With retirement just days away, Alpine Superintendent Clark Cox is in a reflective mood. He's contemplating the enormity of the job he's passing on, appraising his own performance and counting the number of night meetings he has left to attend.
Those night meetings have added up during the past five years, Cox said with a laugh. He's worked 60 to 70 hours every week as superintendent, but most of that work has been an interesting challenge. (See related story on page B3.)"As I look back, I've really enjoyed the education profession. It's exciting. Things are constantly changing. You really work with good people. There's so much happening in this district all the time that no two days are alike."
After 37 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent, Cox will retire Thursday and pass the reins at Alpine to American Fork High School Principal Steven Baugh. Cox has been preparing his successor for the job for several weeks, but he said there's no way to help someone anticipate the magnitude of the position.
"It's a big operation. We have nearly 3,000 employees and 40,000 students with a $94 million budget. Sometimes it can be nearly overwhelming," he said.
Dealing with employees and working with restricted finances have been the most difficult parts of the job, Cox said, but he wants to be remembered for his impact on the district's curriculum.
"I would like to be known for improving the education program
and developing an organization that permits the district to run smoothly enough that we can pay most of our attention to the education program."
Cox rates that curriculum highest as he grades the district's recent performance in important areas. Curriculum gets an A, implementation of that program gets a B and district public relations gets a B-minus. Why the drop in that category?
"I think that we've not been able to really orient our parents as well as we should to all the good things that are happening in the district," he said. "I think that when parents think of the Alpine School District, those thoughts could be more positive. Parents have good feelings toward their individual schools, though. Maybe more needs to be done to sell ourselves.
"If parents thought highly of the district, they weren't willing to put their pocketbooks where their thoughts were (hen the district requested a tax increase)," he said. "I think that in the long run we will reap whatever we invest in public schools. We really have some talented kids, especially in this area. A lot of education should be more than the basics, but more and more, education is just the basics."
When funds are tight, it's easy for district leaders to simply maintain the programs they have, but Cox said it's important to push education programs forward.
"When I first started as a superintendent, most of the questions were philosophical and educational. Now, most of our decisions are financial," he said.
Cox first became a superintendent in 1975 in the Lancaster School District in California. He started his career in 1951 in Logandale, Nev., as a teacher, but just two years later he became a principal. That, he said, was the greatest part of his career.
"Being a principal was the best job I ever had in education. The ego satisfaction that comes with being a principal is just tremendous," Cox said with a grin. "When you walk downtown when you're a principal kids wave to you all the time. You can really have an impact. It was fun to be a principal, so when I was principal I never had any intention of being anything else. I never dreamed that I would become a superintendent."
But after about 10 years as a principal, Cox began asking himself whether he could do that for the rest of his career without getting bored. The answer was no, so he went back to school, got his doctorate and was soon directing an entire district.
Now, with many years of experience behind him, Cox plans to spend time traveling with his wife, but he has some advice for the people he's leaving behind.
"To the kids I would indicate that maybe the most important thing in education is to learn how to make a decision. To the parents I would say that whatever sacrifices they have to make for the youngsters, education is important. Everyone in the community, especially parents, needs to make education more and more important in their lives and in their kids' lives."