Ken Underwood’s lifetime of exceptional service as a school administrator was recognized on March 3 at the 132nd annual AASA conference. He was cited for a lifetime of service to his district, community, and the field at large during the Distinguished Service Award ceremony in San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

To be eligible for the coveted award, an individual must have been an AASA member for at least 10 years and be retired from a full-time position in public administration. The immediate past president of AASA also is honored.

Underwood, of Gaithersburg, Md., retired in 1998 after 22 years as a professor of education at Virginia Polytechnic and State University. Before his career at Virginia Tech, Underwood served for 21 years as superintendent for five school districts in four states.

Most recently, Underwood served as the managing director for Harold Webb Associates, a search firm that helps superintendents and districts find the right fit according to their needs. “You really have to find a superintendent who fits into the community,” Underwood said. “It’s about the right person, at the right time, with the right skills.”

Through years of working in and around schools at the district level, Underwood certainly has gained insight into how technology fits into the overall plan for a district.

“School boards want a superintendent who is comfortable with technology, but that is certainly not the prime motivator [for hiring]. A good share of school systems are now hiring a tech person to do the plans for them,” Underwood explained.

He believes a superintendent should have a good working knowledge of technology to be effective, however. “These days, a superintendent’s skills are so much more technical than they were. They better be able to know how to ask the right questions,” Underwood said.

Regarding his many years dedicated to education, Underwood said, “The superintendency is just a great march. My first superintendency was when I was 23 years old. That was the first job I ever really loved.”

But it is not always an easy calling, according to Underwood: “I’ve said for years that my definition of a school superintendent is an egomaniac with a death-wish. But I’ve never met a better group of people.”

Friends and family honored Underwood at a gala reception after the award ceremony. “That was one of the biggest highlights of my life. And it was good because people I knew from all over the world were there,” he said.

“You don’t make a lot of money in education,” he said, “but you do get a lot of self-satisfaction.”

Six others received the Distinguished Service Award at the AASA conference. Joseph P. Batory, of Drexel Hill, Pa., Roscoe L. Davidson, of Lakewood, Colo., Daniel A. Domenech, of Fairfax, Va., James A. Kelly, of Grosse Pointe, Mich., Gary D. Marx, of Vienna, Va., and Harold D. Patterson, of Guntersville, Ala. were all honored at the ceremony. —BG