There has been plenty of school-related news this summer. Freedom Elementary School is set to open, the Sheyenne 9th Grade Center is being expanded into a full high school and a new elementary school will most likely open just east of the Sheyenne Center in a few years. However, with all these new things coming, perhaps the biggest back-to-school story is about one man that is coming back.
Gary Clark, West Fargo High School's principal who retired in June 2011 after serving the school district for 40 years, has returned this year to serve as interim principal in the wake of Cory Steiner's abrupt resignation after just one year.
Clark, who recently celebrated his 40th anniversary with his wife Carol, had an eventful year during his retirement, spending much of the winter in Florida and traveling the rest of the time, highlighted by a trip to England in May.
Before his retirement, Clark had spent his entire 40-year career at West Fargo School, starting in 1971 as a social studies teacher before becoming a part-time assistant principal in 1981, moving to administration full-time as an assistant principal in 1987 and eventually becoming principal in 1998.
"It was a fantastic career," Clark said. "From when I started in this district, the amount of changes that have occurred have been unbelievable over that time span. We were a small school district. We were really considered a 'blue-collar' community and school. We had our big sister to the east that was highly regarded, and our school district was not. Over my 40 years, to watch the West Fargo School District evolve into one of the top school districts in the state of North Dakota, not just population-wise but I believe in quality of education as well, has been an exciting journey."
During his time, he also served as the boys and girls tennis coach and advised several student organizations, including the student council and foreign exchange clubs.
After Steiner announced his resignation, Clark's wife told him not to be surprised if he got a phone call from
"I said 'No, they're not going to call me. They're not going to look backward. They have a lot of young people coming up,'" Clark said. "Of course, you learn to listen to your wife. Two days later, Dr. Flowers called me, and my wife said 'I told you so.'"
When asked why he decided to come back, Clarks admits that the decision did not come easy.
"It wasn't that I didn't enjoy retirement," Clark said. "That was not the situation at all. What made me decide to come back was when I started to hear from some of the staff."
Clark also cited his love of the people that make up the school as a reason for returning.
"I left after 40 years and had invested my whole professional career into one high school," Clark said. "When I walked out that door, I didn't stop caring about the students and staff at West Fargo High School."
The news that Clark is returning has been well-received throughout the school and community, and he has certainly noticed.
"The response has been overwhelming," Clark said. "The staff has gone out of their way to thank me. Parents have as well."
The West Fargo senior class, which was the sophomore class when Clark retired, has also been very receptive of his return.
"The seniors have been very receptive. A number of them have said 'thanks for coming back, Mr. Clark!'" Clark said. "We have a great student body and it'll be fun to work with those kids again. I have roughly 1,000 kids to get acquainted with, which I'm looking forward to."
In this year of transition for the school, Clark believes that his goal is clear.
"My wife and I are people of faith, and we believe there is a purpose to being here for another year," Clark said. "One of my goals is certainly working closely with the administrative staff and mentoring them for the role of principal, whether one of them might be in this position next year or not."
However, Clark also recognizes the goals the school has for him.
"The goal, when you look at the big picture of this school, is to make this transition a good one, to make this year not a wasted year, but a fantastic year working with the staff again. As they begin that search in January for a new principal, one of my goals will be to make that transition a good one as well."
Clark also looks forward to being a "cheerleader" again at sporting events, plays, and other school-related activities.
"I bleed green and white," Clark said, "so it will be fun to attend all of the extra-curricular events again."
"At first, it felt funny walking in here again and thinking about the whole process," Clark said, "but in some ways, it feels like I never left."
Class begins tomorrow for grades 1-12. Kindergarten begins on Monday.