By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY August 12, 2003 Lawrence Clarke thinks hes found the best of all worlds.
The new Liberty Central School superintendent has known for quite some time he wanted to make the leap to head up a school.
Coming to Liberty from a principalship in Schoharie County, Clarke has been working in education for almost 30 years the first half as an English teacher.
His decision to move on and into Liberty was based on his childrens age all three are grown up now and they wouldnt have to be uprooted with their mom and dad and his desire to return to a familiar place from his youth.
A graduate of Rondout Valley High School, Clarke was born in Westchester County and lived most of his childhood in different areas around Sullivan County.
He has a brother in Poughkeepsie, and when he learned of the opening in Liberty, Clarke jumped at the chance.
I didnt like Long Island, I didnt like the cold, but I wanted to be closer to the metropolitan area, he said. Ive been looking at the next step administratively for the last three or four years, and this is the best of all worlds.
Hes found a welcoming community in Liberty a place that has seen a lot of upheaval in its administration over the past few years.
The school has been a victim of fiscal mismanagement, struggled with superintendents who have lived out of the district, and been headed up for almost a year by an interim administrator who was helping things get back on track.
Clarke heard about the problems during meetings with the staff and the public and he heard their desires loud and clear.
He and wife Susan have already purchased a home right in the district one of the biggest requests made by taxpayers in the search for a new superintendent.
That was good for me, Clarke said. I wanted a community that wanted the superintendent to be part of it.
Seeing parents and students at the supermarket or in the post office is a good way to keep a finger on the pulse of the community, Clarke noted.
Hes also studied a lot of the districts financial problems.
Financial stability is one of my top goals for this year, he said. [Interim Superintendent] Ed Rhine did a top job of stabilizing the finances.
But LCS also needs to work on academics, Clarke continued. We need to raise our childrens scores.
Clarke hopes his objective eye will make it easier to look at deficiencies in the district and address them.
Clarke has a range of experiences. He wasnt the kid who went to college with his goals all marked out, he confessed.
But a chance opportunity to tutor other kids pushed him toward education.
Somebody paid me for doing something I would have done for free, he recalled.
Clarke graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a bachelors degree in education and minors in English and Spanish before he went on to get a masters degree in administration from Albany State.
He taught English for 15 years and Spanish for several of those years starting his career in Schoharie County, where he was a junior-senior high school principal until June.
The district was extremely rural, even smaller than Liberty, but with similar views.
There was an emphasis on music education something Liberty residents are extremely proud of. The students in Schoharie County worked well together with younger kids learning from their older role models, and Clarke hopes to implement similar character education programs at LCS.
Liberty does things just a little bit different, he explained. Its a little bigger than the area I come from, its a little more diverse than the area I come from.
But I can bring my experience of the last 29, 30 years in education.
The district has impressed Clarke, especially with its success in developing a strategic plan.
Its important to have an overarching project, an umbrella to what you do, he explained. I think we need to lead by example.
People pay a lot of money to maintain a school, he noted.
Clarke hopes to bring the community on board hes already received an extremely large welcome at board meetings and a reception held upon his arrival.
I think the community needs to know Im going to be doing a lot of listening, he said. Im going to try to be visible without interfering with other peoples jobs.
This is a team effort, and Im looking at it with an eye for improvement, Clarke continued. The faculty and staff and professionals in central office have been absolutely fabulous.
You can tell its a school that values its children, he noted. That I think is super we have some really child-oriented, student-oriented people.
And, Clarke hopes, the community will soon realize he fits right in with the rest of the staff.