The process that resulted in the hiring of Rick Doll to replace Randy Weseman as Lawrence public schools superintendent was conducted with an emphasis on privacy.
Teachers and staff involved in the advisory committees that interviewed candidates for the job were not forced to sign a confidentiality agreement, but the school board asked them not to share information on the other candidates.
Asked about releasing the names of the other finalists, school board president Craig Grant said, “I don’t think we need to do that.”
School board Vice President Scott Morgan thinks the Lawrence school district found a hidden gem in Louisburg with Rick Doll, the incoming superintendent.
“It’s like finding a guy in the minors who really shouldn’t be there,” Morgan said. “He had the capability to be at a much higher level.”
Come July 1, Doll will make the jump to a much bigger league as he takes over for Superintendent Randy Weseman, who is retiring.
“Sometimes it takes that long to work up through the system,” said Doll, 55, who is completing his fourth year as superintendent of Louisburg schools. “I am so thankful that I got the Lawrence job. I’m already integrating myself into the system.”
Doll and Weseman have started working on the transition.
“His leadership style is really people-oriented,” Weseman said. “He listens to a lot of people before he makes decisions, and that’s a quality that fits well with Lawrence.”
School board member Mary Loveland was moved by Doll’s willingness to try new and different things.
“This man notices details,” Loveland said. “He is intrigued by creative, novel responses to challenges and willing sometimes to try them.”
Doll began his career in Kansas schools in 1976, teaching history and political science at Herington High School, about 30 miles south of Junction City. Since then, he’s been in administration, all in small school districts in the state.
Doll’s work in Kansas schools has included serving as an administrator in Wamego, McPherson and, before Louisburg, in the Rock Creek district.
Louisburg’s district is five times smaller than the Lawrence district. Louisburg has four public schools with 2,000 students and a much smaller budget than Lawrence, which has 21 public schools, an early childhood center and a virtual school that, combined, serve 10,500 students.
Originally, Morgan saw that as a problem.
“That was a concern for me right out of the box ... the size of both the district he’s at and the one he’s been so long in, Rock Creek, beforehand,” Morgan said.
But Morgan said he got over that issue because he realized Doll had stayed for 12 years at Rock Creek, just north of Manhattan, for family reasons.
“He had three boys, and his wife was getting her doctorate at Kansas State,” Morgan said. “He spent more years there than I think his capabilities would warrant because he committed more to his family. I actually respect that a great deal.”
Loveland said she thought about the change in size but ultimately came to the conclusion that bigger jumps have been made.
“If your career is spent in Kansas, there’s not a lot of opportunities to be in a district as big as Lawrence,” she said.
Chriss Walther-Thomas, a Kansas University professor and chairwoman of the Department of Special Education, said the larger district certainly will be a challenge for Doll, but he needs to focus on the skills he attained in his previous jobs.
“He has been effective in a smaller community,” she said. “I think he has an excellent background in terms of his different roles that he has played in school districts.”
But she also says he needs to be available to the community as a whole, especially one that emphasizes education as much as Lawrence does.
“You’ve got to be someone who is able to very quickly get a lay of the land and understand the constituents and what their priorities are,” Walther-Thomas said. “He really has to reach out to the community, not only his stakeholders in schools.”
Doll isn’t afraid of his upcoming move.
“I’ve always wanted the challenge of leading a larger school district,” Doll said. “I probably stayed in Rock Creek too long, but I stayed there because of my kids. That’s probably the biggest reason that I haven’t gotten to a larger school district sooner.”
Weseman thinks Doll’s learning curve will be short.
“You get used to the bigger size after a while,” Weseman said. “You just are dealing with more people and more issues and more delegation.”
Doll already has been involved in some work here. He participated in interviews for the new Lawrence High School principal. Associate Principal Matt Brungardt was named last week to replace Steve Nilhas, who will leave the district June 30.
Issues for new leader
The dominant issue facing Lawrence schools is the budget. Doll will be leader of the $136 million total budget when he takes the helm July 1. Louisburg’s budget is a fraction of that — about $20 million.
“The total numbers in the budget are obviously bigger numbers, but the reality of that is the decisions that you make on the budget are the same,” Doll said. “That is, ‘How do you drive as many dollars as you can that will positively impact kids?’”
Weseman added that budget issues come with the job, regardless of where you are.
“You’re going to struggle with the budget, in particular now, because of the funding projections for the next couple of years,” Weseman said. “He comes in well qualified with years of experience. That’s going to be to his advantage.”
Morgan thinks another issue that will play to Doll’s strengths is the achievement gap between the district’s top students and those who struggle with academics.
“He very much views kids as individual human beings,” Morgan said. “That challenge is there, and that’s one of the reasons that I liked him. He could address that challenge.”
Lawrence Education Association President Adela Solis, who was part of one advisory group in the new superintendent search, said teachers look for a leader whose top priority is educating children.
“We were looking for someone who would be accessible, knowledgeable and understands educating in Kansas,” Solis said.
Doll says he’s ready to take on the day-to-day task of running Lawrence public schools.
“I’ve always wanted the challenge of a larger school district,” he said. “I have many, many, many years left in my career. I’m excited about the challenge ahead of me.”