In her office, Patricia Best keeps a nameplate inscribed with a Michaelangelo quote: “I am still learning.” At 63, she follows that creed. The Ferguson Township resident may be retiring in June as superintendent of the State College Area School District, ending a 41-year career. But she’s not saying goodbye to education.
Q: What are your plans? A: I want to spend some time reflecting on what this career has meant — the people with whom I’ve worked, the lessons I’ve learned, the opportunities that I’ve had — and perhaps step back and take a deep breath and have a chance to enjoy [some things] I was too busy living to really stop and give it some thought. So I’m looking into some time for reflection, maybe a little writing and certainly more reading. The other part of retirement I’m hoping for is just the opposite of that. I’m looking forward to exploring and learning new things and pursuing some interests. And I haven’t necessarily decided what those would be. At this point, I think that’s part of the excitement of exploration.
Q: Anything you will miss most? A: That’s a very easy one to answer, and it really does revolve around people. Certainly, the interaction with students, and the opportunity to feel that every day, when you come in here, there’s a chance to really make a difference and contribute to their learning and well-being, in a way that you often can’t do in any other fashion. ... The second part [will be] the teachers, the administrators, the staff members in the district. It has been just a tremendous opportunity to work with people who are so committed to professional practice and to doing a really fine job every day to help students accomplish goals.
Q: What are you most proud of? A: There’s really not one thing that I would say typifies the pinnacle of what was accomplished. When I look back at all 31 years [with State College], my own personal accomplishment is feeling that I never, ever lost focus on student learning and well-being [during] all the decisions that were made, about curriculum or instruction, or about facilities, or about finance. [Also,] being able to have our career and technical center be part of our high school. What that did was open the doors to every student in high school who wished to pursue a technical education in a full range of offerings or to those who wished to take a course or two, because they had an interest in engineering or child care or automotive technology. That was something that was a very big step for the school district, and that resulted in hundreds, thousands of students over the last 12 years being able to have access to technical education within their own high school.
Q: What drew you to education? A: When I was at Lemont Elementary this fall, on the first day of school, and I was standing outside with the principal when school let out. And one of the young children, she came hopping out the door, and she had a backpack, and her mother was waiting there at the bottom of the steps. And she launched herself off the lower step at her mother and said, “Oh mom, I just love school.” And I looked at that child and I thought, “That’s how I feel.” That’s how I felt as a child going through school. I loved learning, and I loved the excitement of pursuing new things, and I loved doing it with other people.
Q: Can you imagine what you might have done otherwise? A: It’s not hard to imagine. When I received my doctorate, I did it in counseling and counselor education. There was a point in my career I did give thought to leaving education per se and pursuing a career in counseling and psychology. At another point in my life I thought about law school. I think perhaps what’s ironic about that is that I have found ... that psychology and law are very much a part of what a superintendent seeks to be knowledgeable about.
Q: What did you learn from your career? A: I think a fundamental lesson is that no matter how much experience you have and how many skills you’ve developed ... that you should never lose sight of the joy and wonder of childhood, and what young people can teach us, and how seeing things through their eyes often helps us to explain the world in a little different way.