Better Know Your Leaders: Douglas Sullivan
Name: Douglas Sullivan
Position in the city: Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent
For how long? 5 years
When did you first move to Dickinson? 2009
What is the biggest challenge leading a growing school district?
The unprecedented growth in the student enrollment and the student mobility over the past few years has been a significant challenge. From May 2009 to October 2013, the enrollment in the school district has increased by 724 students. This has occurred in an environment where students are not only transferring into the school district, but also transferring out of the school district. During the 2010-11 school year 960 students transferred in or out of the school district. In the 2011-12 school year this number increased to 1,078 students. These student transfers represent at least 33 percent of the total student population in the school district during the respective years.
This high level of student mobility presents unanticipated challenges for the classroom teachers. It becomes necessary to work with the students to help them assimilate into the classroom and begin to understand the curriculum. The students need to be academically assessed to determine their level of proficiency so the teacher can provide an appropriate education. Having identified the challenge it is important to focus on the positive. The district has received numerous complimentary statements about its ability to welcome our new learners. We are also thankful for the new arrivals and how they have enriched the school district and helped us to improve.
When you first arrived in North Dakota, did you expect to have a growing district?
The significant growth was not anticipated when I accepted the position with the Dickinson Public Schools. At the time I accepted the position, it was more likely the school district would begin to experience a stable or slowly increasing student population. I am thankful that the school board and all school personnel have been able to address the challenge. Without their commitment and dedication to all students the challenges would be significantly more difficult.
What would you like community members — parents and non-parents alike — to know about Dickinson Public Schools?
We are all aware of the population growth in the community and school district and it is something we should celebrate. With this statement I am not referring to the economic perspective. I believe we should celebrate how the community and school district has been enriched through a more diverse population. Each of the new arrivals into the school district bring different life and personal experiences from the various paths of their individual lives. These experiences enrich the school district and provide us all with a better understanding of the nation and world in which we live.
The school board has initiated a long-range facility planning process to assess the future facility needs of the school district. The school district is in a strong financial position due in large part to the changes in the school funding formula enacted during the last legislative session. Finally, all schools are staffed with concerned and caring employees who want nothing more than to help all students learn and succeed. While there are challenges on the horizon, the community should be assured the school district is well positioned to address the challenges of the future.
A lot of young people with young children are moving to the area. What types of challenges does growth in elementary grades present?
The most significant challenge of the rapid growth we are experiencing has been illuminated above. It is important to recognize these challenges are not just in the elementary grades. However, the most important point to recognize is that we are a stronger and more vibrant school environment. Continued growth in the school district will only help to enhance the positive aspects of the school district and help us to improve in the delivery of a quality education.
Who is your favorite teacher/administrator from TV, literature or movies, fiction or nonfiction?
Jaime Escalante who began teaching in 1974 at James A. Garfield High School, located in East Los Angeles. In 1988 he was portrayed by the actor Edward James Olmos in the movie “Stand and Deliver.” His commitment to education is a great example of what one dedicated educator can accomplish. He epitomizes the words of Christa McAuliffe (who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger) when she stated, “I touch the future. I teach.”