With 41 years experience, Lake Forest School District’s Dan Curry is probably one of the nation’s most experienced education administrators. Beginning with a small school in his home state, he’s spent 38 of those years either as a school principal, state education official or district superintendent.
It’s been a rewarding career, particularly the 11 years he’s spent as superintendent at Lake Forest, but Curry, even though he announced his retirement from the job effective June 30, isn’t quite ready to give up all of it.
With both his children grown and out of the family nest, it simply was time to take on another challenge.
“No, I want to keep on working,” the 61-year-old educator said. “I like what I do, but thought right now was an appropriate time for me to bow out.”
Curry began his long career in rural West Virginia, teaching fourth- and sixth-graders, the latter in the same classroom he had attended as a student only 10 years earlier. After just three years, he was named principal at the district’s middle school, followed a year later by a similar appointment to the district’s elementary school. He felt he was qualified for the job, having already completed his master’s degree in education administration by attending night school and summer sessions.
Although the move might have seemed sudden for someone with so little classroom time, it was a position for which Curry had been aiming since he first thought about going into education.
Nudged in that direction by members of his family, Curry said the idea jelled while helping run a series of 4-H summer camps during college. A former 4-H’er, Curry found he enjoyed being in a position where he could guide younger children.
“It confirmed for me that that is where I belonged and where I could learn about leadership,” he said. “It confirmed for me that I wanted to be a leader.”
After five years, Curry moved to the district office, where he not only served as director of instruction but got experience in almost every other job, including that of driving a bus, shuttling 1,500 students in a district almost half the size of the state of Delaware.
“That really allowed me to learn about every part of the school system, and it was a great opportunity to do so many different jobs,” he said.
From 1987 to 2003, Curry held superintendent positions in three West Virginia county school districts, along with a year working in the state capital as the state’s assistant chief of finance for education.
Page 2 of 3 - That’s when he started thinking about doing something new.
“I was just turning 50, and had been looking at coastal school districts,” he said. “My youngest was going off to college, so it didn’t matter where I lived anymore.”
A friend, former Appoquinimink district superintendent Tony Marchio, encouraged him to apply for the job at Lake Forest.
Over 11 years, Curry said he’s been pleased with the results seen from setting high standards for district students, teachers and staff. He’s also shepherded three successful funding referendums, and in 2013 saw three Lake Forest schools awarded $50,000 each as state Recognition Schools.
“We’re really proud of that, and it’s been the result of a lot of hard work and support from our communities,” he said.
Looking forward, Curry feels one of the most important issues in education is proper funding to ensure quality teachers, quality facilities and making sure necessary resources are available for teachers and students.
He’s also looking at the proposed Common Core standards, which have been a hot topic for many, both inside and outside the education community.
“It gets a lot of play as either being good or being bad,” he said. “I don’t see it that way. It’s a set of standards that if anyone looked at them, they’d see there’s really nothing controversial about them.
“They are solid, they are challenging and they have more rigorous expectations of our kids,” Curry said.
Other than providing the district school board with some information on selecting a search firm, Curry has stayed out of the process of selecting his successor.
But he does have some thoughts on the subject.
“The challenge for the board is to make a good choice and to continue with the growth we’ve become accustomed to and the high achievements the community has come to expect,” he said.
As far as advice for the next superintendent, Curry suggests he or she focus on becoming involved in the Lake Forest community and forging good relationships with those involved in running and supporting the district.
“I’d encourage them to be highly visible and to be ready to work hard.”
This spring, Curry will preside over his final graduation ceremony as superintendent; as he prepares to move on, he feels those ceremonies, with students receiving their diplomas amid the cheers of their families, have had the most meaning for him.
“I’ve always said that working at Lake Forest is the best job I’ve ever had. I believe that sincerely.”
Page 3 of 3 - “I leave,” he said, “knowing that we’ve done some good things.”