“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” — Henry David Thoreau
As Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe opened his final meeting before retiring this week, he used Thoreau’s quote as his inspirational thought for the night, and reflected upon his own life, with 38 years spent as an educator, coach and administrator.
The meeting served as a time to bring present and former Elkin City Schools Board of Education members together to honor Bledsoe for his time in Elkin and in education.
“Truth be told it took me two interviews to convince me,” said former board member Jim Westbrook as he spoke of his time on the board when Bledsoe was hired eight years ago as superintendent. He said it didn’t take him long to see that Bledsoe “was dedicated to Elkin City Schools.”
Westbrook said despite disagreements at time, he “never questioned Dr. Bledsoe’s dedication to Elkin City Schools.” He referenced a recent letter to the editor in The Tribune during which the school system’s financial management as well as Bledsoe’s morals were questioned. He said Chief Finance Officer Jan Zachary has explained the financial history, and Bledsoe “exemplifies outstanding morality,” calling Bledsoe “the most upright, forthright, conscience person” he knows.
“It is about Elkin City Schools, not Dr. Bledsoe,” Westbrook said of the superintendent’s motives. “I want to thank you for all you’ve done for Elkin City Schools. We’ll forever be in your debt.”
“I went to a commissioners meeting in Yadkin County probably four or five years ago, and they lambasted the commissioners, and my son in particular because he was chair,” said former board member Larry Wagoner. “I listened for 30 minutes. … It’s much easier for people to sit back and criticize the person at the top.
“I’ve been a teacher, assistant principal, principal and superintendent for three days, when you make decisions for everyone, you are not going to make everyone happy,” said Wagoner. “I’ve been through six superintendents, maybe seven, and Dr. Bledsoe has been totally dedicated to the school system.
“I didn’t always agree with Dr. Bledsoe, or Jim, or the other board members, but when you look at the total picture, I think he’s done an absolute fantastic job,” he said.
“I had the honor of serving with Dr. Bledsoe for six years,” said former board member Foley Norman. “It started out as business as usual but the board and Dr. Bledsoe faced the most difficult financial times school systems have ever seen. Thanks to the preparation in the financial department, we had plenty of money in the fund balance and were able to keep teachers.
“Someone referred to it as a ‘rainy day’ fund, we didn’t have a rainy day, we had rainy years,” he said.
Norman praised Bledsoe for the way he pushed people out of their comfort zone, instead of letting them sit on idle. “He wanted to see them push their limits and I think a lot of people have moved up because of that,” he said.
“Dr. Bledsoe also had the vision to bring STEAM to Elkin City Schools, and I think it is moving Elkin City Schools in the right direction,” said Norman. “I want to thank him for his dedication and one of the longest runs we’ve had with a superintendent in many years.”
The sitting board members also took the time to voice their thanks and appreciation for Bledsoe’s time serving Elkin City Schools. Chairman Dr. Richard Brinegar gathered the present and former board members and presented Bledsoe with a large plaque featuring a place for three pictures on it. The inscription, read by Brinegar, says, “On your well-deserved retirement after 38 years of outstanding and dedicated service presented June 30, 2016. In sincere gratitude for the outstanding leadership you have provided to North Carolina Public Education for almost four decades. During the past eight years as superintendent of Elkin City Schools, your guidance on our ‘Journey to Significance’ has proven invaluable. May your next journey be as successful.’”
Bledsoe also was surprised with his own Elk statue, “Royal Battle,” which features two male elks battling it out for the high ground, by his administrative staff. Chief Finance Officer Jan Zachary said, as she presented him with the surprise, “The directors and board would like to make this presentation to you as a way to remember all the fun times at Elkin City Schools. The name of the sculpture is ‘Royal Battle’ … a reminder of all the good things that have come about because you helped Elkin City Schools battle vouchers, nontraditional schools, merger, non-funded mandates, discretionary reductions and last but not least all the budget reductions. We wish you the very best in your future endeavors and fond memories of your time here as a Buckin’ Elk.”
“I could not imagine in the fall of 1978 all the things I’d be able to do in my career,” said Bledsoe at the end of Monday’s meeting. “I leave this district with lots of great leadership in place, a tremendous staff, a support staff that is phenomenal with what they do.
“It has been a difficult last seven years, the worst economic times education has seen, but we always focus on the two most important things in my life — teaching and learning. The important thing is we do what’s right for our kids,” Bledsoe said. “I carry that passion on my sleeve. It’s time for me to redirect my life, hopefully affect some future superintendents and teachers, and spend time with my family.”
During Monday’s meeting, the board unanimously voted to elect Dr. Don Martin as the interim superintendent effective July 1.
On July 11 at 6 p.m., a special called meeting of the school board will be held at the Elkin City Schools administrative office to swear in Martin and a reception will be held for the community to meet Martin and welcome him to the school system.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.