Copeland and his lasting legacy

As Copeland finds himself retiring, he recounts the times he had at LM. He explains his plans for retirement and how this school year influenced the new middle school.

Superintendent Robert Copeland has spent the past six years working to uphold the standards of LMSD. Under his leadership, students, faculty, and families have prospered. While facing the challenges of building an entirely new middle school, he continued to support the ten nationally recognized institutions that make LMSD so successful. However, his tenure in the district is officially coming to a close, as Copeland recently announced his plan to retire this fall.

Copeland had strong support from many faculty members within the district. School Board Secretary and Copeland’s Executive Assistant Denise LaPera shared the pleasures of working with Copeland through complications and challenges: “He deeply cares about public education and it shows in the many difficult decisions he has had to make, especially this past year.” During the pandemic, Copeland adapted quickly and handled unprecedented situations with grace. School board Vice President Melissa Gilbert describes his leadership as “extraordinary,” naming his countless efforts during his tenure. “He has demonstrated transformational leadership,” Gilbert explains, “implementing our progressive strategic plan, introducing program evaluation to guide changes, and [showing] budgeting and facilities expertise during a time of rapid enrollment growth, budget constraints, and attacks on public education.” The emphasis he places on the cruciality of education demonstrates his devotion to the position. Teachers and students grew to know him due to his frequent visits and personal relationships established throughout his tenure. Social studies teacher Charles Henneberry appreciated Copeland’s open mind, describing him as “passionate about exploring new ideas to improve academic outcomes for the students of the district.” Gilbert noticed Copeland’s emphasis on interpersonal connections, and how he generally “maintained a focus on the holistic and academic needs of our students.” Henneberry also acknowledged how Copeland “encouraged ‘out of the box’ teaching if it engaged students,” allowing him more independence and opportunities in the classroom. This example of his care for the student body was one of the many ways in which he excelled in his role to advance student achievement and success. 

In addition, many community members note that his role as the first African American superintendent of LMSD strengthened the meaning of racial equity initiatives he spearheaded in response to current events. These included “restorative justice practices, universal screening for the gifted program, and the creation of the Achievement Imperative Task Force,” said Gilbert. His vast achievements will be recognized by the LMSD community for decades to come. 

Originally, Copeland had planned to retire as soon as the new middle school was completed and open for students. He described this initial decision, stating, “My daughter graduated from college last year …originally, she and I were going to ‘graduate’ together. And when the school was getting discussed, the board leadership knew that I would stay until the school was built and then I was going to retire.” Due to the fact that the timing of the middle school’s finalization and his daughter’s graduation lined up, it seemed a logical time to step back from the position. 

However, the pandemic caused the middle school planning to halt temporarily, pushing deadlines later until it seemed to Copeland that it was time to retire. He shared, “What I realized was I, like everyone else, lost a year,” and that, “when you get to retirement age . . . you don’t have as many years to make up for lost time.” It was a difficult decision, but he knew the most logical action was to bid the district one final farewell. 

Due to the “lost year,” as he calls it, Copeland wants to dedicate more time to his friends and family. His plans include “traveling, maybe look[ing] for some places to have a winter home,” and enjoying the little things in life. In fact, some of his fondest memories of his superintendency in LMSD are some of those simple moments. He recounts, “I really enjoy strolling out to watch a game. I like to see Players and to see families’ faces light up when they see their kids out there …Those are the things that I look back on and I enjoy.” Those joyous times will stay with him as he continues his journey of a life well-lived. 

In a farewell to the district, which he has supported over the last six years, Copeland gives his thanks. He recognizes that “the community has come together in good times and in bad times, and hope[s] that that stays,” appreciating the unity of LMSD. His leadership has brought thousands of people together to face obstacles, encouraging positivity and joy. By faculty, students, and community members alike, he will truly be missed.

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