When he first became a superintendent, for East Baton Rouge Parish School System in 2001, he thought he got the job because he knew all the answers, Wilcox said.
"(I'm) not as self-focused now. (I'm) into others," Wilcox, 55, said Tuesday after the Washington County Board of Education approved his appointment as superintendent, effective July 1.
Those others will include more than 22,000 students and about 3,000 employees when Wilcox formally starts his four-year contract this summer. He succeeds Elizabeth Morgan, who retired Feb. 28 after heading up the school system for a decade and who was named 2010 National Superintendent of the Year.
Wilcox was East Baton Rouge's superintendent for three years, then served as superintendent in Pinellas County, Fla., for four years. Both school systems were much larger than Washington County's.
To take the superintendent job, Wilcox is leaving a private-sector job with executive pay and uprooting his family, including two school-aged children.
For the last three years, Wilcox has been senior vice president for education and corporate relations for Scholastic Inc. in New York City. He will continue at that post through June 30.
"There is more to life than making a lot of money. You have to do what makes you happy and where you think you can make a positive difference," Wilcox said during a recent phone interview.
He and his wife, Julie, want their children to experience public schools, Wilcox said. His son, who will be a senior next school year, and daughter, who will be a sophomore, have been attending public schools in Westfield, N.J., where the family has lived for two years.
Many people probably assume he made more money than he did at Scholastic, said Wilcox, who has said he cannot reveal that pay because of a nondisclosure agreement. Wilcox said he's not taking a 50 percent to 100 percent pay cut to take the local job, which will pay $190,550 per year.
The other factor is the cost of living, which is much higher in the New York-New Jersey area, where he has commuting costs whether he drives or takes the train and subway to work, Wilcox said.
"It really is about doing what is important and doing what's right for your family," Wilcox said. "I want to do what I'm passionate about, and that's serve in a public school system."
Moving up the ladder
Wilcox got his start as a teacher in 1979 with Tri-Valley Community School District in Illinois before teaching in Waterloo Community Schools, near Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he grew up. He was an elementary school teacher and, for 13 years, a middle school science teacher.
"I think, like a lot of folks, I really enjoyed school. I thought it was just a great place. It always satisfied my curiosity and, also, it was a pretty social place for me. I like to listen and talk, so school was always a good place for me to be," Wilcox said.
Wilcox said he was an "OK student." He played high school football, primarily as a long snapper; was a catcher on the baseball team his junior year; and tried basketball, but there were better athletes on the court, he said.
He went on to coach high school and college basketball, the latter for Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
Like most kids, Wilcox said he did better when he found the subject interesting and engaging.