Criswell takes second shot at retirement

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, June 30, 2018

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After teaching for 40 years, Robert Criswell retired – for the first time.

It didn’t stick. Criswell, Paradise ISD’s superintendent from 1999 to 2009, spent the past nine years training three different superintendents and stepping up to fill the head role himself in between new hires. Now that new Superintendent Paul Uttley is settled in, Criswell is going to try to retire. Again.

“I retired in ’09, and I haven’t been off yet,” Criswell said. “I’m going to take a day off.”

Criswell started his teaching career as a coach at Vega ISD in 1969, but that wasn’t his original plan. In his freshman year of college at Texas Christian University, Criswell was a pre-med student and a football player. When his grades dropped in his classes, he decided to stick with what he knew – football.

“I thought, ‘I need to be a coach and a teacher,'” Criswell said.

After graduating from Austin College, Criswell received a job offer from Denison ISD to coach for $5,000 a year. Then Vega, a small district in the Panhandle, offered him $7,300 to be offensive coordinator.

“There wasn’t any decision to make,” he said. “We moved to Vega.”

Then from Vega to Happy to Dalhart to Rankin to Westbrook to Jonesboro. Criswell was a teacher, a coach, an athletic director and a principal. He served as superintendent at Westbrook and Jonesboro before he was hired by Paradise in 1999.

When he and his wife prayed over whether to move to Paradise, a specific verse from the Bible came to his mind: Luke 23:43, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'” When he told his new staff that story, they all laughed.

At the time of Criswell’s hire, Paradise was experiencing enough growth to need several building projects. He led the district through two bond projects, finishing a new elementary school and building a new gym, a field house, a junior high cafeteria, more classrooms at the junior high and high school, and remodels of the intermediate school and administration building.

“I’m pretty proud of all the buildings I’ve built since I’ve been here,” Criswell said. “We’ve got an excellent school, and people are proud to be here.”

After watching his daughter grow up in small schools, Criswell said he never thought about moving to a large district.

“She did everything,” Criswell said. “She received a better education because she was involved. The opportunities students have at small schools to flourish – that’s how I compare small schools to large schools. That’s what I want.”

Now that he’s stepped down to travel and spend time with his grandchildren, Criswell said the district is in good hands under Uttley and the board.

“It’s been the board’s desire to have good kids, small class sizes and to put the teachers and kids first,” he said. “Our kids are super kids, and it’s not just us saying that. Other people tell us that.”

Criswell estimates that over his 19 years in Paradise, he’s influenced around 17,000 of those kids.

“I remember every kid, I promise you,” Criswell said. “It’s been a joy.”

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