Archive for Sunday, October 13, 2002

LHS readies for principal search

October 13, 2002


Dick Patterson is ready to give up the reins at Lawrence High School.

The outgoing LHS principal already completed his final horseback ride at the front of the high school's Homecoming parade.

And there will be other signs during the next seven months of Patterson's decision to resign, wrapping up a career at his sixth and final Lions' graduation ceremony in May.

"I think LHS is ready for new leadership," Patterson said. "Lawrence High School has a great tradition and reputation as being a comprehensive high school. It's important the next principal understands the complexity of this high school."

The district is advertising the impending LHS vacancy in Lawrence-area and national publications.

So, if you're interested in working simultaneously as an educator, organizational architect, moral agent, social worker, community activist, security chief and crisis negotiator, while raising standardized-test performance of more than 1,300 students, fill out an application.

The person following in Patterson's wake will be expected to negotiate bureaucratic minutiae, district politics and curriculum technicalities. He or she must be equipped to soothe parents' concerns while serving as general manager of a cafeteria, library and sports empire.

'Remarkably stressful'

And, unless the state economy flourishes, there will be less money in the district's bank accounts to make it all happen.

"It's a remarkably stressful position," said Scott Morgan, Lawrence school board president.

Supt. Randy Weseman said the position of high school principal was the most difficult job to fill in a public school district.

"I see this as a critical hire in the district," he said. "It demands a great deal of technical knowledge and communication skills that are exemplary. It requires someone who can communicate with diverse groups of people so problems can be solved."

District officials as well as LHS staff, parents and students are to have a voice in the selection.

Applications from more than 40 candidates are expected to come in during the next two months. The list will be trimmed to a handful for interviews.

A new principal will probably be hired about the first of the year, Weseman said.

Two high-school city

In 1994, Patterson was hired as an assistant principal at LHS. He already was a veteran of Kansas public education, putting in 11 years as associate principal at Topeka High School, eight years as vice principal at Washburn Rural High School and 11 years as a math and science teacher at Topeka and Shawnee Mission Northwest.

He was at LHS just two years when given transfer orders to Free State High School, which was gearing up to open in 1997. He was to make a lateral move to assistant principal at Free State.

The plan changed when Brad Tate resigned after 24 years as LHS principal.

A search for a new LHS chief executive generated a list of more than 30 candidates. Five finalists were interviewed, and Patterson was selected in June 1997.

"My time here has been the most important in my life," Patterson said.

He said his task was to work with Free State Principal Joe Snyder to shift everybody's frame of reference from a one-high school town to a two-high school city.

"I feel like it's complete," he said.

Weseman said Patterson should be credited with helping lead that transition.

"Dick has many reasons to be proud of his years at Lawrence High," the superintendent said. "The school is a community treasure. It's one people have a great deal of pride in. Our community also has high expectations."

Weseman said LHS "doesn't need to be fixed. It needs to be taken forward."

In fact, he said, both high schools are set to move into the next phase by maturing in their approach to curriculum, staff development and student achievement.

Patterson said the quest to push the envelope at LHS shouldn't be so great as to ruin the collegial relationship among students and teachers.

"It has to remain a student-centered school," he said. "The idea that students look forward to coming to school is important."

Patterson said his replacement would have to be fully committed to the enterprise. He works 10 hours a day at LHS, and attends evening events two or three times a week.

"It's a commitment for a person, and the family needs to understand the time constraints," he said.

Inside or outside?

Discussion among LHS teachers about hiring a replacement for Patterson has centered on whether the search would lean toward internal candidates or favor outsiders.

Weseman said the search committee would look far and wide for a new LHS administrator.

"That doesn't mean an internal person couldn't do the job," he said.

Last year, Patterson hired Tammy Heenan to be associate principal at LHS. Before taking on the No. 2 job at LHS, she was principal of Chase Middle School in Topeka.

"Yes, I'm going to be applying for the position," Heenan said. "It's a big commitment. You've got to really love to be in the school business, and I do."

Another issue in the search is the LHS principal's home town. Patterson has lived in Topeka throughout his tenure at LHS.

Heenan also lives in Topeka, but said she might move to Lawrence. The school district doesn't have a residency requirement for employees.

In Patterson's view, where a person lives isn't critical.

"It's more important what a person brings to the position," he said.

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