Abilene schools

Chris Cooper, Abilene Public Schools assistant superintendent, will become the new superintendent of schools in Clearwater USD 264 in July. He and his daughter Sarah visited the Clearwater district in late January. Cooper has served the Abilene school district 21 years — 14 as principal at the former Garfield Elementary School and seven years as assistant superintendent.

Chris Cooper, Abilene assistant superintendent of schools, is leaving this summer to take the top job in Clearwater Public Schools.

His duties as Clearwater’s superintendent will begin officially on July 1.

The Abilene school board approved Cooper’s resignation during its Monday night meeting.

21 years in Abilene

Cooper came to Abilene 21 years ago, first serving 14 years as principal at the former Garfield Elementary School and seven years as assistant superintendent.

Cooper said Monday that he reached a point in his career when the time was right to make a change and the Clearwater job seemed like a “good opportunity,” especially since it will bring him closer to family.

“I have family southeast of Wichita,” Cooper said, explaining his parents and a brother still live in his hometown of Cedar Vale, while another brother lives in Wellington.

Cooper said there were a lot of superintendent openings in the state, but the Clearwater position interested him for a number of reasons, including the location and its similarity to the Abilene district.

Like Abilene, Clearwater is a 4A school district, although it is about 300 to 400 students smaller.

“Each place (Abilene and Clearwater) is unique, but the challenges schools are facing are very similar. And it’s a similar district to us (Abilene) in that they grew in enrollment until a few years back and now they’re starting to drop off — even though they’re close to Wichita,” he explained.

“They have a lot of the same needs we have and a lot of the same benefits we have for kids as far as a small town 4A school,” he continued.

Leaving ‘home’

While Cooper said he is excited to start a new career phase, he noted it would be difficult to leave Abilene. After 21 years, it is “home.”

“My wife and I raised our family here. When I came here my oldest was four and I was walking him across the street to the preschool. Now his daughter is going to turn four this summer,” Cooper said. “We’ve been here a generation.”

The Coopers have four children, Thomas, John, Mark and Sarah.

Sarah — the youngest — is a sophomore at Abilene High School. She accompanied Cooper during the Clearwater visit and interview since his wife, Vicki, was attending a conference at the time and unable to attend.

Vicki Cooper is a state trainer for the Kansas MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) and Alignment Project with the Kansas Technical Assistance System Network. Before that, she taught English at Abilene High School a number of years before resigning in 2019 to take the state trainer job.

“Vicki works from home and travels so she can basically live anywhere in the state,” Cooper said.

Happy and sad

In his role as a principal and assistant superintendent in Abilene, Cooper has had many opportunities to bid staff members farewell.

“I always tell people that leave I hope they’re excited that they’re going and miserable they’re leaving and that’s where I’m at,” Cooper said. “I’m excited about things to come, but there’s a lot of sad feelings as well to process. We’re leaving the place that’s been home for a couple decades.”

Another factor making it difficult to leave is the fact that the Abilene school district is a good place to work, he said.

“The district is in a good spot. There’s lots of good things to come. It’s in good hands,” he said.

Before moving to Abilene, Cooper spent eight years at the West Franklin school district in Pomona. He spent six years as the grades 6 to 12 band teacher and two years as a principal.

As for Clearwater, Cooper said he’s looking forward to the opportunity and that district is a “great place to be going to.”

“It’s a good move for me professionally and our family,” he said.

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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