By the time he was in ninth grade, Bill Kennedy knew he wanted to be a teacher.
Kennedy grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., as an athlete. His father died when he was 3 years old, so he relied heavily on coaches for guidance. They kept him on the "straight and narrow," he said. Kennedy knew he wanted to dedicate his career to teaching and coaching.
After a 39-year career as an educator in New York, Kennedy is opposing longtime local Brian Kelly for the District 1 Steamboat Springs School Board seat. District 1 board member John DeVincentis is not running for re-election. Denise Connelly, who represents District 3, is running unopposed to keep her seat.
The 64-year-old's career included time spent as a physical education teacher, track and field, basketball coach (which included a state championship two years after a winless season), high school principal and superintendent. He also spent time on the New York state curriculum committee.
Kennedy interacted with boards of education during his two stints as superintendent of two New York school districts - the six years that concluded his career. He said he's aware of the politics and how a school board functions but knows how to compromise to get things done.
Kennedy said that experience has prepared him for a seat on the School Board.
"There probably aren't too many things that would happen that I haven't had experience with," he said. "I think experience is life's greatest teacher. You learn from mistakes as well as successes. : I think that's a distinct advantage for me."
Kennedy moved to Steamboat in 2005 shortly after his retirement. He was familiar with Steamboat, having visited for the previous 15 years to see his son, Craig, and ski. Craig is the president of CK Consulting and co-founder of Access Anything, an organization that promotes adaptive sports and adventure travel for people with disabilities. Kennedy also has three adult daughters, Erin, who lives in California; and Allison and Laura, who live in Washington, D.C.
Shortly after moving to town, Kennedy met and married former longtime Soda Creek Elementary School teacher Barb Keenan.
In 1997, Kennedy said, some locals encouraged him to apply for the district's interim superintendent position after the School Board bought out the remaining two years of Donna Howell's contract.
Resident Mike Forney, a fellow member of the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs, said he urged Kennedy to apply for the job.
"It was clear Bill had a lot of experience," Forney said. "Through his wife, Barbara, he got to know the issues, and he has a really down-to-earth approach to education. I thought he'd be an excellent superintendent."
Sandra Smyser was given the position, but Kennedy said he's never lost the "bug" for education. When it became an option to run for the District 1 seat, Kennedy seized an opportunity to get involved.
Kennedy acknowledges that he hasn't been in Steamboat as long as Kelly, but that doesn't bother him. He said he wants to give back to the community that has given so much to his family through the years.
Educator or parent
Perhaps the biggest difference between Kennedy and Kelly is what makes each candidate qualified for the School Board. Although Kelly has been actively involved in education issues for years, Kennedy boasts a long education career.
Kennedy said some people think it's beneficial for parents to serve on school boards, and others think the posts are important for former administrators.
"I bring both," Kennedy said. "Just because I was an administrator didn't mean I stopped being a parent."
During his 18 years as a high school principal, Kennedy said, all four of his children were in his building. He said he made few decisions without considering his roles as parent and administrator.
Kennedy hired Kathryn Knapp, the coordinator for curriculum instruction and technology at the Vestal Central School District in Vestal, N.Y., as middle school principal when he was superintendent of the Norwich City School District.
Knapp said that as a superintendent, Kennedy always made decisions in the best interests of the children. She said he gave administrators and teachers the guidance and tools to do their jobs and didn't meddle in the day-to-day operation of the schools.
"I was saddened to see him leave because he was so good at what he did," Knapp said. "He is so passionate about education, the kids and his role in that. I would see how he would not have lost that. It was part of his core. : He'd want to be involved in the school district because he lived and breathed it."
Kennedy has said he doesn't have an agenda in running for the School Board, but he acknowledged that his expertise could come in handy in confronting several issues facing the School Board. One of those, he said, was funding, considering the economic situation the state is facing.
He said it's important that school boards debate and get perspectives not only from members of the community, but also teachers. Kennedy said there are a lot of ways for school districts to save money, such as by tapping into the resources available in the community.
But ultimately, he said, decisions should be made in the interest of students.
"Kids, after all, are our greatest resource," Kennedy said. "The money spent there is absolutely critical to our future. That's how important I think it is."