Holly Area Schools Superintendent Kent Barnes recently announced that he will be retiring as of June, 2013. Without a doubt, Mr. Barnes will be missed, as he was one of the Holly community’s strongest leaders and his guidance and vision made Holly one of the top school districts in Oakland County, even against almost insurmountable odds.
Every organization, whether it be a school district, a business or a non-profit, undergoes changes in leadership. The right balance of turnover is necessary—too much change and the organization cannot find the stability to grow and achieve; too little turnover and the organization is in danger of becoming stagnant or path-dependent. So after more than a decade of leadership, Mr. Barnes’s departure opens the door for the right kind of change.
But, boy do I feel sorry for his successor.
It’s not that the new Superintendent has big shoes to fill; we shouldn’t be seeking a clone of Mr. Barnes, a carbon copy in a different suit or a simple replacement for him. New ideas, new approaches may serve to ignite a new flame of progress for the schools.
But whoever the successor is, they are going to need some of the same skills that Mr. Barnes masterfully used within the Holly community and allowed him to weather some tough storms and overcome some mighty challenges.
Mr. Barnes’s greatest attribute was his involvement within the community outside of the schools. He didn’t just manage the affairs within his domain of education, he was an avid volunteer and leader, lending his perspective, as well as effort, to many community efforts. This wasn’t completely altruistic, of course, as the savvy Mr. Barnes knew that he could best advance the message and the needs of the schools, rallying support and squashing rumors, by coming out of the proverbial ivory tower.
Hand in hand with this is the need for patient diplomacy. In the face of rising water rates (which hit the schools particularly hard as the community’s largest individual water and sewer customer) and the current Village President who fails to see the importance of our schools to our community, Mr. Barnes regularly stood for the interests of our children while never approaching an adversarial or contrary level. Part of this came from the knowledge that regardless of what our politicians did, he had the community’s well-earned support.
With his slow-paced, radio-quality voice, he regularly communicated with the stakeholders in the community, being as thorough and patient as a kindergarten teacher without ever being condescending. He didn’t mince words, but he also didn’t spin—he laid it out as it was, threw the wrench in the rumor mill regularly, and made sure that Holly knew exactly what was going on with our schools.
And most of all, while the job of Superintendent is naturally rife with politics, Mr. Barnes knew how to sidestep those landmines and when to say yes or no. If it helped the schools, and helped the community, the answer was always a no-brainer “yes.” If money was involved, then it wasn’t necessarily no (even with the schools’ budget woes); the answer was a smooth, “we’ll have to look at it.” And if nothing else, look at it, he did as he gave his word. When someone lobbed a grenade at him, he skillfully dodged them with a sly, knowing grin.
Many in the community would probably like to see Mr. Barnes remain as Superintendent, but the only constant in the universe is change. He will leave the school district in good hands—the ship will certainly be better than he found it, and it’s still sailing even through some rough seas. It’s a near certainty that Holly won’t notice the lack of Kent Barnes in community affairs—he’s not the kind of person to grow invisible while tending to African orchids in a secluded retirement. Free from the duties of administering a school district, there is little doubt he will lend his leadership and common sense to other areas of need in the community in a much greater way.
Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Barnes, and thank you for your service and commitment to Holly and its children. And leave a big binder of cliff notes for your successor—they’re going to need it.