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Gregory Pilewski is taking a passion for education and a specific plan to the office as he guides the North Little Rock School District in the middle of a pandemic.

Pilewski has been superintendent of the 8,000-student district for a little over a month, and he has already been forced to make decisions when it comes to the covid-19 pandemic, including shifting North Little Rock High School and the Center for Excellence to off-site learning because of the growing number of students and staff members in quarantine or who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Positive cases within the North Little Rock district are "relatively low," but the number of teachers who are quarantined because of probable close contacts is straining the schools as administrators struggle to find substitutes and ensure a safe, uninterrupted learning environment, Pilewski said.

As of Wednesday, the North Little Rock district reported 22 active cases, and 265 student and faculty quarantines.

Pilewski revealed in an interview Friday that he had also been diagnosed with covid-19, but was in good health and feeling much better.

"I would say the first challenge I have faced is being diagnosed last week with being positive for covid-19," he said. "Living the reality of starting a new job and being diagnosed is not easy."

Pilewski said one of the school district's greatest challenges is student academic performance.

"I am concerned about our seniors right now," he said. "Remote learning is a challenge as you can see from us shifting the two campuses to remote learning. The issue is during covid-19 people might not want to substitute classrooms, and it becomes a safety issue if we can't cover all our classrooms."

Pilewski developed a passion for teaching in the ninth grade when his science teacher taught him that everyone learns differently.

"He was a man before his time," Pilewski said. "When we turned our science projects in at the end of the year, he asked me if I had ever considered teaching, and I told him I hadn't, but that is where my passion for teaching and learning grew."

Pilewski said he became fascinated with the learning journey that students go through and the concept of how teachers shape the future of young children.

"If you do X why does Y happen with students," he said. "It taught me that all kids can learn."

Pilewski said he started his teaching career overseas in London, England, where he learned about global education.

"I learned that kids are kids no matter where they are all over the world," he said.

In August, the North Little Rock School Board offered Pilewski the superintendent job.

Carl Davis, regional search director for Ray and Associates, which was hired by the district to help in the search for applicants, said 42 people applied for the job.

"One of the themes of my teaching career has been passion, and I have learned quickly that people here have a passion for North Little Rock," Pilewski said. "People grow up here, they want to stay here and they want to raise their families here. You want to grab a hold of that passion to leverage change, but strategic change that will make an academic impact for our students."

Pilewski was officially introduced to the board earlier this month. He spoke about his 100 Day Transition Plan and provided an updated school reentry plan, which is designed to acclimate Pilewski into the school district.

Pilewski said Phase One of the plan began in October when he conducted interviews and meetings with key stakeholder groups and toured facilities. In Phase Two, he said he will continue interviews and conduct a superintendent retreat. Phase Three will begin in February when he will unveil the key themes and major findings, and create short- and long-term goals.

Pilewski said he wants the community to know about his passion for teaching and learning, which is matched with his passion for the community.

"I want to draw attention to the students in our district that haven't been served well," he said. "I have the ability to model serving others before self. We have 8,000 students that we all serve."

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