Parks reflects on 50-year school career

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Superintendent Rob Hart (left) and Assistant Superintendent Robert Parks (right) have worked side by side to prepare Liberty Hill for growth. Parks, 73, is retiring in June after a 50-year career in Texas public schools. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

Superintendent Rob Hart (left) and Assistant Superintendent Robert Parks (right) have worked side by side to prepare Liberty Hill for growth. Parks, 73, is retiring in June after a 50-year career in Texas public schools. (Shelly Wilkison Photo)

By SHELLY WILKISON

He started his career teaching seventh and eighth graders at Liberty Chapel — a 52-student rural school where he also served as principal.

It was 1965. Although it was a much simpler time compared to today, 22-year-old Robert Parks had his hands full. Today, as he reflects on a 50-year career in public education remembering students, families and colleagues, he feels richly blessed and wouldn’t change a thing.

“I’m thankful I’ve been able to do this for so many years,” Parks said. “I’ve been blessed.”

Liberty Hill Assistant Superintendent Parks, 73, is retiring in June after a 50-year career in Texas public schools. When Liberty Hill ISD Board President Clay Cole announced the news at a school board meeting last week, administrators and other employees gasped in surprise.

“I felt like it was time,” said Parks, quickly adding that he is looking forward to spending time with grandchildren in the Dallas area.

“But it will be a big change. For 50 years, my life has revolved around the start of school and the end of school — all built around the school schedule,” he said.

So the first day of his life out of school will be spent cleaning his garage.

Parks, whose work ethic is widely recognized by co-workers, laughed as he admitted he had been putting off the task for longer than he would confess.

Parks was hired 15 years ago by then-Superintendent Dean Andrews. Parks was a teacher/coach and principal at Plains High School when Andrews was superintendent there. Parks later served as high school principal in Lampasas and as superintendent in White Deer before accepting the position of Assistant Superintendent in Liberty Hill under Andrews in 2000.

“I knew of Liberty Hill when I was at Lampasas as high school principal,” he said. “There was a good spirit within the school district then, always has been.”

As Assistant Superintendent, Parks oversees the operations of the district including facilities, transportation and maintenance. In recent years, he has spearheaded the transition to newly-built facilities and worked with maintenance and transportation staff to make very difficult moving tasks appear effortless.

Superintendent Rob Hart says Parks’ experience as a superintendent and administrator have made him invaluable through the years.

“He has a huge job description,” Hart said. “I rely a lot on the ODA – other duties as assigned.”

Every morning when he arrives at work, Hart meets Parks at the Flagpole as he raises the flags at the Administration Building. When he finishes, the two start the day with a discussion that typically involves a rundown of the day’s schedule of school events, as well as some friendly conversation and news about their families.

“I will miss spending that time with him every day,” Hart said. “He has been a good friend and a lot of fun to work with.”

Hart recalled the day a few years ago when a cafeteria worker realized at 6:45 a.m. that there was no water at what was then the junior high and high school campuses. With 10 minutes to spare before students and staff were to arrive at school, Parks developed an emergency plan to transport students from both campuses to the field house at the old Panther Stadium near the elementary campus for restroom needs while transporting water to the schools for drinking purposes.

“He fired off a plan and got that all under control in a matter of minutes,” Hart said.

“He (Parks) has never been a yes man. He has experience and I ask for his opinion on lots of issues. He helps in conflicts and has a good eye for hiring quality personnel — not something that everyone can do.”

Hart said Parks’ experience in human resources has helped the school district reach the point where they invest less in contract labor and use their own employees to do small construction and repairs, including heating and air conditioning service.

“Today, we are doing a lot of our own construction because of the experienced personel the district has hired under his direction. We have stopped using so much contract labor and Parks has had a lot to do with that,” Hart said.

Looking back on the early years of his career, Parks admits he enjoyed coaching — and had a pretty good record of wins vs losses.

In Rio Vista, he coached virtually every boys sport, including a six-man football team, basketball and baseball.

“We had more wins than losses,” Parks said, adding that the school’s football team had never won a game until he started coaching.

While in Plains, he coached eighth grade volleyball and girls basketball. While principal, the girls volleyball team won the state championship.

Like many former coaches, Parks looks forward to Liberty Hill football games. But, Panther fans won’t find him yelling for the team along with the other fans. Instead, he spends the entire game on the visitors’ side welcoming the opponents to Liberty Hill.

Parks said no one told him to do it. He just thought it needed to be done.

“I want them to feel good about coming to Liberty Hill, and I enjoy doing that. It makes them (visitors) feel good to know they are welcome here,” he said. “We want them to get beat when they come here, but we want to send them home happy.”

But Parks doesn’t just keep score of a school’s success on the athletic fields. He said he has always enjoyed being involved in “the bigger picture” of public education.

In Liberty Hill, he is among the first to celebrate when Liberty Hill test scores arrive.

“That’s big stuff to me. The numbers mean something to me, and it is a source of pride,” he said. “We want students to have opportunities for success everywhere.”

Parks graduated from Cleburne High School, then attended North Texas State University in nearby Denton (now the University of North Texas). He and Jan married in 1977 and one year later earned his certification in educational administration from Tarleton State University.

“I always wanted to teach and coach,” he recalls of his decision to pursue a career in public education. “I have always enjoyed the people in the school business, and I enjoy being around young people and all the activities.”

His wife, Jan, shared his interests and taught school 26 years before retiring in 2005. The Parks have two children and five grandchildren.

While he has seen many changes in Texas public schools over five decades, Parks said the biggest changes have occurred right here in Liberty Hill.

“When I first came here, there was division in the community,” he said. “It was the old timers versus the new. But it seems like things are more together now, paving the way for Liberty Hill to blow and go. I see a lot of good things taking place. It is a good thing to grow, it creates jobs and excitement.”

Parks has been instrumental in the school district’s planning for growth. In fact, he keeps a map of the district on a table in his office referring to it frequently.

Parks said the challenge for growing Liberty Hill schools is to maintain the small-town feel.

“We don’t want a mega-campus,” he said. “I hope we don’t lose that (small-town atmosphere). We want every student to be able to find something they want to do in the high school. Kids feel safe here, and we want it to stay that way. This is an outstanding school district and will continue to be.”

Parks said although politics at the state and federal levels often complicates the job of educators, it is still the best career field and he would choose it all again.

He describes his way of thinking as “Parks’ cornfield philosophy”, but adds that although things might change in the statehouse to challenge and even pressure young people and educators, in the end students haven’t changed so much and that’s a good thing.

“They still want to have their area where they can go and be together when they get to school. Kids feel safe when they get to campus, it’s like a little home,” he said.

Parks added that there are plenty of career options in education that don’t require college degrees.

“There are careers in public education that people don’t think about. They can even do these things while getting an education, and I wish more people would look at it. In the end, having a good work ethic is the most important thing,” he said.

“I will miss all the people here,” he said. “I enjoy going to campuses, visiting with people and finding out about their families. These are good people (in Liberty Hill schools).”

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