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Roger Marcum didn’t receive a very warm welcome when he was hired to be the Marion County Superintendent in 1999.
In fact, some people were downright cold to him.
Marcum vividly remembers the night the Marion County Board of Education hired him. At least 100 or more people had gathered in support of another candidate and the atmosphere was unpleasant, to say the least. His wife, Bobbie, came with him to the meeting, and as they drove home that night he noticed tears streaming down her face.
“They don’t seem to want us there,” she said.
But, a gut feeling told Marcum that Marion County was where he was meant to be. While he was a superintendent candidate finalist in two other counties at the time, Clark and Franklin, something was calling him to Marion County.
“This felt right,” he said. “I can’t explain it. But, I felt that this was a community that was hungry to move forward and they wanted the school district to help lead them.”
Under his leadership the Marion County School District’s student achievement has improved tremendously. Today, Marion County is No. 31 out of 175 school districts in the state, putting it in the top 20 percent of all Kentucky school districts.
So, as he prepares to leave Marion County and retire this year, it’s no surprise that many people don’t want to see him go.
Sister Kay Carlew, school board chairwoman, said he will be greatly missed.
“The mark he has made will last a lifetime,” she said.
Carlew, who was one of four board members who voted to hire Marcum, said when he was interviewed he told the school board that his number one priority was to raise the instructional and academic level for the students in Marion County.
“We were looking for just that, an instructional leader,” she said.
Marcum has been a man of his word and has raised the bar for the entire district, according to Carlew.
“His focus has always been on our students and what is best for them,” she said. “He challenges us to do what is best for students, for all students.”
According to Marcum, the past 10 years of being Marion County superintendent have been extremely rewarding, but it’s the seven years before that, when he was principal at South Laurel High School, that were the most enjoyable.
“As principal, you are a part of the life of a high school and the kids,” he said.
Marcum said he enjoyed working with teenagers and seeing them grow into young adults. As superintendent, he has been farther removed from the students. Instead, he spends most of his time with adults, usually solving problems. And what he has found as a teacher, administrator and superintendent is that it’s much easier to work with the kids than it is with the adults. Nonetheless, he’s extremely proud of what he and the Marion County school system have been able to accomplish during the past decade.
Some of his proudest accomplishments include reducing novice student performance from 32 percent to less than 8 percent, providing all day kindergarten for all students since 2003, introducing Mandarin Chinese at the elementary, middle and high school levels and upgrading school facilities, including renovations and additions at Glasscock Elementary and St. Charles Middle, the construction of a new board of education facility and new track and field facilities for the high school.
Had the recallable nickel passed, more funds would be available for updating and renovating additional school facilities. According to Marcum, one of his only regrets is not succeeding in getting the recallable nickel passed.
“I know what that is going to mean for the district for many, many years to come,” he said.
Brad Lanham, who served as president of Marion County Citizens for Better Schools and worked with Marcum during the recallable nickel debate, said Marcum’s leadership during that process was impressive and inspiring.
“Have you ever ran into someone who not only knew exactly what needed to be done in a situation but how to do it and had the determination to get it done? That’s Roger,” Lanham said.
Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly said he admires Marcum for his leadership during the recallable nickel debate.
“Even though he was retiring and this would not benefit him, he stood by our kids and advocated strongly for this issue,” Mattingly said. “Unfortunately, this effort failed, but he is still trying to achieve a very necessary renovation and expansion of the Marion County Area Tech Center - a training pathway for many of our students that won’t go to college. He sees the whole picture and I admire him.”
Mattingly said he has always respected Marcum’s ability to make the tough decisions. In fact, he remembers having a heated discussion with Marcum when he was an agriculture teacher at Marion County High School.
“Mr. Marcum told me that leadership many times has to make the tough decisions, those that are not always popular, and maybe won’t win you any popularity contests. He said this as I was arguing across his desk with him about decisions that directly affected staffing, and my department, at the high school way back in 2002,” Mattingly said.
In hindsight, Mattingly said he knows Marcum has always strived to make the right decisions for the right reasons.
“He always weighed the outcome by what he thought would be the best benefit for the many,” Mattingly said.
And while most of Marcum’s time has been spent working to continuously improve the Marion County school district, he has managed to become involved in the community outside of his role as superintendent. He has served on the Centre Square Board of Directors, Marion County Industrial Foundation and St. Catharine College Board of Trustees.
According to Bill Huston, SCC President, Marcum has been a “a valued professional and friend.”
“Very few professionals have both the ability to see the large vision but still have the perception to see the details,” Huston said. “Mr. Marcum has both attributes.”
According to Judy Bickett, who was Marcum’s administrative assistant from July 1999 until Aug. 1, 2008, Marcum was not only an effective leader, but also a great person to work with.
“Any time I ever told someone that he was my boss in his presence he would never hesitate to say that ‘he just worked with me.’” Bickett said.
While working with Marcum, Bickett said there were many times he had other job offers and could have left the district for a more prominent position, but his devotion to Marion County remained constant.
“He has been offered numerous superintendent positions in other counties and top administrative positions at the Kentucky Department of Education, but his response has always been, ‘My work is not done in Marion County,’” she said.
However, Marcum will soon leave Marion County when he retires in June. He and his wife plan to move to Bardstown to be closer to their grandson, Gibson, but he plans to remain involved in the field of education. After being a public educator for 34 years, he’s not ready to hang up his hat just yet. But, he thinks it’s time for Marion County schools to have some new leadership.
“One of the things I’ve always wanted to make sure of is that I don’t stay too long,” Marcum said. “And maybe it’s time for different leadership for the district. Maybe I’ve taken it as far as I can take it.”
And with limited resources that are growing scarcer every day, Marcum has managed to lead the Marion County school district to being in the top 20 percent of all school districts in the state.
The school system’s success has even exceeded Marcum’s own expectations.
“We’ve had a really good run,” Marcum said. “I couldn’t have forecasted how good things have gone. It’s gone beyond my hopes and dreams.”