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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 19 2012

Clark takes helm at West Fargo High School

WEST FARGO – He who laughs last, has to go back to work.

At least, that’s how it shaped up for Gary Clark.

Clark, recently named interim principal at West Fargo High School, said the job may be a little karmic payback for his good-natured ribbing of an ex-boss, former West Fargo Superintendent Chuck Cheney, for all the work Cheney’s done in retirement running other area school districts.

“I ran into him last summer in Sandy’s Donuts. It was like, ‘Well, Dr. Cheney, you still doing this?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ And I kind of chuckled at that. Now I find myself in the same boat. I shouldn’t have chuckled.”

Clark, who retired after the 2010-2011 school year after 40 years as an educator in the West Fargo School District, agreed to take the helm once again at the high school.

The move came just a few weeks after the abrupt resignation of former West Fargo High School Principal Cory Steiner, who served only one year.

Superintendent David Flowers would not share any of the specifics that led to Steiner asking to be released from his contract, other than to say it was for personal and professional reasons.

Clark said he “had a great working relationship with Dr. Steiner. I wish him well.”

Clark said Flowers contacted him asking permission to float his name as a possible candidate in brainstorming sessions with high school administrators and leaders among the teaching staff.

“It kind of caught me off guard,” Clark said.

Not long after, Flowers called Clark in for a meeting and made the longtime Packer an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse.

But agreeing to un-retire didn’t come without some pondering first, Clark said.

“I had to think twice about that. My wife and I had a wonderful year of retirement that first year,” he said.

They traveled, relaxed, did work for their church and spent time in Florida. There was also a big trip to England and France in May, he said.

But the need for leadership at the school “tugged at my heart strings,” Clark said.

“It gives them a little stability while they search for another principal,” he said. “As I told the staff (Monday), when I walked out of the building a year ago, it didn’t mean I stopped caring about the staff and students.”

Flowers said there was too little time left this summer to begin a search for a high school principal, and if a high-quality candidate had been found, that would have meant taking him or her away from another district at an awkward time.

“We kind of converged on Gary as our best alternative,” Flowers said. “I’m thrilled he was willing to make himself available I don’t think we could have done a better job.”

Clark said he expects to be on the job about Aug. 2.

Flowers said the search for a permanent principal will probably start after Jan. 1.

Robin Hill, human resources director for West Fargo School District, said Clark’s pay will be determined by how often he works.

The daily rate for a high school principal is $412 to $504, she said.

Hill said it is likely that because of his experience, Clark will be nearer the top end of the pay scale, but pay negotiations will be completed in a week or two as Clark’s schedule is fleshed out.

Flowers said he anticipates Clark will work between half-time and three-quarters time.

To assist Clark, another administrator will be brought in, probably from among the ranks of teachers who have gotten their school administrator credentials, to handle some of the work a full-time principal might otherwise have to do, Flowers said.

“I don’t think we’ll miss a beat,” he said.

Clark said he fully supports initiatives now under way at the high school to improve teaching and learning.

“What the staff needs right now is some stability and some affirmation for what they’re doing,” he said. “If I have one goal, it’s to be a bit of a cheerleader for them and the great job they’re doing.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583