The end of an era is near for Lawrence High School.
For each of the last 8,500 days, give or take a few, it's been a great day for Brad Tate to be a Lion.
Not just any old Lion. A Lawrence High School Chesty Lion.
In another month, Tate's 24-year reign over the pride at LHS will end. The longtime principal freely admits to bleeding red and black. Departure will be difficult.
"The sadness is yet to come," Tate said one day last week.
But it's time, Tate said. It's time to move on, for him and the school.
"The school needs a change," he said. "I don't care whether you're the best principal in the world, somebody needs to come in and do something different."
Sadness likely will visit Tate in buckets Sunday night, as the Class of 1997 graduates at Kansas University's Memorial Stadium.
"Tough. It's really going to be tough. You don't spend this many years in a place," Tate said, breaking off. "It will be tough. It will be tough."
The senior class has asked him to speak at commencement.
"It's a good class to go out with. They've really been a great bunch. ... The tough time is going to be when the staff leaves. I would guess that would be an emotional experience for me."
Tate's parting is a retirement in name -- and money -- only. After a summer trip to Europe with his wife, Susan Fleming Tate, and daughter, Sophie, the leader of the Lions will go back to work, this time at a high school in north Kansas City, Mo. His school won't have any students -- at least not until it opens in fall 1998.
Tate's first year as principal of Park Hill South High School, on the north bluffs of the Missouri River, will entail planning, planning, planning. The high school is the district's second.
"It's going to be a lot different," he said. "My plan is not to be separated from kids and teachers."
He'll have an office at the existing high school to establish a relationship with Park Hill students and staff.
Fending off rumors
On March 31, when Tate announced his intention to leave the district, the rumor mill started churning, and it hasn't rested. The stories run the gamut.
There's the one that says he's leaving because his wife, an LHS English teacher, was transferred for 1997-98 to the new Free State High School.
"We were very unhappy about that," Tate said.
But that wasn't the reason.
What about the one that says morale in the district is so low he decided to bail out?
"I don't agree this district is a bummer," he said. "I'm very enthusiastic about its future. I feel good enough about it that it is my intention, when I do retire, to move back here and put my child in this public school system."
OK, so what about the rumor that Tate and Supt. Al Azinger hate each other?
"We haven't always agreed on everything," Tate said. "You wouldn't expect it to be any different. He's offered me another perspective. That's been very helpful to me at times."
Then there's the show-me-the-money rumor. Tate's annual salary at Park Hill South will be $78,000, compared with the $77,697 he's paid at LHS. But he'll also collect about $15,000 a year for five years from the Lawrence school district as part of a retirement fund. Tate also will receive a substantial amount of money -- the exact figure is confidential -- each year from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
"There's certainly a financial advantage," he said. "There's no question about that. That's an opportunity educators don't have very often."
And Tate shot down other stories making the rounds: "No, I wasn't disappointed because I didn't get the Free State job. I wasn't interested in that. I did not have a job before I resigned. I was not close to a job when I resigned."
Then this must be it: Tate's ego wouldn't allow him to be a principal in a two-high-school town; he didn't want to share the limelight.
"That's true. I knew there was a good reason," Tate said, his eye twinkling and a smile breaking over his face. "I try to stay out of the spotlight. The second high school has absolutely nothing to do with my decision to leave."
The Brad Tate era at Lawrence High School has been supported by a strong staff. A framed phrase attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse that sits on Tate's credenza sums it all up: "A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, `We did this ourselves.'''
"It would be kind of silly to hire good people and pay them good money and then run around and do their job for them," Tate said.
So he leads. He outlines his expectations and he leaves staffers alone to do their work. He has a diverse team of assistant principals working directly under him.
"They make me look good," he said.
He usually meets twice a day with Mary Rodriguez, an assistant principal, who along with another assistant, Dick Patterson, is on the list of five finalists for Tate's job.
"I'm kind of a hard-charger," Tate said. "And I can be confrontational. (Rodriguez) gets things done that maybe I couldn't get done. I think we complement one another."
The end of the 1996-97 school year has been quiet. It's always a nervous time for Tate. A problem cropped up during Senior Week -- toilet papering, a broken window. Six students were disciplined.
"Seniors think there are certain rights they have," Tate said. "We sent a strong message real quick to get on top of it. I'd never seen a quiet week like we had."
At least once a day -- usually during lunch -- Tate tries to take a break from meetings in which he discusses policies, curriculum or personnel. He grabs a walkie-talkie and roams the halls.
"This is just being visible, making sure things don't happen," he said, striding down a hallway. "The V Factor, particularly during this time of day."
He heads out one of the many doors, to circle through the neighborhood east of the school.
"You never know what you're going to find around our campus, who's going to be here," he said.
At Veterans Park, Tate explains that a security officer patrols to keep an eye on students there to smoke, as well as the nonstudents who join them. And a custodian picks up trash left behind.
Tate stops walking to chat with senior Lela Morrison, who's taking a lunch break in the park.
"I've known all this girl's relatives," he said. "I've had every one of them, haven't I?"
Morrison smiles and nods in agreement.
"He's a pretty cool guy," Morrison said. "He's a down-to-earth person.
"Dr. Tate? We're going to miss him at Lawrence High School."