OWENSBORO, Ky. (5/24/13) – “We’re in a good place, but you’re never through. It’s like going up a hill. If you take your foot off the gas, you’re not going to coast uphill. You’ve got to keep on pushing.”
Those were the words of Owensboro Public Schools Superintendent Larry Vick, when asked what advice he would have for the district’s new superintendent, Nick Brake. Vick is retiring at the end of the current school year after 12 years at the helm of OPS.
Specifically, he said his advice to Brake would be to “make every decision doing what’s best for kids,” a motto he said he has tried to live by throughout his career. He said he is proud of the strides the district has made since he came here from Tennessee.
“We were one of the poorest school systems at the time,” he said. “We worked on improving our programs and improving our image.”
One of the chief ways he and the school board worked to do that was through an adjustment in pay to attract quality teachers.
“It’s all about people,” he said. “Being able to attract the right people is important.”
He said one of the challenges in the early years was finding teachers willing to turn down jobs with other school districts to work at OPS. Too many of them, he said, told him they would call him back if they didn’t get the offer they wanted at a different district.
“We were paying $3,000 to $5,000 less than Daviess County teachers were making,” he said. “We were able to equalize our salaries, and it gave us a good shot at attracting quality teachers.”
The improvement in staff selection wasn’t the only area Vick said the district accomplished over the last decade. He also pointed to the opportunity to acquire land for additional sports fields, parking, and updates to the high school as achievements that have helped make the district more competitive.
“I tried my best to improve every program,” he said. “If we attempt to do anything, I want to do it well. Even our strong programs, I want to make them stronger.”
Vick was named the 2008 Superintendent of the Year, and he said the district has received national recognition under his leadership.
His proudest accomplishment, though, is the ability the district has to provide laptops to all of its high school and middle school students. He said OPS holds the distinction of being the first district in Kentucky to offer laptops to all middle school students. The project, which cost about $5 million, has lived up to expectations.
“The machines have been flawless,” Vick said, noting that with the exception of an occasional spilled drink or being dropped, the laptops haven’t had any mechanical issues.
So what’s next for OPS? According to Vick, it’s the issue of the district’s need for expansion and new facilities. The acquisition of the commonly-labeled “Texas Gas lot” could go a long way toward alleviating that concern. The decision to buy the land and what to do with it was one of the key questions asked of candidates at a public forum before the school board offered a contract to Brake. Vick’s advice to the public is to give the issue time to be studied.
“Be patient. Be open minded. There’s a tremendous opportunity for educational use,” Vick said of the land. “I’d like to see it stay in the district forever. We have the option of having some land to relocate. I feel confident that it was a heck of a deal for the district.”
Vick said he plans to work right up until the last day of his contract, but that after retirement he’ll be moving to Henry County so he can spend more time with his children and grandchildren, there and in Mobile, Ala.
“I want to take some time off,” he said, adding that he has considered writing a book. “If the opportunity came along to do some consulting, I’d look at that.”
A retirement reception was held for Vick Wednesday afternoon. His last day on the job is June 30. Brake’s contract begins July 1.
Photos provided by Dennis Beard
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