Mike Clark had little difficulty solving one of the first challenges he faced as the new superintendent-principal of the Pine-Strawberry School District -- to provide for firefighters protecting the close-knit mountain communities from wildfires.
"Last winter at Piñon, where I was superintendent, our school was the base camp for troops and helicopters who were flying in supplies to snow-bound families," he said. "This is not much different."
Clark had been on the job less than two weeks when the request came in for him to turn the school into a fire camp. Firefighters being called in to protect Pine and Strawberry from the Cave Creek Complex fire would be housed there.
Between meetings with firefighters, Clark found enough time to take care of school business: Solving a budget crunch that last spring led to staff reductions, and combining of a second- and third-grade class into one multi-age classroom.
The school also suffers from a declining student count, falling to 133 from 154 in less than a year.
"We are slowly overcoming those problems," Clark said. "The children will not suffer, we have a governing board that is totally focused on student success."
Although last spring's belt tightening also included reducing music, band and computer to one part time position, Clark contends those programs will continue unabated.
"We will have all of them and will meet the needs of the students," he said.
Among Clark's priorities as superintendent-principal are to earn Pine-Strawberry the highest recognition that can be afforded a public school -- an "excelling" ranking.
"Last year we were "highly performing", this year we want to be even better," he said.
Clark is a new face around the school, but he has long ties to Pine, having owned a home in the Pine Creek area in the 1970s.
"It was our summer home when we lived in the Valley," he said. "The worst thing I ever did was sell it."
Clark arrives in Pine as a career Army officer who retired in 1992 as a lieutenant colonel. He enlisted in the Army in 1966 and was a command and staff officer at many U.S. and overseas bases. He also served two combat tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.
After retiring from the military, Clark began his teaching career at Dysart High School in El Mirage.
He later moved to Pinon where he became dean of students, high school principal and eventually was named district superintendent.
Clark has also worked as an education consultant specializing in leadership training and grant writing.
Clark holds a B.S. degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a M.A. from Central Michigan University and obtained his education administration certification at the University of Phoenix.
He is currently studying for a doctorate degree in educational leadership at the University of Phoenix.
Clark and his wife of 36 years, Jan, have two grown children and four grandchildren.