By CRISTINA JANNEY
Hays USD 489 superintendent candidate Ron Wilson said he centers all his work on what is best for kids.
Wilson is the fourth of four candidates to be interviewed by the Hays school board for the position of superintendent. He was interviewed by the school board Thursday night.
Mike Gower, Logan and Phillipsburg superintendent, interviewed Wednesday. Keith Hall, USD 489 interim director of finance, and Jamie Wetig, Ashland superintendent, interviewed last week.
Wilson, 53, has been the superintendent in Herington for the last two years. He was the Abilene Middle School principal for 18 years and also served as a K-8 principal at North Ottawa County. He won the Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals Principal of the Year Award in 2006 and the Kansas Association of Middle School Administrators Principal of the Year Award in 2015.
He received his undergraduate degree at Bethany College and master’s degree and superintendent certification from Kansas State University. He said he made the move to becoming a superintendent later in life, because he wanted to wait until his youngest child graduated high school before moving the family. A job in Hays would move Wilson closer to his aging mother-in-law in Colorado. The Wilsons also have a son who is a senior at Fort Hays State University.
School was canceled Thursday due to cold weather, so Wilson did not have the opportunity to see the schools operating with students. He said he still thought the schools where similar to the Herington district even though the Herington district is much smaller.
“It is a 2A district. This is a 5A district, but I would say it is still people working in schools and working toward student success. Although there are more students and staff, they still have the same mission, the same goal. There are so many great support people all over this district, it is really amazing to see what is going on.”
Wilson has not been through a bond issue as a superintendent, but the Herington district recently moved forward with a lease purchase agreement using capital improvement funds to remove asbestos from the high school and upgrade floors, lighting and labs.
The Hays school district has had two failed bond attempts in the last three years. It has discussed attempting a third that would include improvements to the Hays High School HVAC system, expansion of the Hays Middle School cafeteria and expansion of Roosevelt Elementary School to accommodate five sections of each grade.
“I think I see my role as more a consensus builder,” Wilson said of a possible bond issue, “to try to bring everyone together into a consensus of what is the best possible plan that will meet the needs of the school and people but, at the same time, what the community desires. I think in my skill set that is my strength in being able to work with people and get them to understand there are not ulterior motives. It is just trying to figure out how we can best serve kids.”
Wilson acknowledged it’s tough convincing people to vote for a bond issue that includes a tax increase.
“Once people understand that we are trying to do the best we can with what we have and they trust we are telling them the right thing, I think that is how you get over the hump,” he said.
Wilson said he would also support a long-range facility plan as has been advocated by some school board members.
The school board has been split on how to move forward on facilities. They had a notable split vote on the purchase of the Oak Park Medical Complex, which is being renovated for use by Early Childhood Connections.
“I think we need to create a situation where people are focused on kids and doing what is best for kids,” he said. “I think if we have that as our ultimate goal, it is really easy to unite people as they can see that is what we are aiming for is to do what’s best for kids.”
Wilson also talked about relationships with teachers.
“I would be disappointed if I did not have a great relationship with teachers,” Wilson said. “I am very supportive of teachers, and I feel strongly that when it comes to teacher pay, that has got to be a priority of the district.”
He said raises are not always possible, but teachers make the biggest impact with students.
Herington participates in interest-based bargaining. Hays used to participate in interest-based bargaining, but has moved away from that style of negotiations in recent years. Wilson said he really liked IBB negotiations. In IBB, both parties focus on what is best for the good of both sides. Kathy Rome, KNEA UniServ director, said she and Hays KNEA also supported IBB. Board member Paul Adams asked the board at its last meeting to consider using IBB again. The full board has yet to discuss the move.
Under Wilson’s leadership in Herington, the district implemented Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. The district dedicated time to allow students who need more help to receive it. Those children who are at grade level in reading and math can use that time for enrichment activities. The schools also use some of that time for character-building activities.
Wilson said he would bring being a champion for kids to the Hays school district.
“Our ultimate goal is to give every kid opportunities … to do things more than they even thought possible. That is one of things I will bring right away. We will talk about what we are doing, what we can do better, what do you need to do better.
“I will bring a vision of everyone to bring their best every day,” he said. “I think that is so important. That is not just staff. That is making sure students bring their best and even parents in some regards. That is what our expectations are.”
He also said he believes in building a positive culture.
“Everyone has to be on the same page in terms of our goal and that is to give kids the best. … Negativity just sucks the life out of school district. There are going to be some tough days, and you are going to need someone to be positive to get you through those tough days. If you have more negativity right around the corner, it is going to take you down.”
He said many of thing he spoke about he already sees in the Hays school district. He would just hope to reinforce that vision.