Superintendent announces retirement

Published 11:22 pm Thursday, April 11, 2019

Choking back words from a prepared statement, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney announced Thursday he would retire Sept. 1.

He said that date marks “roughly 30 years of serving students, staff, teachers and parents in various roles” and outlined highlights of his tenure as superintendent in his remarks near the close of the School Board meeting.

Whitney, who was deputy superintendent prior to Dr. Milton Liverman’s retirement as superintendent in 2010 before becoming superintendent in January 2011, cited major budget challenges at the start of his time in the position. But, by focusing on continuous improvement, he said the school division grew in many areas.

“This has been a rewarding experience, and I appreciate the trust and relationships I have experienced with all School Board members,” Whitney said. “While I do have mixed emotions, I do look forward to my next chapter.”

Expanding upon his statement after the meeting, Whitney said there was no one signature accomplishment, but rather, it was “the strive to always continuously improve, whether it’s looking at facilities, whether it’s a matter of student achievement, whether it’s a matter of making certain that students are getting the programming that they actually need, that’s what I’m most proud of, that we never stopped.”

Looking at his career in Suffolk — he was named Regional Superintendent of the Year in 2016 — he said he has tried to focus on student engagement and differentiating instruction for students.

School Board members, who learned of Whitney’s plans just prior to the meeting, praised him following the announcement.

“You’re an outstanding leader, educator,” said School Board Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum. “Words can’t say enough. You’ve received a lot of accolades along the way. … Personally, I will miss you.”

Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck said Whitney had done a stellar job.

“You’re a consummate professional, and I know that you will do well wherever you go, and (in) whatever you do,” Brooks-Buck said.

School Board member Tyron Riddick shared a memory of Whitney from when he was Riddick’s principal at Elephant’s Fork Elementary School. He praised Whitney for being a great role model.

“One thing I can say about Dr. Whitney, he didn’t judge me based off of what people said,” Riddick said. “He didn’t judge me based off of what other people’s perceptions were. Dr. Whitney is the model example of what principals should be like in a perfect world.”

Riddick shared a story of when he was suspended off the bus and came back into the school, where Whitney caught up with him in the hallway before he passed the mural of the elephant.

“He pulled me to the side and used a word that I had never heard used … before,” Riddick said. “He called me ‘buddy.’ He explained what his buddies had to do to remain his buddies. And he told me that good grades, and all the other things I had to maintain. …

“Over the years, every time I would see Dr. Whitney when I would see Dr. Whitney from elementary, middle, high school, college, when I got into fatherhood … even now, Dr. Whitney has always been this person that I could go to and he would give great advice – not often what I wanted to hear, but he would tell me straightforward and I could count on him to be honest about it.”

Whitney, during his time in Suffolk, also worked as an assistant principal at Southwestern Elementary, an elementary coordinator and an assistant superintendent of elementary education.

Following the meeting, Whitney said he felt it was time to do something different, but he doesn’t know what that is just yet.

“I’m not generally an emotional person, but after serving 30 years in a field that you love and then walking away from it is what makes it so emotional,” Whitney said, “in addition to the fact that (in) nine years, things have gone by so quickly. The average years of superintendent in Virginia is 2.7, but I felt that it was time because I’m ready to do something different. I don’t know what it might be yet, but I’m ready for that next chapter and that next challenge.”

He said his predecessors told him he would know when it was time, and after 30 years in education, he felt the time had come to step down. He said there was no one moment that led to his decision to retire. Whitney said he felt that he would give education 30 years, and that he’s had a variety of roles and interactions, and what he considers initiatives and successes.

He said it will be bittersweet to leave, saying that being in Suffolk for 20 years, the people he’s worked with have become an authentic family.

“I look forward to passing the torch on, but I also look forward to my next challenge,” Whitney said, “because I’m definitely going to work full time, it’s just a matter of deciding what and where.”