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Key says it was ‘time’ to retire

Features Editor

In explaining his decision to retire as superintendent of the Pike County School System, Dr. John Key, laughingly, said his wife made him do it.

On a more serious note, Key said he had been thinking about retirement for a long time and it was a labored decision.

"There comes a time when you know it’s time to move on," he said. "It’s time."

The superintendent of the county schools said if there were a negative factor in his decision, it was the constant battle against the legislature "to protect the elementary and secondary school children."

"And, it seems to be a losing battle," he said. "Too often, it’s been a struggle to keep our heads above the water. The state is taking more and more local authority away and, essentially, we don’t have a local school system anymore. It’s a state school system."

Key said the job of heading a school system is very demanding of one’s time and emotions.

"It can be very stressful and, over time, it takes a lot out of you," he said. "My decision was basically a family one. I feel, at this time, it’s best for us. I have worked with an excellent staff over my 23 years and I have been fortunate to work with such fantastic people. Mark Bazzell has been an excellent assistant superintendent and he will do a great job as superintendent."

Although Key won’t retire until his term expires Dec. 31, 2002, he said he’s not closing any doors of opportunity that may open to him.

"If I got an offer to take over as CEO of General Motors tomorrow, I would take it," he said, laughing. "Seriously, I don’t plan to retire until my term expires by if a position did raise its head that I thought would be good for me and my family, I would consider it. I’m retiring as superintendent of

Pike County Schools, but I’m not retiring. I plan to work somewhere – somewhere I can be productive."

Key said there are several things he would like to see completed or underway before he closes this chapter on his life.

"First, I would like to complete the task before us regarding a unitary school system," he said. "I would like to see us come out from under the court order of 1969. That way we will be allowed to use common sense in areas such as student assignments rather than by law and order."

Secondly, Key said the school system is close to issuing bonds which would make it possible to begin renovation and construction projects at Goshen Elementary School and Pike County High School, thus eliminating portable classrooms from those campuses.

Having a few moments to reflect, Key said career in education has spanned 32 years, "or is it 33?"

He received his undergraduate degree from Troy State University and his graduate degrees from the University of Alabama. He taught in Butler County before coming back home to Pike County, where he was principal at Springhill and Banks before taking over the helm of the county school system.

"I’ve seen a lot of changes in the school system over the years," Key said. "When I first started, a lot of the children didn’t have enough to eat and no shoes and few clothes to wear. As principal, I spent a lot of time dealing with things like that."

Although Pike County was a rural school system, Key said it was not a backward system.

"We actually had one of the first centralized office accounting systems in the state," he said, "but we didn’t have the funding of other school systems across the state. Local support is where the quality of school lies and our local funding just hasn’t been there. But, with what we have had, we have done well."

Key cited state winners in academic and athletic events and national winners in health occupations and vocational education.

"For a while, the largest trophies that were given at our schools were for academic excellence," he said. "I’m not sure if all schools are still doing that, but that’s what is most important."

Key said many of the students in the Pike County School System are below the poverty level and they come to school far below the level where they should be academically.

"Our teachers do an outstanding job bringing them up a year and a half or more and they deserve a pat on the back," he said. "And, too, we take in everyone, therefore, we take on the social ills in society and they bleed over into the school and we have to deal with them. Rather than teach reading, writing and arithmetic, we have to teach morals and ethics. It’s a demanding job and you do get battle weary."

Weary but not defeated.

"No, there are too many success stories that come out of our schools to feel defeated," Key said. "Every day, I see the successes of our students and our teachers and those are the real rewards of what we, as educators do. That keeps us motivated and

that’s what keeps us in education for 32 years – or is it 33?"