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Creating conditions for other people's success

As Dr. Bill Korach retires, he leaves behind a legacy of leadership, dedication and devotion to the children of Lake Oswego


by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Superintendent Bill Korach retires Monday after serving the Lake Oswego School District for 27 years.Dr. Bill Korach is the longest-serving school superintendent in Oregon, and that alone is impressive. But ask Korach's friends, family and colleagues about his 27 years at the helm of the Lake Oswego School District and one thing becomes immediately clear: On every day of those 27 years, Korach put the children of Lake Oswego first.

Some call him a "visionary" and praise his leadership skills. Others point to his efforts to make sure schools had the financial resources they needed to succeed, or to the enrichment programs he created to help students, parents and teachers excel.

And Korach himself? He'll tell you that “to be a successful leader, you have to create the conditions for other people’s success.” And that he never thought of being superintendent as a job.

“To me, it’s more of a calling," Korach says. "And I am very grateful to have been able to serve as superintendent for many years.”

The community, needless to say, is grateful, too.

On Monday, Korach's tenure as superintendent ends. At age 68, he is retiring, with plans to spend more time with his family and perhaps return to the classroom as a college instructor. The news has brought a deluge of tributes and compliments, including a simple message posted outside the district's schools:

"Thank you, Dr. Korach."

Leadership

Korach joined the district as principal of Lake Oswego High School in 1981. In 1987, he was promoted from assistant superintendent to his current position. Three years later, voters placed constitutional limits on the use of property taxes to fund schools.

Measure 5, Korach had warned, would significantly “limit local control of school funding.” Rather than let that happen, he worked with Marci Nemhauser to spearhead a campaign for a tax base renewal that voters approved before the passage of Measure 5. And he built on existing resources, including the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation, to provide alternative sources of stable funding.

Korach says he saw potential in the fledgling foundation, and in Mary Puskas, who he drafted to be its executive director.

“I told Mary, 'I want to hire you to build the foundation and generate resources to fund teaching positions,'” Korach said. “I asked her to go after it — and she did.”

Today, the foundation board Puskas assembled is among the most effective in the state at supporting schools, Korach says. It has raised more than $22 million since 1986 to support students and fund additional teachers’ salaries. On Monday, the nonprofit ends a $2 million campaign that so far has raised about $1.7 million.

The campaign also has brought in $71,000 in honor of Korach; those dollars will be added to the foundation’s endowment. In March, the foundation kicked off the 1000 Thanks Dr. Korach campaign, another opportunity to donate to the endowment and pay tribute to the superintendent.

Three years ago, Korach donated much of his salary to the foundation. Over the past four years, he has given $100,000 to the organization.

“It’s important people know how much he’s dedicated himself to the kids, the schools and the community,” Puskas says.

Impact

The results of Korach's efforts to assure stable funding for Lake Oswego's schools — resources many other schools do not have — are undeniable. He has created what many consider to be a "destination district," with schools that consistently rank among the state's best for student achievement.

U.S. News & World Report named Lake Oswego High School a Gold Medal School, ranked fourth in the state. The magazine named Lakeridge High School a Silver Medal School, ranked sixth in the state for comprehensive high schools. Every year, U.S. News releases rankings for high schools, colleges, universities and graduate schools, and both schools have an impressive history of high rankings.

“Dr. Korach knows that the most important job of the school district is to make sure students are learning and achieving at high levels,” says Lakeridge High School Principal Jennifer Schiele. “He is knowledgeable of the best practices for maximizing student achievement, and is supportive of teachers in the district.”

Lake Oswego High School Principal Cindy Schubert agrees that Korach has always put students first, and says that he has served as a role model for her.

“He has taught me personally about leadership, and I’ve always admired his style of leadership,” Schubert says. “And I appreciated how he would always take time to listen and help me resolve issues.”

Milt Dennison, superintendent of the Clackamas Education Service District, calls Korach “a visionary” leader with the skills to bring his concepts to fruition.

“I think all of the superintendents in Clackamas County will miss Bill’s influence,” Dennison says.

Yet to Korach, it's the efforts of those around him that led to the district's success.

“We’ve had leadership from so many people," he says, "and focused leadership when we’ve worked together and accomplished what’s best for this community.”

Commitment

Shari Huffmaster, who served as Korach's administrative assistant for 18 years, says her boss starts his day at about 6 a.m. and ends it at around 9 p.m. In addition to his school life, Korach has served on the boards of the Lake Oswego Rotary Club and the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce for 27 years.

“I’ll miss him very much,” Huffmaster says. “It been a pure joy to work with him. I just can’t say that enough. He’s just pure energy. He’s just the spark around this place.”

Huffmaster worked closely with Korach as he managed the district, contributing to the development of his educational enrichment programs, including Scholars’ Alliance, for scholars who wish to improve critical thinking skills; Parenting Minds, which teaches parents thinking strategies to help their children learn; and the chamber’s Leadership Lake Oswego, designed to help locals network and gain personal and professional growth.

“We have been a great team,” Korach says.

Korach not only has supported his professional and community service teams, but also has watched a variety of student teams play.

“One of the things that has always amazed me is that he’s omnipresent. He shows up at every football game, every basketball game, every Rotary event,” says Carol Winston, owner of Accessories from the Heart and past president of the Rotary Club. “He took the time to be a wonderful role model for so many people in the community.”

Andrew Edwards, executive director of the Lakewood Center for the Arts, says Korach also fostered a relationship with the theater community and supported the center.

“He’s always ... working on mentoring young people’s lives and the people they will become," Edwards says. "He’s very passionate for his students and his teachers and his administrators.”

Korach says “it's a superintendent's responsibility to be an active contributor to the community” when so many local people devote their time and money to schools.

“I benefit a great deal from being involved in the Lake Oswego community,” he says. “Some people might consider a superintendent teaching classes or conducting strategic planning workshops on the weekend as work, but I enjoy doing the extras as great opportunities to give back to our community.”

State Sen. Richard Devlin called Korach a gifted administrator.

“He cares deeply about his life's work, education,” Devlin said. “He understands the challenges that students and teachers face.”

Post-LOSD

Korach plans to step into the classroom again. He’s looking at Portland State University, where he’s taught before; and at Lewis & Clark College, where he has taught graduate courses. He earned his master’s degree and doctorate at PSU, and his bachelor’s at Washington State University.

Korach has received PSU's Outstanding Alumni of the Year award and Lewis & Clark's Leadership in Educational Administration award. In 1998, the American Association of School Administrators honored him as Oregon Superintendent of the Year; a year later, the association said he was one the nation's four “most distinguished superintendents.”

Soon, this award-winning superintendent will have more time to spend with his two granddaughters, son, daughter, stepchildren and his wife, Ricky. He and Ricky, a retired teacher, love tending their garden, which is brimming with roses, azaleas and rhododendrons, and the couple plans to visit their Lincoln City beach house, which sports a view of the ocean. They also plan to drive to Ashland to indulge in their love of theater, and they’ll have time to read side by side, she delving into fiction and he exploring works on philosophy and metaphysics.

Korach says though he’ll still be an educator at heart, he is “expecting to have to work through the transition of leaving a role that I have found so rewarding,” and he hopes to follow the advice he gives his students to “strive to become a better version of oneself at each stage of one’s journey.”

It will be a big change.

“Lake Oswego School District has been in his blood for a very long time,” Dennison says.

Or, as Huffmaster says, “His footprints are deep in Lake Oswego.”

Ricky Korach

There is another much-honored Korach in town.

Ricky Korach is well-known for her own work as the longest-serving teacher in the Lake Oswego School District. She was an English teacher and department chairwoman at Lake Oswego High School until 2010 — working there for 46 years.

The Lake Oswego Schools Foundation created a plaque dedicating the English wing of the school to her. In a Dec. 6, 2011 article on the new plaque in the high school paper, student writer Linda Yu called Ricky Korach “a legendary English teacher at LOHS.”

She didn’t stop to take time for herself to relish her golden years until she was 70 years old, and Bill Korach says his devoted, hard-working wife is an inspiration to him.

“She’s right here next to me, and she makes me better every single day,” he says.

Ricky Korach first met her future husband when he was the assistant principal at Parkrose High School and seeking employment at LOSD — a step in his life in which she was instrumental.

“I was a teacher on the interview committee when he came on as the principal at Lake Oswego High School," she says, "so he always tells people I hired him.”

Want to honor Dr. Bill Korach with a donation to the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation? Donate online at losfoundation.org/give or call 503-534-2106.



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