After 33 ½ years working for Magoffin County Schools and 5 ½ years leading the district as superintendent, Scott Helton’s last day before retirement is one he’ll remember for a long time, receiving $4.3 million to go to a project he had long hoped to accomplish.
On Friday, Governor Andy Beshear visited Magoffin County to present a check for $4.3 million in grant funding from the state and federal levels for upgrading vocational education centers in the state. That money, in combination with Scotty B. Patrick’s donation of $5 million, will fund the complete project of building a new, state-of-the-art vocational building at the new high school location.
Friday also happened to be Helton’s last day before retirement.
“Each district has a district facility plan, and the career and tech has been at the top of that list beside the bus garage for years, but I didn’t see any way to do it while still paying on the high school,” Helton said. “Board member Jesse Rudd and Ritt Mortimer were sitting on Scotty’s board (the Magoffin County Community Foundation) when Scotty started asking about what needed to be done in the community and they started talking to him about career and tech. From there, it just came together, with Scotty’s $5 million, we were able to do the application to see if we were eligible for the vocational funding and received $4.3 million. That covers the entire project and brings career and tech back to the high school site, which will help those students who won’t be locked into having to leave the site for a block of time. This will be a good, state-of-the- art building and they’re looking at having the design done by early spring, with construction starting next summer and 14 months construction. In two years, they’ll have a new building and putting that money into the students has to help the community.”
While he considered retiring a few months earlier, Helton said he stayed until now to make sure the project was funded.
“Getting the money for a new career and tech center is the biggest accomplishment we’ve made while I’ve been superintendent,” Helton said. “We’ve had a lot of good things, like opening the new high school, buying 19 new school buses, new mowing equipment, moved the sixth grade back to the grade schools, but most of what we’ve done is all infrastructure and getting the district to where it could do more things financially.”
In Helton’s tenure, the district has been able to hire an art teacher to rotate between the grade schools, bringing art education back to the elementary level. He said they were able to get a GEAR-Up Grant during his second year as superintendent, providing funding for a coordinator and assistant, as well as money to take students on trips to visit colleges and guest speakers. They were able to start a summer lunch feeding program, providing meals for students during the summer or long breaks, which also translated to delivering meals during the pandemic.
“Our bus drivers and cooks did a great job during the pandemic,” Helton said. “We set up a schedule, people volunteered to ride the buses and help hand out meals and it just worked. It turned out to be a really good program.”
While he said the pandemic was by far his biggest challenge as superintendent of schools, he said working with a very limited budget was also at the top of that list.
“With the funding sources we had, trying to make everything work on a limited budget is tough,” Helton said. “We’d make cuts at the district level, choosing not to fill positions after retirements and just finding anywhere we could save some money, but we never cut funding at the school level. Education is always first.”
He said overall the experience was very positive, building from the many roles he had held for the school system throughout the community.
“I first taught at Millard Hensley, teaching for 11 years, first in seventh grade, then in 6th and coached elementary basketball for 9 years. Then I was principal for Prater Borders and John T. Arnett at the same time, at two different ends of the county,” Helton laughed.
“Then I moved to the middle school and was principal there for four years, and then at the central office for the last 17 ½ years. I did about every job there except being DPP or the finance officer, doing a lot with maintenance, preschool and head start, dealing with federal funding for Title I, but there weren’t a lot of jobs I didn’t know a little bit about by the end of it. It helped me to understand the different budgets and tasks, so as superintendent I didn’t have to be trained, and I was fortunate enough to have great people around me at the central office and great teachers.”
If he had one piece of advice for a new school administrator, he said communication is key.
“My motto was always if a parent took the time to make a phone call, it was my responsibility to at least get back with them. If they cared enough to call, I owed them that and I tried to do the best that I could,” Helton said. “You’ll always have conflict, but you have to deal with it and go on. Don’t try to hide it or avoid the questions. Just tell the truth and go on. I tried not to get too bogged down with any one thing. Make the decision, trying to do what you think is best for the children, then you have to move on.”
Unlike most jobs where you can clock out at the end of the day, Helton said being superintendent was not one of those jobs, but he didn’t mind.
“Being superintendent can be stressful and it takes a lot of hours, but if out in public, I was always the superintendent, but that didn’t bother me,” Helton said. “That’s what small communities expect, and people just want to be treated with respect, so that’s not asking too much. I like to talk anyway, and we have some of the best parents I’ve ever dealt with, and I’ve worked with other districts and see how it can be.”
Now in his first week of retirement, Helton said he sees a lot of positive things coming for the district.
“These teachers care about their children,” Helton said. “The thing I’ll miss the most is walking down the hallways to kids excited about a lesson. That’s the best feeling as a teacher.”
He said he loved working with all the different groups throughout the district, with other districts, and even with the local mayor and county judge to focus on educating the children, including his own.
“My son is now in college at Morehead, but my daughter is still in high school,” Helton said. “I thought about staying for her, but if I didn’t trust them, I didn’t do my job.”
Helton said he plans to spend more time with his family – his parents, his wife and sister, who are both retired teachers, his brother, who has been having some health issues recently, and, of course, his children.
“As superintendent, it was a lot of long hours, so it will be nice to get to spend that time with them,” Helton said. “If you take this job for the right reasons, it’s a good job. It’s a hard job, but I didn’t mind it. I really enjoyed it.”
Mortimer Media Group would like to extend congratulations to Helton for his retirement. Chris Meadows has been appointed interim superintendent and the school system has begun the process of selecting a new superintendent.