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Retiring schools director honored Sunday
Dec 13, 2006 12:00 am
As educators and administrators gathered Sunday at a retirement reception in recognition of Dr. Jim Duncan's 43 years in education–six at the helm of Wilson County schools – the words "vision," "dedication," and "commitment to service" were used repeatedly to describe the outgoing director.
Teachers, administrators and county officials gathered at the reception held in Duncan's honor at the Lebanon Wilson Bank & Trust. They were all there to bid Duncan farewell as he retires from an illustrious career in education that has spanned over four decades. Six of those years Duncan spent changing the face of education in Wilson County. Deputy schools director Mickey Hall will take over the position on an interim basis Jan. 1 and there's a search for a new director.
Duncan said as he looks back on his tenure he felt his biggest accomplishment was "building an environment of trust and professionalism between the director, the schools and the community."
"My biggest challenge was coordinating the essential elements of a school system - the needs of students, teachers and improved accountability with policy decisions of the school board and financial decisions of the county commission."
A video salute to Duncan played on a television screen as hundreds of educators wished him well. On the video, faculty, principals and system officials sent personal messages, some which had the director laughing and others causing him to appear emotional. Lebanon District 46 Rep. Stratton Bone presented Duncan a House Resolution he penned recognizing the director's meritorious service to Wilson County.
"This was something I was hoping I wouldn't have to do," Bone said. "I was hoping you would change your mind and stay."
The resolution outlined Duncan's many accomplishments and noted he also served as principal of Oak Ridge High School from 1994 to 2000 and prior to that was a teacher, principal and superintendent of schools in Bradford County, Fla.
Some of Duncan's accomplishments in Wilson County include initiating dual enrollment programs for high school students, orchestrating the High School and Middle Schools that work programs and decreasing the student dropout rate to four percent from 18 percent. Additionally, the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses has increased by 400 percent. Duncan further developed a comprehensive school capital project plan that resulted in a $67.5 million bond issue with no property tax increase and secured technology funding in excess of $650,000.
However, for those who spoke about Duncan, it was his ability to bring a higher respect for the system as a whole that shines equal with these accomplishments.
Schools elementary supervisor Felicia Duncan has been with the system 28 years.
"Duncan brought a dignity with him that has permeated throughout the entire system," she said emotionally. "We are here to honor him for this dignity and for the wisdom he brought to us along with his leadership. We will sorely miss him."
Duncan's unwavering support of technology for the system is what Mt. Juliet High School teacher Diane Bennett will long remember.
"He fully supported major change at our school and took us, and the system, to a whole new level," she said. "He had a dedication and gave us support to make us better."
Hall said he will have big shoes to fill in his interim capacity.
"The most important thing about Dr. Duncan was his focus was always on the kids," he stated. "Not on politics. He took great pride in trying to be open and honest as he dealt with the county commission and tried to project things out into the future."
Several school board members attended the reception, including Zone 3's Don Weathers.
"Dr. Duncan has had many accomplishments and our scores have improved," Weathers said. "He has brought a level of professionalism and stability this school system desperately needed. And, he's such a good person."
Lebanon High School principal Don Hassler was there as well as algebra teacher Barbara Hallums.
"He looked out for the teachers," Hallums stated. "He allowed me to teach a math course that has greatly improved our students' ACT scores."
Lakeview Elementary principal Wendell Marlowe has been in the system 28 years and said Duncan was the "best man I ever worked for."
"He was an individual who has worked in our shoes as an educator and administrator," Marlowe said. "We didn't always agree, but I knew whenever we left a meeting we left as friends. He has my utmost respect and I hate to see him go."
Duncan said leaving was bittersweet.
"The next director needs to keep an open line of communication between central office and the schools while continuing to deal with growth needs of the system," he said.
Duncan and his wife Sandra plan to move to western North Carolina and visit frequently in Florida with his two children and their families.
"I may be open to assisting school systems on a part time basis in school improvement," he said. "I have definitely enjoyed leading the Wilson County School System."