Larry Price of Wilson County (N.C.) Schools is not so different from the other inspirational superintendents featured in this magazine, except, perhaps, for one thing: his ability to tend a farm plot. In spite of a penchant for farming due to his upbringing in rural Nash, N.C., however, Price's career took a sharp turn from planting seeds in the ground to reaping what he and his teachers sowed by way of smart students in the classroom.
"Farming was what I wanted to do," says Price in a patient drawl as soothing as sweet tea. "[But] my second year out of high school, my dad said, 'You ought to go to school.' " That he did, first majoring in agricultural education, and ending with a Ph.D. in occupational education and education administration, all from North Carolina State. Today he's the superintendent of a district located in the "down east" part of North Carolina. It's more economically challenged than some, less than most and 38 languages are spoken among a 50 percent African-American, 40 percent white and 10 percent Latino demographic.
Price won North Carolina's Superintendent of the Year Award, then was a runner-up for the national nod. He says he's not one to dodge the issues and admits, "I'm sure some people in Wilson would say, 'He's one arrogant rascal.'" We dare him to find them.
Improvement on his watch: In the last 12 years under Price, Wilson's rank has reached the 90th percentile for students performing at or above grade level, thanks largely to a K-2 literacy program in place for more than a decade. And all of Wilson's high schools participate in the International Baccalaureate Program, which helps students be the most well-rounded they can be. "When you single out each issue, it doesn't sound like much," says Price humbly. "But [it's] the aggregate."
Agriculture's in his blood: Price doesn't have a full-fledged garden right now, but he and his wife tend a small farm that belonged to her parents, and Price likes to work in his yard. Not that there's not much time for it. "I worked 59 hours this week, and that doesn't include what you do on the weekends."
Completing the application: "I don't know that I'm unique, but I wrote my application myself," he says. "I actually found it to be a stimulating process. It's not often in your superintendency that [you] get to reflect on a question. It was a really neat intellectual exercise."
Justifiable pride: "I think it's had some impact in a variety of ways," says Price of his award. "It's just absolutely, incredibly humbling. It's not a place I ever expected to be ... as superintendent, being cast in this light."
How he stood out: Wilson County has participated in many of the things the application touched upon, says Price. Among the issues, Price could've touted the voluminous reading programs, the return of families who had once left the district for private schools or the achievement gap that has consistently closed. "I've had some people say that my application stood out, and I've certainly been gracious and thanked them."
Jennifer Esposito is a contributing editor.