Larry Glaze, at age 65, still has a youthful spring in his step.
The La Grande educator, despite exhaustive demands on his time, regularly does extensive workouts, including stationary bike sessions. He handles the bike workouts so easily that he answers cellphone calls during them without losing his breath.
“Exercise is a tremendous stress reliever,” Glaze said. “I tell all young superintendents to exercise regularly.”
Finding time to exercise is a bit easier for Glaze now that he is in his first week of retirement after 43 years as a full-time educator, the last nine as superintendent of the La Grande School District.
Glaze’s final day as superintendent was Friday, but he is still solidly linked to the local education scene. Glaze is now beginning a part-time job as the facilities director for the InterMountain Education Service District, which serves Union, Baker, Morrow and Umatilla counties. Glaze’s responsibilities include directing the academic program at the Camp Riverbend Youth Transitional Facility outside La Grande.
“I will be its high school principal,” Glaze said.
The educator is excited about the new challenges he will be taking on.
“I am looking forward to working part time and continuing to have a hand in the education profession,” said Glaze, whose new office will be at the IMESD’s La Grande center in the Joseph Building.
Glaze expects his part-time ESD position to be less taxing than the past 17 years of his career, all spent working as a school district superintendent in Oregon. He said serving as a superintendent is rewarding but it also exacts a price.
“It is a high-pressure position. It takes its toll over time. I would troubleshoot all day long,” he said.
The pressure Glaze encountered over the past 2-1/2 years in the La Grande School District was often of a different nature, a type that he welcomed. He oversaw the construction and maintenance projects funded by a $31.85 million bond voters approved in 2014. Major projects the bond has funded include the addition of classrooms at Greenwood and Island City elementary schools, significant renovations of La Grande High School’s gym and auditorium and the construction of a new Central Elementary School building, now two months from completion.
Glaze, who helped lead the charge to get the bond passed, said overseeing the bond project work has been immensely rewarding.
“It has been a wonderful experience. To see how excited and happy people are after the projects are complete, it is satisfying,” Glaze said.
He welcomed the pressure of overseeing the bond work but admits it added a significant load to his already full plate.
“It was like having a second job on top of the job I already had,” Glaze said.
Overseeing the bond work, though, put Glaze’s mind at ease because it allowed him to ensure that projects were completed as planned.
“I wanted to make sure that we delivered on all the promises we made to the community,” Glaze said.
The bond project work symbolizes how much things have improved in the La Grande School District since Glaze took its reins nine years ago. At that time, the school district was in financial straits due to the recession and falling enrollment, which were reducing how much funding the school district received from the state. To make matters worse, the school district leadership lacked continuity after having had multiple superintendents over a short time period.
Today, after many years with Glaze at the helm, the school district’s financial situation is much better thanks to climbing enrollment, and its buildings are in far better overall condition after bond-funded work. Glaze stepped down with the third longest superintendent tenure in the school district’s history.
La Grande High School Principal Brett Baxter is among those who appreciate the stability Glaze
provided the school district.
“I really admire his commitment to the school district and the community,” Baxter said.
Baxter also credits Glaze with making positive additions in the school district, which he is certain will be long lived. He points to the Professional Learning Communities program Glaze started five years ago. The program calls for teachers to work together to provide individualized instruction for students to help them meet state standards based upon assessment test data.
It has resulted in teachers going to extraordinary lengths to work together to develop individualized plans for students.
Baxter believes the Professional Learning Communities program will continue in Glaze’s absence because he made sure it had strong support from the school board, faculty and staff before it was put in place.
“There was so much buy-in,” Baxter said.
When educators talk about Glaze, a point often made early on is his commitment to the welfare of students. Baxter noted that this even carries over to students who have gotten into trouble and have had to leave the school due to state law and school district policy. Glaze always made a point of reaching out to these youths to make sure they had access to — or knew of — other educational opportunities, Baxter said. Some educators, Baxter said, want to stay clear of such students, but not Glaze.
Merle Comfort, chair of the La Grande School Board, said Glaze’s many qualities include an attention to detail that resulted in efficient and civil school board meetings. Prior to Glaze’s arrival, meetings periodically became contentious, with board members arguing among themselves, Comfort said. Rancor among board members never erupted during Glaze’s tenure, though. Comfort said, under Glaze’s leadership, many issues were resolved before they reached the point that they had to come before the board.
“Larry is always on top of every situation,” Comfort said.
Glaze’s nine-year tenure as superintendent was his second with the school district. His first was from 1986 to 2000 when he was an elementary school principal. Glaze’s first years with the La Grande School District put him in an unconventional position — the principal of both Riveria and Willow elementary schools. The school district assigned one principal to the two schools as a cost-saving measure during a time in which it often faced budget shortfalls.
Riveria and Willow have since closed, but three decades ago they were bustling, with a combined total of between 300 and 400 students annually. Glaze said that running two schools at once taught him things that later helped him as an education administrator.
“It was great training,” Glaze said.
His organizational and time management skills became finely honed during this time because of the need to operate at maximum efficiency.
“There were two of everything, two budgets, two staffs, two parent groups, two buildings. I had to be organized to stay on top of things,” Glaze said.
Glaze today laughs about the challenges he faced as a two-school principal and how sometimes he wanted to be two places at once.
“I wished that I had a twin brother then. I could have used him,” said Glaze, who has older twin brothers.
In 1991, Glaze became principal of Central Elementary, a school far larger than Riveria or Willow. Glaze served as principal there for nine years. Many of his fall recesses at Central were spent with a whistle at the ready for he took it upon himself to officiate student football games. He did so after realizing that he was spending much of his time each day resolving disputes that erupted because of disagreements during football games. He found he could resolve these arguments quickly and prevent them from carrying over to the classroom by addressing them while officiating games.
“It sure saved me a lot of time,” Glaze said.
Sports is what originally drew Glaze to La Grande. He came to Eastern Oregon University from
Eugene in 1970 to play for the Mountaineers baseball team.
He had originally intended to attend the University of Oregon after being recruited by its baseball coach, Don Kirsch. Glaze’s plans changed when Kirsch died before the 1970-71 school year and his successor did not offer him a spot on the team.
Glaze, who had been a baseball standout at Sheldon High School in Eugene, then decided to come to EOU to play for coach Howard Fetz. Glaze played for four years at Eastern, where he helped the Mountaineers beat the University of Oregon one year.
He said that playing for Fetz taught him a lot.
“He was a real academician,” Glaze said. “He always told us, ‘You are a student first and an athlete second.’”
Those who influenced Glaze greatly at Eastern included the late Erling Odegaard, a professor who taught human anatomy and served as Eastern’s wrestling coach.
“He was a great mentor who was full of life stories,” Glaze said.
Glaze graduated from Eastern in 1974 and began his education career at Union High School, where he taught for three years. Next, he taught at Vale High School for two years before leaving to become a junior high principal in the Neah-Kah-Nie School District on the Oregon Coast for three years. He returned to Union County in 1983 to serve as principal of Stella Mayfield School in Elgin for three years before joining the La Grande School District in 1986.
In his semi-retirement, Glaze is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including his wife, Patty. Glaze said the support he has received from his wife has been invaluable.
“She has been so supportive during the many long nights I was away from home,” he said. “She has been very patient.”
The couple has two daughters, Amber and Aubrey, and four grandchildren. Larry Glaze, who was named the Union County Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 man of the year in February, noted that a period of adjustment will be needed to transition to semi-retirement after decades in education’s fast lane, a process he plans to enjoy.
“I have to take a deep breath and realize that the treadmill is not going to be running as fast as it was,” he said.