(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
One of the things that has made Dr. Ron Lankford one of the most effective school administrators in Missouri is his ability to remember faces and names.
When I became the area reporter for The Carthage Press in 1990, one of my beats was the Webb City R-7 School District. The first time I approached Lankford, the superintendent at Webb City, was at a basketball game in his home gymnasium.
Before I could reintroduce myself, he had already called me by name and was asking me how my younger sister Kelly was doing.
What made this more remarkable was the fact that he had not seen me in nearly 20 years, and the last time he had seen me I was a freshman at East Newton High School and he was a student teacher. He later had Kelly as one of his students when he became a full-time teacher at East Newton.
That ability to remember names and faces has always served Lankford as a superintendent, and it may end up serving him equally well if he decides to go into politics as some have speculated.
Lankford announced to the R-7 Board of Education this week that he will retire at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. You hear about many people leaving long after their best years, but Lankford has been on top for a long time and he is leaving while still at the top of his game.
The announcement of his retirement came only a week after R-7 patrons overwhelmingly approved a $2 million bond issue to add classrooms for early education at three of the district’s elementary schools. Webb City voters have approved one such issue after another during Lankford’s tenure.
In the letter to the board, Lankford said, "Writing this letter was not easy for me at this time, but I wanted to give you ample advance notice of this decision to enable you to have sufficient time to select a successor. I made this decision last spring but felt it best to delay the announcement until after the 2009-2010 school year had begun. After it was decided to hold a special election on Nov. 3, 2009, I determined it would be best to wait until after that date to inform you of my plans. It was my belief that all my energies should be spent preparing for our students' futures rather than my retirement."
Lankford said he will not let up during the remainder of this school year and added, "It will be my goal to see that the district is well positioned for the new decade upon us."
That attitude is one that has kept Lankford on top, something recognized a few weeks ago by the Missouri Council of School Administrators when it named Lankford the state’s School Administrator of the Year.
Nearly four decades of exemplary work in public education will come to a conclusion June 30 for the Seneca native. And it all started at East Newton High School.