When Greg Winters, chief executive of Canadian Valley Technology Center, took his first superintendent’s job some 30 years ago, his father — who was never a boss and always worked by the hour — gave him these two pieces of advice:
No. 1: Don’t ever act like you’re the boss. “If you’re a good boss, everyone knows it,” his father told him.
No. 2: Don’t ask anyone to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself.
Winters said he’s frequently reflected on that wisdom over his long career in school administration, including — and especially — when an F-5 tornado destroyed the technology center’s El Reno campus on May 31, 2013.
Winters, who was named Canadian Valley superintendent in May 2008, donned his boots and jeans and worked alongside his 260-member faculty and staff to salvage what they could from the campus and be ready by Aug. 15 to resume classes in an old car dealership in Yukon.
Among that campus, one in Chickasha and a third at SW 15 and Czech Hall Road, Canadian Valley serves more than 1,400 students. Winters oversees an annual budget of roughly $43 million.
Winters, 61, recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his life and career. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: My father, who’s now deceased, worked as head ice cream maker for Gold Star Dairy and at a gas station on the weekends.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom. She beat ovarian cancer in 1986, after being told she had a 3 percent chance of survival. At 78, she still lives in Mangum, where she’s a frequent substitute teacher.
I have two brothers, who are 18 months and three years younger. Starting from when I was 8 or 9, I worked all night Friday nights with my dad at the plant, filling hundreds of gallons of condensed milk that he’d use to make ice cream the following week. When I was older, we tore down houses together and used the lumber to rebuild and resell frame homes, for which we did all the plumbing and electrical. Later in life, he worked as a truck driver.
Q: What were the highlights of your schooldays?
A: I should’ve taken harder classes, but didn’t. Along with being named the outstanding industrial arts student, I was a shooter on the basketball team, played center field and third on the baseball team, and worked on farms and at gas stations. I played drums in a rock ’n’ roll band, named “The Illusions,” whose members still gather and play some, including for a recent Mangum Alumni Association mixer at Quartz Mountain.
The last few years of high school, I lived with, and ran errands for, my maternal grandmother, who couldn’t drive. She died Jan. 23 of my senior year; 40 years later, my father died suddenly on Jan. 23; and one of my best friends died two years after him on Jan. 23. So, I try to stay safe every Jan. 23.
Q: How’d you meet your wife?
A: We were high school sweethearts, our junior and senior years. I attended Mangum schools and Meme was from Granite, 13 miles away. Her cousin asked my best friend to their prom, and their contrived plan included Meme asking me.
As a warm-up, I asked her to our Student Council picnic beforehand on May 4, which we still celebrate as our first date.
Q: And college?
A: I pledged Fiji (Phi Gamma Delta) at OSU, where I lasted one semester before running out of money.
I transferred to Southwestern where I worked fulltime, including delivering for Snyder Furniture, and took heavy course loads year-round, earning my degree in industrial arts education, a semester early, in December 1974. I was drafted the summer of ’72, but was medically deferred because of a high school knee injury, for which I wore a cast. Meme was very happy I flunked my physical. We married on June 28, 1975, after her father put up his wheat.
Q: You blazed a quick path to school administration. Tell us about it.
A: I spent five years in the classroom; three years teaching shop at Kerr Junior High in Del City and two years teaching drafting and design in vo-tech classes at Midwest City High School, with a year in between in private industry.
My principal at Kerr retired and hired me as a manager for his construction company, doubling my $6,300 teaching salary. But a year later, when Meme was pregnant with J.J., he wanted to send me to Casper, Wyo., so I quit, returned to teaching and earned my master’s in secondary administration. A semester before I’d earned my graduate degree, Babe Eubanks gave me a chance, hiring me as an administrative intern for a vice principal position at Midwest City High School.
At age 26, I was in charge of the attendance and discipline of 1,000 juniors and seniors. A year later, Choctaw High School called me about a vice principal position there, which I took and stayed three years.
General Motors was protesting its property taxes and Mid-Del was preparing for possible cuts, which I feared would include me.
Q: What led you to join the technology center system?
A: When I was at Choctaw High School, the Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center hired me to oversee classes being offered at our high school a few nights a week. I got to know the superintendent and administrative team real well and, when the assistant superintendent job opened in July 1984, Superintendent Billy Ray Phillips recruited me to fill it.
Twenty-two months later, Phillips took a job with Metro Tech and I was named superintendent of Eastern Oklahoma County, where I served 18 years and two months. Meme and I built a home in Harrah and raised our family there.
Then in July 2004 — when Meme and I were empty-nesters — Kiamichi Technology Center recruited me there, after its superintendent had resigned amid controversy. It was a hard move, but I made it because I, among other things, felt passionate about helping stop the possible de-annexation of Eufaula Schools. After three years there, I joined Canadian Valley as business and industry services director at our Chickasha campus. Soon after, I was named superintendent, following Earl Cowan’s retirement.
Q: Your most recent achievement was helping pass a $12 million bond issue to help rebuild Canadian Valley’s El Reno campus, beyond what insurance covers. Were you afraid it wouldn’t pass?
A: I thought it would, but I didn’t want to not do the work and let it fail by 20 votes. I don’t know how many Powerpoint presentations we made to civic and other clubs across Canadian and Grady counties; sometimes three or four a day. I’d joke that where two or more were gathered, we were in their midst. It passed in April with 62.7 percent of the vote. It has a 10-year payout and raises the property taxes of homeowners in our district by roughly 1 percent a year. On a $100,000 home, that’s less than $1 a month. But we had to have it to rebuild.