst for hospital group Lee Health, raise most of their own food on their seven-acre farm— including beef, pork, turkey, chickens and chicken eggs, and vegetables. Adkins also competes in Iron Man triathlons, which can necessitate 16 hours of training a week. “It’s a lot of hard work,” says Adkins, “and cooperation between [Teresa and me] is critically important.”
Adkins and his wife are also parents, to 25-year-old Shanna, who not only inherited her father’s love for science (she majored in biology in college) but his once-latent enthusiasm for teaching it, too. She’s just begun her second year teaching biology at Cypress Lake High School under her father’s jurisdiction. This after she and her parents all assumed she’d pursue a career with animals. But after volunteering with a local humane society just before graduation, “She came home one night and said, I love working with animals, but I love working with people more,” Adkins says. “She decided then and there she wanted to go into teaching.” And of course, he’s there to provide all the support she needs.