After graduating from Missouri Western State University with an accounting degree, Jim Finley started a career in that field but soon realized he didn't want to continue.
“In effect, education was in my blood,” he said.
The son of a man who became a superintendent and then worked for the state Education Department, and the younger brother of a woman who currently chairs the University of Central Missouri Department of Nursing, Finley realized he belonged in the classroom.
Ultimately, he took a career trajectory similar to his father, Earl, and for the past four years has been the superintendent for Blue Springs Schools, where he started teaching and coaching in 1994.
But early this week Finley had started removing some of the wall decorations inside his office. The widely respected school leader and all-around good guy is retiring with the end of this school year, stepping away from what he calls “maybe the best job in the business.”
“There's a time and a place for everything, and I've been here 24 years and never planned my moves I made up the ladder,” said Finley, 57. “With the time I've been here, how (well) the district is doing – I think it's time to see what life is like outside of the district.”
Finley said he wants to pursue some other interests – not necessarily in education – and no, in case anyone wonders in the back of their mind, he hasn't had a health scare. Rather, his father's good health at 88 is something he wants to take advantage of while he's able, and to better follow his son Kirk playing basketball Northwest Missouri State University.
A native of Sedalia, and then a graduate of Knob Noster High School where his father was superintendent, Finley said he caught the coaching bug while helping with a junior varsity football team while still in college. He began his teaching career at Harrisonville in 1986.
“What I always missed about coaching was the immediacy of results and the relationship of coach and players,” Finley said. “I still talk to guys I coached in the 80s.”
Earl Finley came from a father who dropped out of school at age 12 and a mother who stopped after junior high, but rose to high levels in education, and as the younger Finley moved up from teacher to principal and district administrator, he many times relied on his father for advice.
“Constantly; I still do,” he said. “He's a great person to bounce things off. I'd be a fool not to take advantage of it, and I have taken advantage of it a lot.
“He was the first and only in his generation to go into college. It shows the power of education and the opportunities it creates; my dad is the perfect example.”
In Finley's time as superintendent, the district has had three elementary schools named as a National Blue Ribbon School for high achievement or improvement, and it has continued to rate among the highest-scoring districts in the state. He has served in leadership roles for the National Federation of Urban and Suburban School Districts and the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
“Certainly I'm proud of my colleagues and their accomplishments the past four years, though that's not because of me,” he said.
The time for big reflection will come later – graduations Sunday will be a bit emotional, and perhaps later in the summer or when school starts again it will hit, Finley said – but this last week was more about finishing another school year strong. He does know he'll most miss the interaction with students and staff.
“That's where the rubber hits the road in this business, and the kids in general are excited to learn,” he said. “That's what you get into education for – the interaction with the kids.”
Finley will be succeeded by his predecessor, Paul Kinder, as the Board of Education opted to bring in a familiar face for what it views as a short timeline.
“I would expect with the quality of people, it's only going to get better, the way the community supports the district,” Finley said. “Tremendously supportive community."
“It's been a great place to spend a majority of your career.”