By Teri Carnicelli
When the final bells rang for the 2014-15 school year at Washington Elementary School District, they also signaled the end of a long and storied career for Susie Cook.
Cook started out as a classroom teacher, administrator, assistant professor at ASU West, and Governing Board member in the Peoria Unified School District.
Cook has worked, in some capacity, with the Washington School District for the past 20 years. She served as facilitator for Curriculum and Planning, assistant superintendent and associate superintendent. She was named superintendent in 2005. In all, her commitment to education spans more than 40 years. Cook announced late last year that she would retire at the end of this school term.
As much as she will miss the kids, teachers and staff, Cook says she is looking forward to traveling, doing home improvement projects, volunteering, spending time with her son, and—a bit of reversal for the longtime educator—taking classes in some areas of interest.
She also happily anticipates being able to sleep in a little longer. Cook got up every morning to walk between 4:30-6 a.m., but now can “look forward to a bit more flexibility in timing,” she says.
Cook is proud of the work she accomplished at WESD, but points out that she served the district through some of the most difficult financial years in Arizona. “I deeply regret that we have fallen woefully behind in our salaries for all staff. While we managed to save programs and most staff, we simply are not providing what we need to provide for our students and staff,” she says.
Still, what she was able to accomplish while at the helm of the district did not go without notice. On May 1, Cook received a Lifetime of Learning award from the WESD Governing Board during its annual Lamp of Learning Awards celebration. Only one other person has received this honor since the Lamp of Learning Awards began in the early 1980s. The Lifetime of Learning Award was given to Cook for her commitment to WESD and public education.
“It means a great deal to me because I do not seek awards or recognition, yet it summarized a body of work for me and highlights all of my fond memories of WESD.”
Cook also was recognized by the Arizona School Public Relations Association (ASPRA) with an Award of Excellence at the annual ASPRA Superintendent’s Luncheon on April 10. Cook was the only Arizona superintendent to receive an award this year.
Cook elevated the use of digital and social media at WESD and encouraged school administrators and teachers to maintain active websites with which to communicate. She also established a Parent Leadership Team and Business Advisory Team to provide two-way communication between WESD and the community it serves. The ASPRA Award of Excellence noted that her “commitment to ongoing, transparent communication and community relations will remain an important part of her legacy.”
“I care desperately about WESD and will miss the opportunities to make contributions to its success,” Cook admits. “I will miss the daily problem-solving. Interestingly, I may miss the routine of long days and hours, but I am also looking forward to the opportunity to miss that!
“I have had the pleasure to work with extraordinarily talented and skilled educators and staff, active, involved community members, and caring parents; I have learned and grown from each interaction. WESD will always be in my heart.”