R-4 educators to retire

Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Joe Cavness

After dedicating over 25 years of their careers and a good portion of their lives to the Cassville School District, Joe and Sue Cavness will be retiring at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Joe Cavness, who currently serves as the R-4 School District's operations director, earned his undergraduate degree in physical education at the University of Arkansas.

Joe began his career teaching at Bentonville, Ark., and Siloam Springs, Ark., for one year each and then served the Rogers, Ark., School District at Elmwood for two years and Oakdale for five years before taking an assistant football coach position at Rogers High School.

Sue Cavness

At that time, in northern Missouri Sue left her family to attend college at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield. She graduated from the college with a degree in elementary education in 1984 and returned the Kansas City area to substitute teach.

In the mid-1980s a head football coach position opened at the Cassville School District.

"I was looking for an opportunity to be a head football coach," said Joe. "I had been in Rogers for 10 years, and it had become apparent that the coach there was not going to be leaving, so I put out some feelers."

Joe's high school basketball coach Jerry Marple was serving as the Cassville High School principal, so Joe decided to interview for the open head football coach position at the R-4 District.

"I applied, and I was fortunate to get the job," said Joe. "When I came here, I saw this as a stepping stone for my career. I thought I would serve as the head coach for two or three years and then move on to bigger and better things, but I soon found that I really loved this community."

Sue, who was searching for a position in southwest Missouri, heard about an opening at the Cassville Middle School and traveled from Kansas City to interview for the position.

"I really feel like it was a God thing," said Sue. "When I got here, the middle school principal thought the interview was a different day so he had left. I said, 'I came all the way from Kansas City. Isn't there someone I can talk to?'"

Martha Dunnam, the elementary principal at that time, volunteered to interview Sue for an elementary position. By the end of the interview, Dunnam decided to hire Sue for an open kindergarten position.

"I told them in the beginning that I wasn't interested in going back to school and getting an early childhood degree," said Sue. "The second year I was here I had the opportunity to begin teaching first grade."

Since coming to Cassville 26 years ago, Sue has also served as a second grade teacher for a couple of years, but the majority of her time was spent in a first grade classroom.

"When I was interviewing here, they were building," said Sue. "I saw that as a good sign.

"I also really liked my principal," said Sue. "Martha and I are still in contact. She has been a big inspiration throughout my career. She saw something in me back then."

Joe and Sue met after the two had relocated to the Cassville area. Soon, the two married and began a family. As their lives became more deeply rooted in the Cassville community, Joe's goals as an educator transformed into goals for the R-4 District.

"Over the last 28 years, I have seen this district increase in size physically," said Joe. "I have seen the high school and intermediate schools built. I saw the track built.

"I also saw the school explode in size," said Joe. "In 2008, our enrollment peaked with over 2,000 students."

After serving as Cassville's head football coach for seven years, Joe decided to step back into an educator position. Then, in 1992, he had the opportunity to move into administration as the assistant high school principal under Ron Richardson.

Joe moved from the assistant principal position to the high school principal position in 1999, and accepted the director of operations position in 2003 after Jim Orrell became the district superintendent.

"In this position, I have had the opportunity to be involved in several areas of the district," said Cavness. "I oversee transportation, food service, maintenance, custodial services, and the thing I find most enjoyable about the position, I have the opportunity to oversee new construction."

In addition to the construction of the new high school and elementary facilities, Joe oversaw the expansion at the high school that added space for the agriculture, music and band programs.

"These are achievements of the community, but I feel privileged that I was able to oversee them," said Cavness.

This year, when Sue decided she was ready to retire from the R-4 School District, Joe followed her lead and also submitted his letter of resignation.

"As I was putting together that letter, I was thinking about my career here," said Joe. "I have always worked for great boards of education, and I have worked under three wonderful superintendents, Dan Bailey, Jim Orrell and Richard Asbill.

"Ron Richardson was also a huge influence in my career," said Joe. "He was hard working and cared about the welfare of the students. Those things should be the basics for all educators."

Sue has based her career on some of the same principles. Her exceptional abilities were recognized by her fellow educators in 2005, when she earned the Cassville Community Teacher Association's Teacher of the Year Award.

"It means so much to be acknowledged by your peers," said Sue. "There are so many teachers who work so hard and should have the award every year."

Those fellow teachers are one of the biggest things Sue will miss about the R-4 School District after she retires this year.

"There is not a person here who wouldn't do anything for anybody," said Sue. "They are here to help. It is unbelievable how tight of a group this is. We are always here to support and back one another."

Sue will also miss being in the classroom with her students.

"I don't have any regrets about the path I've chosen," said Sue. "I feel when God placed me here, he knew I loved younger kids. It has been entertaining and fun. These kids are eager to learn, and school is still exciting for them.

"I don't think I will have any difficulty when I am one day asked 'What did you do with the life I gave you?'" said Sue. "Over the last 27 years, my life has been pretty awesome."

As they retire this year, the Cavnesses have plans to attend many of their son John's college baseball games. Joe said the couple will likely also spend more time on their houseboat on the lake.

Sue said she might not be completely done with education. She has already volunteered to serve as a substitute next year and has plans to continue serving as a national presenter for the Everyday Math Program.

"We do want to lighten up our lives though," said Sue. "We don't want our lives to get too sucked up with commitments. We need freedom to visit our family and do some of the things we need to do."

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