RIPLEY, W.Va. (WV News) — Looking back on his 39 years as a student, Blaine Hess sees what his entire career has entailed.
“It’s always been about teamwork,” he said. “Every job I’ve had, whether teaching or administration, involved building a team.”
As he prepares to retire as Superintendent of Jackson County Schools after 16 years, that is much of what he will miss most.
“I will miss the wonderful people I work with in this building and this school system,” he said. “Apart from Laura Matheny, I have hired every central office staff member who has worked here during my tenure. Some have just joined the team; some will take up their post after my departure.
A 1979 graduate of Herbert Hoover High School, Hess had no plans to be a school administrator.
His first love was music.
“I earned my Bachelor of Arts in K-12 Music Education at Alderson Broaddus College,” he said. “I was emphasizing vocal music, but the available jobs were in the band, so that’s where I went.”
Hess said he was “14 years in the band business”.
His first posting was at Clear Fork, a K-12 school in Raleigh County.
“I was ‘Mr. There’s music,'” he recalls with a laugh. “I taught just about everything and everyone.”
The following year, he was lucky enough to return home. He taught three years at Clendenin High School.
At age 26, he made his first foray into Jackson County as the band principal at Ripley High School.
“What a wonderful experience it was,” he said. “Sherry Poole was my assistant director and she was incredibly supportive. Working closely with her during my three years there, the Viking Orchestra scored top marks in the adjudication. There were 140 members and a new music room. It was so exciting.”
One of the challenges Hess had as headmaster was teaching elementary, middle and high school harmony.
“Between noon and 3:30 p.m., Sherry and I saw nearly 400 band students,” he said. “It was a big deal to have in a way, but it was also exhausting. We always preached that each level needed its own manager to raise the quality. Later on that was accomplished.
But Hess was drawn to George Washington High School for the next seven years.
“This high school program was designed differently,” he said. “I taught in the orchestra, of course, but I also had each section individually each week and gave private lessons. With so many opportunities to teach, we have had great success.
Throughout his teaching career, others encouraged him to consider administration.
“I remember my manager, Jack Wiseman, telling me that for an ‘arts guy,’ I was the most organized person he had ever seen,” he laughed. “He also said that I was good with people, especially parents. He encouraged me to consider being a school principal.
Hess took that advice. After earning his MBA from the West Virginia College of Graduate Studies, he returned to Jackson County as principal of Ravenswood High, followed by two years at Ripley High.
“Leaving George Washington was a decision based, in large part, on where my wife and I wanted to raise our children,” he said. “In all honesty, going into administration was driven by both the challenge and the pay rise.”
His trajectory in the administrative field continued in the following years. In 2000, he became director of high schools and vocational training.
“It was a mouthful,” he said smiling, “It was later changed to Principal of Secondary Schools.”
In 2006, he became superintendent of schools.
Between 2000 and 2006, Hess credits the guidance and mentorship of Superintendent Ron Ray and Deputy Superintendent Deloris Ranson.
“They gave me so many opportunities to gain experience,” he said. “I was given many special assignments and Ms. Ranson taught me about personnel. Looking back, even if it was overwhelming at times, those years prepared me for my current position.
Hess said he followed those lessons and guided his staff in the same way.
“We try to give our principals the chance to learn about the school system in general and then have them work closely with the principals to really understand each other’s job and goals,” he said.
Most people don’t understand other jobs, Hess said.
“When I was a teacher, I thought I knew everything about being a principal,” he said. “It turns out not. It was so much more than I thought.
Providing these opportunities to learn, giving its staff, both at the central office and in the classroom, the tools necessary to succeed is part of teamwork. According to Hess, that’s still his goal.
“It sounds like a cliché,” he said, “but I really see it as us all being in this together. We want the best for our students. bottom.
Hess said he warns everyone never to be satisfied.
“Is this the best we can do,” he said, is one of the questions he asks himself and those around him. “Although we are proud of our successes, the answer is ‘no’. We can always do better. »
As he looks back on his time leading the school system, Hess says there have been accomplishments and challenges.
“I’m proud that we were able to handle all the financial situations,” he said. “We’ve been fiscally conservative, but at the same time we’ve spent where we needed it, especially on technology, for our students.”
Facilities that have been built or renovated at Kenna, Ravenswood Middle, Early Learning Center, Transportation Building, Fairplain and Evans are points of pride.
“We’ve had so much support from our fellow citizens, especially when passing the excess tax for many years,” he said. “Again, it’s teamwork with the community that has made these advancements possible.”
There were also obstacles, many of which involved tough decisions.
“Any time we’ve had a downturn in the economy or a drop in enrollment, we’ve had to let people go,” Hess said. “It has never been, and never will be, an easy task because it’s not just a position. It is a person. The teacher strikes we have experienced have also resulted in difficult decisions, but we have always made student safety and education our top priority.
No reflection on the past would be complete without a mention of the Covid-19 crisis.
“It was an ever-changing set of circumstances,” he said. “So many things were out of our control. But we did our best and provided the best possible educational opportunities during a very difficult time.
Hess said he also learned some personal things along the way.
“I’ve acquired the ability to be calmer over the years,” he said. “I learned what I could control and what I couldn’t. And I learned not to make impulsive decisions, to take some time to think things through, and never to make decisions when I was angry.
The outgoing superintendent has complete confidence in the new superintendent, Will Hosaflook.
“We have been in constant communication and I know Mr. Hosaflook will do an outstanding job,” he said. “It’s not so difficult to leave when you have confidence in the future. The staff I am leaving, the excellent Board of Education, the new superintendent will all work together to keep Jackson County schools at the forefront of educational excellence.
With retirement for Hess comes a new direction in his life, or maybe that means coming full circle.
“I will take on a new position,” he said. “I was hired as Executive Director of the Appalachian Children’s Chorus. I will use my skills in grant writing and fundraising for this great group. I am extremely excited for this new chapter working in the music field.
He will also find time to travel with his wife Radonna, who has retired as group principal of Ripley Middle School.
Summarizing his years as superintendent, Hess has simple words.
“It was an honor for me to take on this position,” he said. “It was the highlight of my life.”