Pen­nridge su­per­in­ten­dent to re­tire

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Meghan Ross

In a let­ter to Pen­nridge School Board Pres­i­dent Duane Dem­ing, Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Robert Kish wrote that it has “re­cently oc­curred” to him that he will be 74 years old soon.

Con­se­quently, he thinks this is a good time to re­tire. Thurs­day, Oct. 31, will be Kish’s last day.

“The rea­son it’s Oct. 31 is be­cause I got here on Nov. 1. Eigh­teen years — it’s a nice, even num­ber that even PSERS couldn’t mess up,” Kish said with a laugh.

The re­tir­ing su­per­in­ten­dent said he is look­ing for­ward to spend­ing time with his “very pa­tient and very tol­er­ant” wife, Maryellen, whom he has been mar­ried to for 51 years. “Time isn’t in­fi­nite,” he said. Ac­cord­ing to Kish, the board will be in­ter­ested in a na­tional search for his re­place­ment. The goal is to have some­one hired by the end of the school year so that Kish can fa­mil­iar­ize him or her with how the district op­er­ates.

Kish served as su­per­in­ten­dent for two other dis­tricts, Liv­ingston and West Mor­ris Re­gional, be­fore coming to Pen­nridge in 1995. Ac­cord­ing to Kish, Pen­nridge was re­cov­er­ing from a time of “la­bor tur­moil, com­mu­nity dis­sat­is­fac­tion with teach­ers and fi­nan­cial un­cer­tainty.” The com­mu­nity, the teach­ers union and the board — “a three-headed mon­ster” — were at odds when Kish ar­rived at the school district.

Kish said he worked to de­velop a sense of trust, which took time and ex­pe­ri­ence to cul­ti­vate.

The su­per­in­ten­dent, whose big­gest fear is bore­dom, said he will miss the kids, the en­ergy and even the prob­lems.

“Here, I’ve not been bored. And if I am, I usu­ally find some­thing,” Kish said.

He said he was proud of the district’s tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, men­tion­ing the ef­forts of former board Pres­i­dent Dave Thompson. Some other ma­jor ac­com­plish­ments in a news re­lease about Kish’s time as su­per­in­ten­dent in­clude hav­ing no strikes in 15 years, build­ing Penn Cen­tral Mid­dle School and avoid­ing a tax in­crease in the past two years of bud­get­ing with­out a re­duc­tion in pro­grams or an in­crease in class sizes.

“I’ve never had a job in ed­u­ca­tion that I didn’t have a good time with,

whether it was teach­ing or be­ing a guid­ance coun­selor or be­ing a high school prin­ci­pal or be­ing in the cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion or bud­get­ing,” he said.

While Kish said there is no typ­i­cal day in his job, he tries to fo­cus on ac­ces­si­bil­ity — talk­ing to par­ents and teach­ers and other ad­min­is­tra­tors. He also in­ter­views ev­ery teacher hired by the school district.

His mind­set when he ar­rived at Pen­nridge was: “The best peo­ple and the best pro­grams for the fewest dol­lars.”

Kish, who has worked as an ed­u­ca­tor since 1964, has ex­pe­ri­enced some strange tran­si­tions in his ca­reer.

Two weeks af­ter be­ing dis­charged from the Army and serv­ing dur­ing the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, he landed his first ed­u­ca­tion job as a high school English teacher. He said his ex­pe­ri­ence in the Army helped him in his ca­reer in that he learned the im­por­tance of be­ing able to make de­ci­sions.

“You had to be de­ci­sive. You had to stand up for some­thing. It gave me con­fi­dence,” Kish said. “I came out of that feel­ing a lot more sure that I could han­dle what­ever was go­ing to come up.”

When he first be­gan as su­per­in­ten­dent for the Liv­ingston Pub­lic School District, a New Jersey school district that had the sec­ond-high­est per pupil cost in the state, a par­ent ap­proached him and asked Kish, “Why aren’t we first?”

Years later, Kish saw a stark con­trast when he ar­rived at Pen­nridge, a district with the low­est per pupil cost in the county out of 12 school dis­tricts. One of the board mem­bers told him, “You’re damn right, and we worked hard to get that.”

The cur­rent board will vote to ac­cept or re­ject Kish’s re­tire­ment at its meet­ing Mon­day, Jan. 28. Kish, whose salary is about $172,000, said the board was prob­a­bly ex­pect­ing his re­tire­ment but didn’t know when it would hap­pen.

“I just needed to feel more com­fort­able with this board be­fore I did it be­cause I was also con­cerned about the fu­ture of the district,” Kish said. “But I see some good things hap­pen­ing. I have more con­fi­dence now that we’re headed in the right di­rec­tion.”

For who­ever re­places Kish, the su­per­in­ten­dent said a sense of hu­mor and the abil­ity to lis­ten are two traits needed for the job.

“The bot­tom line is, ‘What do you be­lieve is in the best in­ter­est of the kids?’ If you fol­low that prin­ci­ple, then most of the time you’re go­ing to be do­ing the right thing,” he said.

The su­per­in­ten­dent de­scribed Pen­nridge stu­dents as bright, tal­ented, re­spect­ful and con­sid­er­ate.

“There’s really some­thing spe­cial about th­ese kids. They’re really dif­fer­ent,” he said. “There’s a value sys­tem in this com­mu­nity that th­ese kids re­flect that’s pre­cious and worth hold­ing onto.”

Sit­ting in his of­fice chair, look­ing out over Pen­nridge High School’s cam­pus, Kish paused.

“Any­way, I’ve had a ball.”

Robert Kish

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