July 9, 2009
Educator ends 33-year career in Homer
Director of instruction and evaluation retires, leaving behind legacy of consistent leadership
HOMER — At the beginning of every month since 1982, Larry King has written “Hire attitude” at the top of the tear-off calendar in his office before jotting down any meeting times.
He does it to keep it in the forefront of his mind that when he recommends applicants for teaching jobs to the superintendent, he needs to pick candidates who have not only the proper training, but the right attitudes toward students.
“We found oftentimes that people who like being with kids will go that extra mile,” King said.
After 33 years working in Homer Central School District, King, 60, of Homer, is retiring. His official retirement date was June 30, but he spent the first few days of July finalizing next year’s curriculum.
As director of instruction and evaluation since October of 1998, King has interviewed applicants for jobs in all grades in the district. During interviews, he is joined by the superintendent, a building principal and teachers in the same subject area as the applicant.
When he sees former students, King often asks who was the best teacher they had in high school. He hears a variety of names, but when the former students explain their choices, they usually say the teacher cared about him or her as a person, King said.
Besides interviewing teachers, some of King’s main responsibilities have been developing districtwide curriculums that meet both state requirements and the district’s own standards and training teachers by answering their questions and planning staff development workshops.
King has seen many changes in education at the state and federal level, and he has been an educator long enough to see that many of these changes are cyclical, he said.
Some of the district’s biggest challenges are finding the money to satisfy unfunded mandates, he said.
The district also has to react quickly to changes made at the state level. Less than two weeks ago, the state Education Department changed the scheduled date of English Language Arts and math assessments for third- to eighth-graders next year from February to May, forcing the district to redo the curriculum this summer.
He thinks the biggest problem with state testing is the way state assessments are graded for third- to eighth-graders. He said the problem is not the material covered but the way the tests are graded. Each question is given a different weight by a committee after students take the test, making it hard for students to understand why they received a grade, King said.
“It’s kind of like trying to hit a moving target,” he said.
King said that the federal No Child Left Behind Act has given a great deal of support to students who are at the bottom level, but fails to challenge average and top-notch students.
King has served on the statewide Government Relations Committee through the School Administrators Association of New York State. He was one of 20 to 30 school administrators who met with the state education commissioner a few times a year in Albany to discuss changes in education requirements. By serving on this committee, King was often the first person in the district to learn about changes made at the state level.
As chairman of the district’s professional staff development committee in recent years, King has organized three to four staff development days per year to train and update teachers.
During staff development workshops, King has invited field specialists in hundreds of specialty subjects, such as autism and differentiated instruction, said Ted Larison, director of technology.
King said he uses a lot of research-based information that he receives by networking with other directors of instruction in the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES region.
One of King’s main concerns about the future of education is keeping class sizes down despite budgetary issues. Smaller class sizes ensure that students do not fall behind in learning to read, he said.
“The most critical thing we do for students is teach them how to read,” King said.
A search committee is seeking a replacement for King by July 17.
When Cortland City School District’s director of curriculum left, the district did not replace him. But King said he feels the position is more necessary in the Homer district. He added that there is no room on the principals’ plates for the work he did.
King started his tenure in the district as a teacher at the intermediate school before serving as principal of Homer Junior High School for 17 years. He said he plans to stay in Homer and continue working. He might teach administrative classes online or substitute for a principal at a local school, he said.
Fred Farah, the Homer High School principal who will retire in September, said King has brought consistent leadership to the school district throughout his 33 years, which helped to weather the challenges and changes that the district has faced.
Tom Turck, who replaced King as principal of the intermediate school, said King will be difficult to replace.
“That really is going to be a tough hole for us to fill just because he’s always been here,” Turck said.
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