, Muskogee, OK


May 21, 2010

Retiring MHS principal recalls career

Educator says challenge is dealing with changing times


Muskogee High School Principal Gary Bivin spent the last day of his educational career in an office that was nearly stripped of his personal items.

No mementos on bookshelves, few papers on his desk. A framed Rougher green needlepoint sampler still hung on one wall. An original painting depicting West Junior High School, where Bivin began his career, hangs on another. He packed away most of the other stuff.

“When you get into a school district for 40 years, you collect a lot of things,” said Bivin, who spent the past seven years as MHS principal.

The 62-year-old is taking early retirement through Muskogee Public Schools’ voluntary separation plan. Assistant MHS Principal Dewayne Pemberton will become head principal starting in the 2011 school year.

A native of Okmulgee, Bivin was fresh out of Northeastern State University when he started his career at Muskogee’s West Junior High School in 1970. His first boss was Jim Wilson, now Muskogee’s assistant superintendent for support and personnel.

“You could tell from the beginning as a young man just out of college that he was inquisitive, willing to do lots of things,” Wilson recalled. “He helped with football, student council and the rest is history. He coached at West High.”

Bivin recalled Wilson as “a good school manager, very organized.”

“The paperwork must be right with him, that’s one reason I’m here,” he said.

Bivin’s career started in the old West, located between 16th and 17th streets.

“It was a unique old building,” he said. “We had a close faculty with 35 teachers.”

When the old building burned in 1979, the school finished the year at Muskogee Civic Center, Bivin said. The school then opened in a new facility in west Muskogee. It eventually became West Middle School and is now Ben Franklin Science Academy.

Bivin recalled coming to Muskogee the first year it was fully integrated. He recalled a smooth transition.

“We already had a lot of black students at West before it was integrated,” he said. “Manual Training High School had a good school.”

Now, MHS is a blend of diverse groups, Bivin said. He said he likes the diversity.

“We take the good, the bad, the indifferent,” he said.

He said one change over 40 years that dismays him is the “breakdown of the family structure.”

“You now see a lot of grandparents raising kids,” he said. “But you still see kids seeking knowledge. We must accommodate the 21st century.”

Bivin said he is proud of what has been accomplished in his years at MHS.

“I had great people to work with, and the number one thing was that they had learning in mind,” he said. “When I first came here seven years ago we scored 3 percent in math. Now we’re at 82 percent passing.”

He credited such success to Professional Learning Communities, faculty members grouped by subject area who meet regularly to discuss ways to improve teaching. Literacy First and the student advocacy program also have been successful, he said.

“The biggest challenge is dealing with changing times,” Bivin said, adding that he worked under 16 school superintendents. “They started programs and stopped programs. The ones that are in place now are going to continue.”

Bivin said the MHS principal must spend a lot of time at the school.

“I worked a lot of 12-hour days,” he said. “A principal needs a wife who is supportive.”

He said his wife, Judy, has been wonderful.

“Without her cooperation, I would not have done it,” he said.

Bivin said he now looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren. His grown children live in Tulsa and Arkansas. He also will come back to work five days each school year as part of his early retirement agreement.

“I’m not going to micromanage anyone,” he said. “I’ll tutor, work with the administrative staff, help with planning. I’ll go to football games.”

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