Pennridge superintendent to retire
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.”