For approximately three decades, USD No. 480 has come to count on the expertise and lean on the professionalism of Vernon Welch. However, on May 28, Welch will step down from his position as superintendent to enjoy the benefits of retirement. Although Welch’s idea of retirement may be very different from that of the average retiree.
“I got out of the service and started teaching in 1970,” Welch said. “I was in the Army, I served one year in Vietnam. I started in Liberal in about ’77, I started as a counselor and a baseball coach at the high school. Dr. Lawter was principal then and Jim Maskus was assistant principal. Then Dr. Lawter left, and Jim Maskus asked me to be his assistant principal. I was with him as assistant principal at LHS until 1987.
“Then I went to South Middle School for two years as principal,” he continued. “I went from there to Southwestern Heights in 1989. I was a superintendent and principal at Southwestern Heights until 2000. I moved back to Liberal in 2000 and was assistant superintendent. I took over as superintendent in 2004.”
Welch genuinely delights in the success of the students throughout the district. Seeing USD 480 strive for their best is something he has felt privileged to be a part of.
“I enjoy the opportunity to make a difference in education,” he said. “To make a difference in students lives, to try to improve it on both ends of the spectrum. I like the idea of what we are doing with the AVID program here, and I also like the idea with what we are doing with putting the AP classes in the middle school and high school.”
Welch has been amazed at the technological strides the district has taken throughout the years.
“The technology here, I think, is top of the line,” he said. “We have a great staff to work with in technology. We continue budgeting for technology so we can make sure the kids have every advantage that they can with the technology.”
Throughout his career with the district, Welch’s top priority has been simply to meet AYP. He feels the education of all students, regardless of nationality, is imperative to the success of the district.
“Meeting AYP has been the most important thing,” he said. “Trying to figure out some way to educate these kids and close the achievement gap between the hispanic and white populations and make it a learning situation for everybody – so we can make AYP. That is like winning a national championship – meeting AYP.”
Throughout his career with USD 480, Welch has always felt making himself accessible to his staff and students was an important aspect of his position.
“In the past, I always made it a point to get out and visit the schools,” he said. “You get to have meetings with the teachers, see their programs and situations, you get to see the kids in action. I used to go into classrooms to make sure kids knew who I was. That was very rewarding to see the kids in action, and also the teachers.”
Welch takes a lot of pride in the recognition the teachers of the district receive as well. He enjoys witnessing teachers being rewarded so much that he, for that very reason, changed his retirement date.
“I love making presentations to the schools that have had outstanding achievements in state and national levels,” he said. “Giving out those awards to those teachers has been so rewarding.
“My last day will be May 28,” he added. “It was going to be graduation, but I asked to change my decision to the the 28th, that day is teacher recognition.”
Welch is going to miss the entire district staff for many reasons, and they, in turn, will miss him, as well. He wishes nothing but the best for them as they continue with the groundwork Welch has been an important part of establishing.
“I am going to miss my staff up here at central office,” he said. “These people are energetic, they are smart, they will work to get things done, they don’t refuse any task I ask them to do. We just have a teamwork atmosphere.
“The building administrators are great,” he continued. “They are out there working and trying to do it and I know the teachers are, too, to make it all possible for these kids to receive a good education and meet AYP.
“I hope there is a continuation in the programs we have initiated to help these kids meet AYP,” he added. “That has been my goal, and I know it will be the goal of future administration. I would like to see some better classrooms. I think our technology is great, but I would like to see some better facilities for these kids for the future. I think some of the environments are comfortable, but they could be better.”
Board president Dan Diepenbrock has been nothing short of impressed by the professionalism Welch has displayed throughout the years.
“As a result of his leadership and vision, Mr. Welch has left USD 480 on solid ground,” Diepenbrock said. “If we effectively execute the plans and programs put in place during his tenure, the academic achievement potential for our students is unlimited.
“His strong suit, however, is his insight regarding budgeting matters,” he continued. “Our district has been able to keep our mill levy low, in particular the local option budget levy, in large part because of Mr. Welch’s ability to effectively allocate and utilize tax dollars. While keeping our mill levy low, the salary and benefits we pay our teachers is among the highest in the state.”
Welch’s colleague Alan Haskell, director of auxiliary services, will not only miss working along side his boss, he will miss working with his friend.
“I am going to miss him,” Haskell said. “He demands the best out of you, but he will back you up and support you. Now that is from a professional stand point.
“He is a personal friend of mine, too,” he continued. “We came here basically around the same time so we have known each other for over 30 years. He is a very outstanding man. He is very honest. It been a pleasure to work with him and work under him.”
Retirement for Welch probably does not include quiet days in the garden. He will most likely travel some with his wife and daughter, as well as attend more high school sports competitions. However, he may possibly be looking into pursuing a new position, although he preferred not to comment on any specifics.
“I am probably going to enjoy the time I do have off,” he said. “I am probably going to increase my golf time, and there are a lot activities I can choose to go to. I love the high school activities more then I like anything. I am a basketball fanatic. I try to make as many high school games as possible. I like our skill level and what is going on with the coaches. I enjoy watching it, I have always enjoyed watching it. There are big possibilities with the football team as well.”
Welch’s career has been full of ups and downs and learning experiences that have made for a fulfilling career. Welch had some advice for the individual that will attempt to fill his shoes for the 2010-2011 school year.
“Be a good listener,” he said. “Be patient, evaluate the situation and make a decision. Also, always ask questions.”