The Lawrence school board Tuesday night released Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander from his contract so he could take the job of school superintendent in Pittsburg, a move he said "presents me with a new and different challenge professionally."
The board unanimously accepted Neuenswander's resignation. Neuenswander, who came to Lawrence in 1984, had informed board members this weekend that he had been offered the job in the southeast Kansas district.
The board released Neuenswander from a three-year contract that extended through June 1994. His resignation will be effective June 30.
Board President Mary Loveland said it was "with profound respect and regret" that she accepted Neuenswander's resignation.
Board member John Tacha said that thanks to Neuenswander's leadership, "We have been on the cutting edge of lots of things that are making print today."
Board member Tom Murray found Neuenswander's decision to leave troubling.
"While I sincerely wish Dan the very best of luck in his new position, his departure at this particular time leaves us in a very difficult situation," Murray said this morning.
"In particular, the new program of outcomes-based education will constitute a radical departure from prior teaching practices," Murray said. "In my opinion, there could not be a worse possible time for a new superintendent to step in and take charge."
In a written statement given to the media Tuesday, Neuenswander said, "I am indebted to all of the board members who have allowed me to join them as they have served the youth and patrons of this district. Their commitment has been exemplary."
Also, the statement said, "Connie (Neuenswander's wife) and I have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Lawrence a place which we will remember as a very special community. We will miss Lawrence but most of all, I will miss the outstanding staff of the Lawrence public schools."
The statement also explained why he had applied for the Pittsburg job, and Neuenswander elaborated on those reasons in an interview after the meeting.
"As I thought about the fact that I'm 53 years old, I realized that I've got one more career change to make," Neuenswander said. He noted that of his tenures at Bartlesville, Okla., Garnett, Ottawa and Lawrence, his eight years here were "the longest I've ever been anyplace."
"Anybody who knows me well knows it's important for me to have a sizable challenge, and sometimes I need a change to get that," he said.
Neuenswander also said he and Pittsburg are a good match.
"The Pittsburg board had done their homework and seemed to know some of the things that Lawrence was involved in, and they knew they would have to go that way," Neuenswander said.
For example, he said, Lawrence is one of 50 pilot districts taking part in the Kansas Department of Education's Quality Performance Accreditation program. Eventually, all districts in the state will participate in the program, and Pittsburg school officials "feel like they need to get in the position to do that," Neuenswander said.
He said the prospect of waging a campaign for new secondary school facilities in Lawrence was not a factor in his leaving.
Neuenswander saw voters in November 1990 defeat a school bond issue that would have paid for the construction of a second high school. But space questions haven't subsided, and a Lawrence school commission has set April 1 as the target date for recommending to the school board a solution for secondary school space needs. That could involve another bond issue for school construction.
Although the district's last bond issue campaign was demanding, Neuenswander said the possibility of another bond issue battle had nothing to do with his decision to go to Pittsburg. Neuenswander said the next one "won't be nearly as grueling."
"The tough work's been done. The Lawrence community is becoming more and more aware that space is a problem," Neuenswander said. "My observation has been that when the Lawrence community knows that they've got a problem, they solve it."
Neuenswander said another advantage of moving to Pittsburg is that it's close to his wife's family. She was raised in Miami, Okla., 35 miles from Pittsburg.
"We both like that eastern Oklahoma lake and mountain area," Neuenswander added.
Pittsburg has offered Neuenswander a starting salary of $70,000, which is lower than his present salary of $77,770.
Steve Ward, president of the Pittsburg school board, said the district received 69 inquiries for the superintendent's position after Pittsburg Supt. Jerry Steele announced his retirement in September. A screening committee narrowed the field to 10 candidates, and the school board interviewed four.
Ward said the Pittsburg board isn't looking at any major restructuring of the district's schools but would like to make some improvements, and "we think he's the person who can take us forward."
Ward said Neuenswander's work in Lawrence showed that "he had some strengths in the areas of instruction and staff development."
Neuenswander said that during his tenure here, the four things he has emphasized are staff development, curriculum development, the assessment of student performance and fostering student readiness.
He said efforts to enhance student readiness include a student breakfast program, an all-day kindergarten program and developmental first grade, which provides extra assistance for kindergarten graduates who are not quite ready for first grade.
Loveland touched on those and other district accomplishments that occurred under Neuenswander's leadership, including:
The development of a recruitment program to increase the number of minority teachers in the district.
The improvement of the teacher applicant evaluation process.
The saving of district legal fees during teacher negotiations, which was accomplished by having Neuenswander serve as spokesman of the board negotiating team.
Neuenswander, who was absent from this year's first negotiations meeting on Friday, said he will continue to be the board's spokesman during negotiations unless the board decides otherwise.