Art Hand Jr. has been at the helm of Lodi Unified School District’s Facilities and Planning Department for seven years, but his career is ending this month. Hand will retire as assistant superintendent on Dec. 27.
Hand began his career as a substitute custodian in 1981, and is ending it 32 years later as the head of his department. During that time, he spent 17 years in Stockton Unified School District as a project specialist and executive director.
By his own tally, Hand has overseen the construction of 15 schools, 13,000 seats in classrooms and $1 billion in construction.
Hand recently gave an interview to the News-Sentinel reflecting on his career and laying out his future plans.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.
Why are you retiring now?
I started planning it a year ago. I want to work fewer hours, and spend more time with my kids and my family. The timing is right.
What is next?
I am going to start an independent consulting group with former colleagues Mamie Star and Mike Wyatt.
This will be my encore career. We have a lot of crazy ideas. It’s time to chase some windmills.
What about your ties with GOT Kids and Partners in Education?
There are three openings on the board of GOT Kids, so I’d love to join them if they would have me. I seriously believe in the potential of that group, especially for career and technical education courses. We can help fund those hands-on courses. It doesn’t make sense to have woodshop if you can’t afford to buy wood.
I’ll be joining the Chamber (of Commerce) with this new business, though, so I can continue with PIE from a different perspective.
What is your legacy within the district?
I’m really proud to have had a chance to have a job where I come to work every day and make a difference for our kids.
I’ve had the opportunity to build new elementary schools.
The first day of school is like nothing else. The kindergarten faces have that glow about them. It’s the best feeling I could have ever had in my career.
What project are you most proud of?
The Tokay High School renovation to deal with the major mold problem. Nobody thought we could do what we did. More than 90 percent of the school was down at some point from 2007 to June 2008. And the staff and students were so flexible in getting the job done.
What has been the toughest part of your work in the district?
The toughest part has been the 2007-09 budget issues and required reductions. I’ve had to make many layoffs and tell hard-working people there just isn’t a job for them anymore.
I never imagined facing these choices at the end of my career, having to make those choices and deliver those messages.
What has been your favorite part of your work?
When people hand me challenges, I want to conquer them; I want to excel when someone gives me an impossible task.
Building new schools in tough neighborhoods has been really interesting. You’d think it would be a target for vandalism, but the schools are protected. They embraced the school as their icon, and took care of it. I think the neighborhood really appreciated it.
That’s when you see it, that it means something to the community.
What was it like starting your career as a janitor and ending as an assistant superintendent?
Having seen the whole department from the ground up has given me a unique sense of perspective into the nuts and bolts of it.
This was the job I dreamed of. I would come in here as a tech guy fixing the computer and think, “Wouldn’t it be cool to be in this chair?”
I owe more to LUSD than I could ever pay back, for seeing the potential in me as I was just starting out.
What advice would you give to an incoming assistant superintendent?
I would tell them to remember to not take themselves too seriously, or give themselves a heightened sense of importance. This is an important job, but don’t make it bigger than it is in reality.