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Retiring school official looks back on three-term career

MONTICELLO — The first Lawrence County School Districtsuperintendent in 50 years to serve three terms has announced hisretirement.

John Bull, who was elected as superintendent in 1991, has guidedto district through 12 “successful” years, but has decided it’stime to do a few things for himself.

“I’ll be the first to admit that I, as a chief executiveofficer, have been abundantly blessed by people to work with –people who actually do the work,” Bull said. “I’ve been blessedwith good school boards and a very supportive public.

“I know we have the best kids in the whole world, and I thinkthat if there’s anything I wanted to accomplish in the beginning,it was to make a positive difference in the lives of children,” headded. “We’ve done that.”

Bull’s tenure has influenced an entire generation of children.The children who began kindergarten the year he took office will begraduating the year he retires.

He is only the second person to achieve that in Lawrence Countyin recent years. The first was A.P. Smith, who served assuperintendent from 1936-1948.

Bull is proud of his tenure. The greatest achievements he madeadministratively, he said, were to bring the county back togetherafter the strife of a controversial consolidation in 1987-1988 andto put the district back on firm financial ground.

“One of the main goals I had was to pull the whole countytogether as one community in school issues, and I think we’ve donethat,” he said. “I’ve always tried to be very sensitive to wideissues. When I took office, the county was still divided and manyparts of the county still carried a wounded spirit because ofconsolidation and the way it was handled.”

The consolidation and other issues also had a negative immediateeffect on the district’s finances, Bull said.

“Probably one of the greatest challenges we faced was that wewere on really shaky financial ground, and I think that we’ve seenthat develop into where we are, comparatively speaking, on groundas firm as any district,” he said.

During his tenure, Bull said, the district has received 12″exceptionally good” state financial audits and the academicperformance of the students has improved.

“One of the things you can judge a school in is what happens tostudents after they leave,” he said. “We’ve had some studentsbecome very successful. Lawrence County High School is recognizedas producing students with high leadership skills. They’re preparedfor post-secondary work when they leave.”

Bull, 55, said he decided to retire when he suddenly noticedthat “there are no old people left. I had become what I used toconsider as old people. I’m too young to quit work, but old enoughto need to slow down.”

He plans to enjoy life for at least the first six months “andnot be committed to much of anything. If that works, I may stickwith it.”

That doesn’t mean he intends to stay home, however. Bull said hewill still be active and intends to visit people, get more involvedin community volunteer activities, visit hospitals and attendmission trips. He also plans to do more gardening, hunting andfishing and traveling.

“And a lot more time visiting my grandkids and watching themplay sports or those kinds of things,” he said.

Bull began his educational career in 1974 as a teacher atTopeka-Tilton Attendance Center. He was promoted to principal therein 1980.

The Stone County native said he never intended to make LawrenceCounty his home. When he first came to the county, he was waitingfor a position to open up closer to his home, but by the end of thefirst year Lawrence County had become his home.

“After that first year, I never once considered leaving,” hesaid.

Bull left Topeka-Tilton in 1983 to become a member ofCopiah-Lincoln Community College’s vocational administration. Twoyears later he was back working in Lawrence County when he startedteaching at New Hebron Attendance Center. He became the district’svocational director in 1987, a job he held until he took officeJan. 1, 1992.

“I think I had the best job as vocational director. It had beena dream of mine,” he said. “But, I had some folks encourage me todo run and I felt like the Lord led me into it.

“Getting into politics was the last thing I wanted or intendedto do,” he added. “It just kind of developed that way. I still sayI’m not a politician. I’m a teacher who is presently serving inadministration.”

Several candidates Bull said are well-qualified have alreadyqualified to take his office in January, but when asked if he willendorse any of them he only laughs and shakes his head no inanswer.

“I will vote.”