By Jonathan Phelps
---- — IPSWICH — Rick Korb sat quietly in the back as fifth-graders at Winthrop Elementary School were handed certificates yesterday for moving on to middle school next year.
It was his last day as superintendent of schools, after 15 years on the job, but Korb didn’t want any of the attention on himself.
“I wanted the focus to be on the students,” he said. “I didn’t want to take away from their special moment.”
Last night’s School Committee meeting was his last.
“It has been a whirlwind of a week,” Korb said. “There has been a lot of visiting classrooms and teachers. People from the community have stopped by with their best wishes.”
He took a break in his office yesterday after visiting with students on their last day of school and shared stories both challenging and inspiring. Most of his personal possessions had already been packed up, but a few items like a “Go Tigers” bumper sticker remained.
Korb, 66, said he looks forward to spending more time with family, golfing, fishing and traveling. He will spend summers in the Midwest and winters in Florida.
“I’ve been in education for 45 years. I started as a teacher when I was 21,” Korb said.
He worked his way up to assistant principal, principal, athletic director, coach, assistant superintendent and superintendent — 30 years in Michigan before being hired in Ipswich in 1998.
He said yesterday that he was inspired to pursue a career in education by a high school teacher and football coach, and by his grandmother, “who was a teacher in a one-room, rural farm community in Michigan. From her, I learned the value and importance of education. ...
“The greatest part is watching the kids grow and experience their success.”
Korb will retire alongside his administrative assistant, Fran Seltenrich, who has worked for the district for about 27 years.
“I think he is an honest person with dignity, and he really cared about the district and kids,” she said. “He is a man with integrity who treats people with respect.”
When the stresses of the job got to him, Korb had a sure-fire remedy: He’d step out of his office to read to kindergarten classes.
“One time, the teacher said, ‘Does anybody know who Mr. Korb is?’” Korb recalled. “A student in the back of the room raised his hand, and when the teacher called on him, he said: ‘He is the Super Nintendo and he takes care of all the Pac-man.’ Those are the times you treasure.”
Korb said his biggest challenge over the years was budgeting, “trying to make ends meet during difficult financial times and being able to provide the quality of education this community has come to expect and deserve.”
Former School Committee member Jeffrey Loeb was on the board when Korb was hired.
“I have enjoyed working with Rick,” he said. “Rick is who he appears to be; there are no hidden agendas. He is a people person.”
He said the committee was looking for a superintendent to do community outreach and work well with all town officials. Korb had a way of making his administrative team thrive and was a champion for various causes, he said.
“Rick was a known player,” Loeb said. “You would see him in different places around. That is difficult to do when you are coming from out of town.”
Korb said he was proud of his work collaborating with Ipswich’s utility department to install a wind turbine in town, a years-long process that culminated with the building of a turbine on Town Farm Road in 2011.
“When the bonds are paid off in 10 to 12 years, the electricity from the turbine will make all the schools energy-independent,” he said. “The leap of faith has proved to be successful.”
While he said financial challenges are expected to continue, the district is in good shape for Bill Hart, who will succeed him July 1. Hart comes to town after being an assistant superintendent for the Pentucket Regional School District.
Korb said an override might be needed in the future to sustain the district.
“Nobody likes to hear that, but that is the reality,” he said.
School Committee chairman Hugh O’Flynn said Korb helped transform the district in terms of curriculum, site-based management, technology and overall reputation.
“The performance of our district really improved,” O’Flynn said. “We’ll miss him terribly.”
Korb said it is an honor to end his career in Ipswich, and he’ll miss working with his “outstanding, dedicated staff” and the support he’s received from the community.
“We’ve had a lot of great people who have made this district what it is,” he said. “There is such a great culture here.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.