Gene Strickland, acting in his official capacity as operations director, was relaxed yet professional as he made his first report to school board members on Monday night. “But really, I had some butterflies,” Strickland later admitted. “I knew I was prepared but it was the same kind of butterfly feeling I used to get before a big football game.”
A player on one state championship football team and coach of another, Strickland was recently tapped to head operations for the Hobbs school district.
His varied background made him a perfect fit for the job. “Gene is in charge of everything from school maintenance and building projects to technology, transportation and the supervision of all of our school cafeterias,” HMS Supt. TJ Parks said. “His experience in all of those areas has meant a seamless transition for the district.”
Most recently the Hobbs Freshman High School assistant principal, Strickland steps into a job that Parks left vacant for more than a year following his own promotion to superintendent.
A 1993 Lovington high school graduate – and member of the undefeated 1990 state championship football team – Strickland attended Eastern New Mexico University on an athletic/academic scholarship. While there, he earned dual degrees in biology and physical education, served as a receivers’ coach his senior year and coordinated team transportation.
“At the time, I was just a kid in college taking care of something other coaches didn’t want to do, but looking at it now, it definitely helped in the role I now have,” Strickland said. “Actually, a lot of things I’ve done have prepared me for this job.”
Transportation, for instance.
In his new role, Strickland is responsible for ensuring that 3,811 kids -– 44 percent of the total student population – have a safe bus ride to and from school every day. He also oversees a technology department that purchases and maintains thousands of computers as well as the network and peripherals associated with them.
HMS Technology Director Kim Whitley first met Strickland more than a decade ago when he was a technology teacher at Eunice High School – the same school where he won a state football championship as a 24-year-old first-year coach. “Gene is technologically literate and has total understanding of the concepts of our infrastructure,” Whitley said.“Plus, he’s an easy, likeable guy to work with.”
Strickland and his growing family left Eunice seven years ago when his wife, Dena, landed a teaching job at Will Rogers (She is now a Stone special education teacher).Within weeks, Strickland was named assistant principal of the newly opened Heizer Freshman High School - where he ultimately would be on the ground floor of a three-year process that concluded with the construction of the $28-million Freshman High School.
Freshman High School Principal Pat McMurray said Strickland stepped up as the liaison between staff and builders, devoting hundreds of hours of time to completion of the school. “He went the extra mile, not only for me but for the district,”McMurray said. “What’s really impressive is that Gene did that along with taking care of the responsibilities he had as an assistant principal.”
In the process, Strickland also got a first-hand look at construction of the district’s central kitchen – while Nutrition Director Margaret Patterson-Adams got a first-hand look at her future boss. In his role as operations superintendent, Strickland will also oversee staff that prepare thousands of meals and transport them to 16 campuses each day. “I think he’s innovative – a problem solver and solution finder,” Patterson-Adams said of Strickland. “I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Because he was promoted in April, Strickland was able to shadow Construction Projects Manager Bruce Hardison before his job with the school district ended. “It was a chance for me to get up to speed on all the construction projects and maintenance issues in the district,” Strickland said.
Although he will miss direct contact with students, Strickland said his new job puts him in a better position to improve education for all students. “Whether it’s through the food we provide, the technology we have available, the quality of transportation or the buildings we build, my job is all about making education better,” Strickland said.
“I have a direct influence over that now.
It’s an important role,
one that Strickland said he is growing into as the butterflies subside.