Earlier this year, District Administration had the pleasure of sitting down with Mark Penny, superintendent of Lincoln County R-III in Troy, Missouri, where we quickly learned about his passion and dedication to his flock and his pursuit to ensure every student meets their academic potential. He’s a “champion of the underdog,” and views every student as his own. Now, he’s preparing to hand over the reins by the end of this school year, a time he says is perfect for him and his family.
“My goal was to get to a point where I felt comfortable in fulfilling many of the objectives that I set out as a superintendent,” he says. “When I look at the past 13 years that I’ve served my district, I feel like I’ve been able to meet a lot of those goals.”
But if you were to speak with Penny, you would quickly learn that he’s a man of continuous improvement. While he’s accepted his retirement, there’s still so much he wants to do for his folks in Lincoln County.
“We are always wanting to improve our craft and we’re always wanting to improve programs for our students and our community as a whole,” he says. “But the work is never really done, and I think that’s why education is probably the most important profession and one of the most important things we can offer our children.”
Penny’s also a father of three children, the youngest of whom is graduating high school this year. After 32 years in education, he says he’s proud to have raised them and see them through as alumni of his school district.
“When I came to Troy 13 years ago, my youngest was in kindergarten,” he says. “Now, to see her go from kindergarten to graduating in May is such a full-circle moment.”
Sprinting across the finish line
Superintendent Penny’s retirement is merely a transition for the district. “It’s not about me,” he notes. He rests on the fact that Lincoln County R-III has an excellent reputation and that the board will find the perfect leader to take his place.
In the meantime, he promises to work until “the final minute” to see to it that he fulfills his promises for the district.
“I want our students and community to know that I’ve devoted a big part of my life to this job and this work, and I’m here for them,” he says. “Also, we have excellent teachers. They are influential to the education that our students receive.”
He also credits his successful tenure at the district to his excellent school board. Penny is only the fifth superintendent the district has hired in the past 50 years.
“We don’t have a big turnover rate like other districts do because our board of education really feels like they have one employee, and that’s the superintendent,” he notes. “That’s the epitome of how a board of education and a superintendent ought to work. I think that’s why my longevity has been important.”
Reflecting on his career
Penny has spent the last 16 years as a superintendent, 13 of them at his current post. He’s grateful to have served so long in the superintendency with a district that values education as much as he does. One area he’s proud to have made a priority in Lincoln County was addressing the importance of relevant learning.
In 2021, the district partnered with Ranken Technical College, a private technical school in St. Louis, Missouri, and brought its third satellite campus to Troy.
“The trades are really suffering,” he notes. “They need electricians, plumbers and machinists. Those are the types of programs that we have to offer our high school kids.”
In 2020, they also acquired a food truck for a workforce development experience they call “EduKitchen” as part of the district’s culinary arts program. It’s a partnership that the district’s Troy Buchanan High School leverages with Chartwells K-12, a food services provider. Organizations throughout the community can request that EduKitchen provide meals for whatever the occasion may be.
“Our students gain that experience in a food truck, which is directly tied to that relevant learning piece that I’m talking about,” he says.
In 2016 prior to the pandemic, he was also able to bring a 1:1 iPad program to the district, which he believes is instrumental in preparing students for certain career traits early on, for instance, coding.
But as Penny nears the end of his time leading Lincoln County R-III, he says he’s most looking forward to witnessing how the programs and initiatives they’ve put in place over the years will bloom beyond his tenure.
“I really feel like I’ve been a champion of the underdog,” he says. “We have a less than 0.7% dropout rate. Our goal is to be at 0%. I want to see that success continue to flourish under new leadership. I also want to be extremely helpful in that transition of leadership. But I’m excited to be a member of our community and see that continued growth.”
His message for his flock
“Thank you for letting me be a part of your classrooms,” he says to his district. “Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives.”
Penny says he’s thankful that he’s been able to connect on a personal level with “80-85%” of his some 1,000 employees. He also finds beauty in the fact that he’s able to witness some of his previous students enter the teaching profession serving the district that raised them under his leadership, one of whom may potentially be his own daughter.
“To see them walk across that graduation stage and later become their superintendent as an employer so they can give back to the district that gave them so much is amazing,” he says. “My daughter could very well be one of them. She’s planning on majoring in elementary education.”
“It’s a testament to our continuous improvement model that our graduates want to come back and work for us,” he adds. “I really think it presents a strong message of a successful district.”
Grateful to the superintendency
We closed out our conversation with Penny by asking him, “What’s the one thing that the superintendency has taught you that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life?” Here’s what he had to say:
“Resiliency, expect the unexpected and always be prepared. Even during the pandemic, I didn’t have the ‘crystal ball’ that I probably needed, and no one had. I also learned that our parents send us their best every single day. We have to treasure that gift. So much is given to us as educators. We have to be champions for those kids.
“I think this year’s kindergarten class is the class of 2036. Not too many more years down the road we’ll be talking about the class of 2040, and then the class of 2050. I’m challenging people right now to be thinking about education in 2035. How are we going to continue to grow? What are the resources that are needed? But really, what it comes down to is listening to your teachers. They are the experts in the field.”
District Administration thanks Mark Penny for his service and his commitment to K12 education, and wishes continued success and innovation for Lincoln County R-III’s future.