Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll announces resignation

Rick Doll is pictured in 2010 after his first year as superintendent of the Lawrence school district. Doll announced his resignation, effective at the end of this school year, at the Monday school board meeting, Nov. 23, 2015.

Rick Doll, Lawrence’s superintendent of public schools, announced at Monday evening’s school board meeting that he is resigning to take a job elsewhere.

“This is really hard for me,” he said as he began to address board members. “It’s been a really tough couple of days.”

Doll, 61, has accepted a full-time position as associate professor and executive director of the Kansas Educational Leadership Institute at Kansas State University.

“I honestly want to say that I have nothing that is driving me from my work here in Lawrence,” Doll said. “But I love teaching; I miss teaching. Even when I was at Louisburg, I still taught. I would really like to get back to teaching. As you know, in a larger school district, the larger it gets, the farther you get from teaching.”

Doll, who took over after Superintendent Randy Weseman retired, has been superintendent in Lawrence since July 2009.

“As I said in my letter of resignation, my seven years at the district have been the most challenging and the most rewarding of my career — and I mean that sincerely,” he said. “There have been some really, really challenging issues that we have dealt with.”

In his new position at KELI, Doll said he will be both mentoring and teaching, probably in the doctoral program. KELI’s mission is mentoring new superintendents and principals, as well as providing ongoing professional training. Doll made clear that the reason he was leaving his position was that he wanted to return to his love of teaching.

“It’s very appealing to me to educate the next generation of administrators, but it’s also very difficult to think about leaving Lawrence,” Doll said, choking up as he noted the support he has had from the board and its trust in him to lead the district.

During Doll’s tenure, the district has worked toward closing achievement gaps through a focus on equity among schools as well as subgroups of students. In the past several years, graduation rates at both high schools have improved.

“I will leave it to others to really judge the effectiveness of my leadership, but I’m really most proud of our equity work,” Doll said, as he paused again. “I think that it has been embedded in the school district and having courageous conversations about race and achievement I hope will live on.”

During Doll’s tenure, school facilities and technologies have also been upgraded. In 2013, voters approved the $92.5 million school bond issue to improve facilities at all 20 schools in the district and build the new Lawrence College and Career Center. The final six school construction projects are scheduled to begin in the spring.

Doll received his bachelor of arts degree in history at McPherson College and his master of science degree and an E.D. in educational administration at Kansas State University. The Kansas Association of School Administrators named Doll the 2014 Kansas Superintendent of the Year. The University Council for Educational Administration honored Doll with its 2002 Excellence in Educational Leadership Award.

Doll’s resignation will be effective at the end of the current school year, on June 30, 2016.

“You have my word that I will push forward in these next six or seven months. I look forward to passing the baton to the next very capable leader,” Doll said.

School board President Vanessa Sanburn said that Doll has been in his position for the entirety of her time on the board, and that she has enjoyed working with him.

“It’s been a total pleasure to work with you, and the one thing I will always remember is your willingness to take on any issue,” she said, explaining that topics like achievement gaps and race are difficult to talk about, but are in the best interest of the kids.

“I do think we will obviously have some very large shoes to fill,” she said.

Finding a new superintendent

The Lawrence school board will begin the process to hire Doll’s replacement immediately. A meeting among Sanburn, school board Vice President Marcel Harmon and Director of Human Resources David Cunningham is scheduled for Tuesday.

Cunningham told the board that because application deadlines for superintendent positions at other districts are in early and mid-January, the process needs to start as soon as possible. The first decision to make is whether the district will hire an executive search firm to aid in the process, which he said was typical for a district of Lawrence’s size and was done previously. He estimated hiring a firm would cost about $30,000.

“Whether we are in house or going with an executive search firm there are a number of procedures we need to think through,” Cunningham said, noting that there is a fair amount of work necessary. “Time is kind of the essence here.”

A board work session will be scheduled prior to the board’s next meeting on Dec. 14, in which they will discuss the replacement process, including whether the district will hire an outside firm.

“This is probably the most important thing you’ll do as a board,” Doll said before the meeting adjourned. He explained that it is not his role to be involved in the selection process. “I’d encourage you to move very judiciously, but also fairly quickly so you don’t miss those candidates that are out there right now.”

Prior to joining Lawrence Public Schools, Doll served four years as superintendent of Louisburg USD 416, 12 years as superintendent of Rock Creek USD 323, two years as an associate professor at Kansas State University and four years as assistant superintendent for instruction in McPherson USD 418. He previously served six years as principal of Wamego High School, and three years as principal, one year as assistant principal and three years as a history and political science teacher at Herington High School.

In other business, the board reviewed a report detailing the efficiency of its facilities. Tony Barron, director of facilities and operations for the school district, presented the report, noting two areas where the district can improve. Using a software management system, the district can compare data regarding use of its facilities with about 6,000 other districts throughout the country. Barron said those comparisons show that the district spends more on utilities than most districts and collects less funds than other districts for community use of its facilities after school hours. The software can be used in future to help manage improvements in both areas, he said.

The next school board meeting will be 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at at the district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.