Name: Larry Powell
Profession: Superintendent of Fresno County Schools
“My name is Larry Powell, and my vision for California is more kids taking art and creative classes because the genius of America is in the fact that we have always been creative.”
Larry Powell has drawn nationwide attention for his decision to forego his six-figure salary, saving Fresno County schools more than $800,000 over the three year remainder of his term. His idea, with approval from the county Board of Education, involves retiring on Aug. 31 and being rehired at a much-reduced salary (which he will donate to charity).
Powell took this action to help protect programs he highly regards, such as early childhood education and the arts. “I have a motto,” he said, “that during tough times you advance. You don't retreat.”
He exudes optimism and positive thinking, stemming from a dire challenge in childhood: polio at age 15 months. The condition, however, didn't stop the young Powell from excelling at wrestling and tackling other sports. It's no surprise now that he's very active in his community and in demand as a motivational speaker.
Powell has carried a resolute attitude and belief in hard work throughout his 41-year career as an award-winning educator – rising through the ranks from teacher to schools chief.
Powell strongly believes in the value of the arts in education. Government should understand that “academics are important but the arts are essential” in a balanced education, he said. In science and technology, “it's the creativity side that makes the science work.”
Parents should do their part by enrolling children in as many creative classes as possible and demanding that schools have these classes. Yes, Powell said, there are budget difficulties, but education cannot just be about academics and testing.
“We have to say, 'Wait a minute, what is a great student?' Is it one who takes tests really well, or one who is inventive and creative, and is there a balance between the two?” Powell said. “I think you call for a balance.”