This time next year, the Whitley County school system will have a new headman at the helm.
During an opening day in-service for teachers and district staff Monday morning, Superintendent Lonnie Anderson announced that this will be his 19th and final year as superintendent.
"It’s one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life. Why retire now is a question all of us have to answer some day," Anderson noted during an interview Monday afternoon. "I do feel that this is the time for me to retire. The district is at a point where it is doing well."
Anderson said that he actually made the decision to retire at the end of his 19th year as superintendent in December 2006, and shared it with the board of education but not publicly until Monday. His last day will be June 30.
"It’s like following Adolph Rupp. I don’t know if you can replace him, but we are going to try," said Whitley County Board of Education Chairman Delmar Mahan. "I want the people and Whitley County schools to know that we will look for a great replacement."
Mahan said that he anticipates that the search for a new superintendent will probably be a primary topic of discussion during Thursday’s monthly board meeting.
The first step will be to get a search committee in place, and the district has two options on how to do this.
They could use the Kentucky School Board Association’s service or do the search internally, which Mahan said would probably be the cheaper route to go.
"He had given us notice several months ago. We really didn’t want to hear those words, but he has been great. He has done an outstanding job for Whitley County schools," Mahan said.
Advice to successor
"My advice to my successor would be to focus on kids," Anderson said. "Keep kids at the forefront and make sure that the decisions that are being made as superintendent are in the best interest of kids.
"They should be decisions that will lead to students getting a better education, and being able to improve their lot in this old world by their experience in the Whitley County school system."
Anderson isn’t recommending a replacement to the board of education.
"I do think that we have some very capable administrators in the system and I would encourage the board to take a look within the system before hiring someone from outside the system," he said. "We have a great board of education, they have been wonderful to work with and have been very focused on doing good things for kids.
"I have full confidence that the board of education will continue the tradition that has been established over the past few years of providing quality education services to the boys and girls of Whitley County."
Mahan said Monday morning that it’s "too early in the game" to say whether the board will lean toward someone from within the district or go outside.
"You never want to exclude anyone whether they are locally or nationally. It will be a fair search and everyone will have an opportunity," Mahan said.
What he inherited
The Whitley County school district that Anderson will leave for his successor is a vastly different one than he inherited when he took the job on an interim basis in April 1991.
"Mr. Anderson came in when were at the bottom. Us and one other county were the bottom schools in the state of Kentucky," said Mahan, who is one of two people still on the board that first hired Anderson.
"During that first two months, he probably did more than anyone had done in years with the resources he had that were already in place to help the facilities and the attitude of the district and make it a positive attitude."
In July 1991, the board of education gave Anderson his first of many contracts as superintendent.
When Anderson first took over the job, he admits it was very "intimidating." He was 40 years old, and had only been in education for eight or nine years.
The district was under state management after being declared academically and financially bankrupt.
One other school district, Floyd County, was tied with Whitley County at the bottom in terms of test scores.
"We certainly had a challenge in terms of making a paradigm shift and shifting the way that we did business here and the type and quality of services that we provide to our educational system for the boys and girls of Whitley County," Anderson said.
He said he had a dream that Whitley County could become a very competitive district that does good things for children and has quality educational facilities for them.
The Whitley County School District currently ranks in the top 25 percent in the state in terms of test scores, Anderson added.
Biggest challenge/proudest moment
Anderson said that in looking back his biggest challenge as superintendent was overcoming the history of poor performance and the negative stigma that had been attached to the district and its educational system by the state takeover.
"I think overall my proudest moments have been at times when we achieved at a high level academically when we performed well on tests," he said. "We have one of the highest percentage of poverty level students in the state of Kentucky.
"For us to perform in the top 25 percent of the state when we have so many students who qualify for free or reduced lunch is a particularly proud moment for me because I came from the same background as many of our students."
Anderson, who was born in a Gatliff mining camp, said he knows what its like to do without and have to meet the challenges of competing while dealing with socio-economic issues.
"I’m extremely proud of our staff. They believe in our kids and they believe in themselves," Anderson said. "It is a community effort but ultimately, it is the students who perform and they should receive a great deal of the credit. Their performance speaks for itself."
Anderson admits that of course there are a few things he would like to be able to do over, but nothing he would do completely different.
"There are some things that I certainly would have gone about in a different way, if I had a second chance at doing them," Anderson said. "Experience is a great teacher, but experience also comes at a cost unfortunately.
"Sometimes when you are learning, it comes at a cost not only to you personally, but also to the district. Our people have been very patient with me over the years as I got my training on the job."
Wore many hats
During his time in education before becoming superintendent, Anderson wore many hats ranging from being a teacher of gifted and talented students and coordinating the program to having been athletic director, school food service coordinator and title-one director.
Anderson said that because the responsibilities of the superintendent vary so much, virtually every job he has ever had benefited him.
"All of those jobs provided some valuable background experience for me as superintendent as did numerous other jobs that I had prior to becoming involved in education at the age of 32," he said. "It’s good to know a little bit about almost anything because of the broad range of responsibilities."
Not in the job description
Something that isn’t in the job description that superintendents are forced to deal with Anderson said are negative influences in the community that don’t necessarily have the best interests of the school district or children at heart.
Another thing that isn’t in the job description is the time a superintendent spends thinking about how to resolve issues for students or groups of students and ways to make their education experience better, he said.
"For me, it was hard not to dwell on those kind of things. It is hard not to take this job home with you," Anderson said. "You are on call 24 hours a day basically."
What retirement holds
Anderson just turned 59 and will still be 59 years old when he retires next year. His wife retired about two years ago.
"She really loves retirement. She was a great teacher and enjoyed the teaching profession, but when she retired, she really retired," he said. "She wants me to join her in retirement and do some of the things that we have not been able to do that she and I have wanted to do for a number of years."
Some of those things include traveling and exploring other professional opportunities, Anderson noted.
He said visiting family in England and France is on the list, and making a return trip to Germany where he and his wife lived for almost a year after they were first married.
Helping take care of his eight grandchildren is also something high on Anderson’s retirement list.
"Hopefully, I can spend some special time with them during their years of development and have maybe a positive impact on their lives," he added.