Lawrence High School Principal Brad Tate is more accessible than many administrators in that he'll answer calls to his office without having them screened by a secretary first.
But if Tate has been harder to find lately, it's because he's been getting out out of his office, out into classrooms, out into the community and, when the opportunity arises, even out onto the wrestling mat.
"There's more politics to this job than there ever was before. Maybe there was before but I didn't recognize it," said Tate, who is starting his 20th year as principal at LHS. "One of my primary functions right now is talking to kids, and I'm trying to get out in the community and visit with community leaders, neighborhood associations and other people to get a feel for how they see Lawrence High School."
TATE SAID ONE thing he's discovered is that while most people are familiar with the school's championship football team, many people are unaware of how LHS students excel in so many other areas. Some examples from last school year:
In a Latin examination taken by students around the world, two LHS students were among only 272 who earned a perfect score.
The LHS Scholars' Bowl team won the state's 5A-6A championship.
LHS students won more than $600,000 worth of art scholarships.
LHS marketing students placed sixth in a national marketing competition held in Anaheim, Calif.
Tate said there are innumerable other accomplishments, such as LHS theater students taking a musical about teen pregnancy to schools outside the district. He said he's also impressed by the newspaper recycling project that's been going on at the school for many years.
"WHEN YOU PUT them all together, it starts painting a picture," Tate said.
Tate said people may form an inaccurate perception of LHS because of coverage of education in national news reports, which include statistics from the country's inner-city schools.
"Their dropout rates and things are so high that they skew the average for all kids and all districts," Tate said. "People read about gangs in high schools, high dropout rates and attendance going down, and they transfer that information to our school. Not that we don't have problems, but it's pretty peaceful in comparison."
Tate, 53, said he thinks it's also important for him to be in touch with the students. For that reason, he spends second hour of every school day visiting with students in their classes, with the goal of meeting with all students before the end of the school year.
"I NEVER REALLY went to every classroom like I've done the last couple of years here," Tate said. "We talk about the concerns that they have. They've identified some things like racial tension, theft, parking, drugs and alcohol.
"One day I talked to them a little bit about rumors they hear," Tate said. "You can take care of a lot of things when you're visiting with them, and kids are brutally honest."
Some LHS students may choose their words more carefully because they may find themselves facing Tate on a wrestling mat one day.
Tate loves wrestling. He had wrestled in junior high, high school and college, and he coached wrestling for several years as well, so when the Sunflower State Games rolled into town last summer, Tate made a bold move and dusted off his wrestling headgear.
He was the oldest person in the wrestling competition for people 20 years of age or older, and he ended up winning a bronze medal.
"THOSE ARE KIDS who are in college or just out of college. You know, people who want to win the gold medal. I just wanted to live," Tate said. "I told the official when I went out on the mat, `If I look like I'm in pain, stop me. I don't want to get hurt.' He said, `It's a little late for that, isn't it?' "
Tate said there wasn't any secret to his training: He basically just lifted weights three days a week and ran a lot.
Likewise, he said, the key to creating a successful high school is no big secret. For Tate, it lies in the teachers.
"Most teachers are very well trained. They know the subject matter. They know motivational techniques," Tate said. "Even if they haven't got all of that, we in-service teachers. You can teach them those things.
"But you can't really teach personality, so I look for certain kinds of personalities in hiring teachers. I look for people who like kids and have demonstrated that, people who have a positive attitude. I look for problem-solvers, not people who sit around and wring their hands."
Tate said the result is a school he likes so much that he's stayed for 20 years and plans to stay a while longer.
"I've got a great staff. We've got excellent programs, and you just want to be part of that and help with it," Tate said. "I can honestly say that when I get up in the morning, I absolutely look forward to going to work. I wouldn't trade it for anything."