Van Buren school officials soon will be looking for a new superintendent.
After 13 years as superintendent, Merle Dickerson has announced his resignation and retirement from Van Buren School District on June 30, 2014.
Members of the Van Buren Board of Education renewed Dickerson’s superintendent contract in February. Dickerson had not been planning on retiring this year, he said, but his decision was "really a matter of finances."
He noticed several weeks ago that the greater portion of his retirement fund would grow no larger without his retirement, making his choice "obvious," he said.
While not planned, Dickerson said the decision came at a good time.
"I’ve heard from older superintendents than I that you would know when to retire," Dickerson said. "This [decision] has been really good, and I know."
Dickerson grew up in the Arkansas Delta region, graduating from Russellville High School in 1968. He went on to get both his bachelor’s and master’s degree from Arkansas Tech University, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2000.
His career in education has lasted more than 43 years, during which he has been a band director, school counselor, middle school principal, high school assistant principal and high school principal.
Dickerson came to Van Buren in 2001, serving as superintendent for the past 13 years.
Of the many things accomplished during that time, Dickerson said there are three that he is most proud of: Van Buren’s teaching model, facility improvements, and the reconfiguration of grades to establish the Van Buren High School Freshman Academy.
J. Kevin Bell, Van Buren Board of Education president, called Dickerson "an outstanding leader for our district and a great community leader."
"I have had the privilege of serving on the school board since September of 2001, and in those 12 and half years, have grown to respect Dr Dickerson not only as the leader of the Van Buren School District, but more importantly, as a great Christian man who truly cares about all of the children in the district," Bell said.
Debbie Thomas, Van Buren School District Education Foundation executive director, worked with Dickerson for the past 13 years "putting $782,000 back in the classrooms," she said.
"Whatever I dreamed or saw or envisioned for the foundation, he allowed me to run with that," Thomas said.
Dickerson has played a large part in the growth of the school district, she said.
"I compliment him on his leadership and the vision he sees for children," Thomas said. "Nothing good happens unless you have real strong leaders with a vision."
Both Bell and Thomas said Dickerson will be hard to replace, and much missed. Dickerson admitted leaving would be bittersweet.
"There’s sadness in it, but it’s a victory for me as well," Dickerson said. "I’ve had 43 years in the business and I’m proud of the things I’ve done."
Dickerson and his wife Paula, a retired teacher, will continue to live in Van Buren and be involved in the community, he said.
"It’s a great community, absolutely supportive of schools, supportive of its kids, and I’m really proud of that," Dickerson said. "It’s one of the reasons I don’t want to leave."
Immediate plans for the couple include a summer vacation trip to the beach, where they will process their new status and make future plans, Dickerson said.
"We’re going to enjoy retirement and be a part of this community in a different way," Dickerson said.
Board members will take time in their search for a new superintendent, Bell said, to assure they find the best possible replacement for the school district.
"Our kids and community deserve the best," Bell said.