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'A joint effort': Superintendent attributes long career to supportive spouse

Dr. Doug Sullivan attributes his decades-long career success to the support of his wife and the aid of his able staff. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)

On Doug Sullivan's office wall is the following passage:

"A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."

These words are attributed to Forest Witcraft, once the managing editor for Scouting magazine, a publication of the Boy Scouts of America.

Sullivan announced his resignation at the first school board meeting of the year in an unusual way, calling his wife Donna to the front of the room at the close of the meeting, holding her hand as he presented his letter of resignation to the school board.

"It wasn't intended to be dramatic," Sullivan said. "It was intended to accomplish two things: one to be a little bit humorous and two to recognize the contributions my wife has made throughout my career. As you may recall, I said 'we submit my resignation' and that's what it was. It was a decision the two of us made and it's been extremely helpful for me throughout my career who I was married to."

Sullivan said his wife has been his "sounding board" throughout the 33 years he's been a school superintendent.

"She knows everything," he said. "It was important to recognize that it was a joint effort, it wasn't something one person did."

Sullivan has been in education for 39 years, beginning as teaching high school social studies, physical education and health in eastern Montana. He's decided to step away from the job to focus on family, motivated by the death of a friend.

"A friend of ours recently passed away," Sullivan said. "And I looked at Donna and I said 'that's only 12 and-a-half years for me.' So it just felt like an appropriate time to focus on different things in our life."

Sullivan said he has family in Colorado he hopes to spend more time with.

"One of the things we'll do is we'll see our grandchildren more, spend more time with them," He said. "My wife and I are currently making our vacation plans and the first thing we're not doing is we're not setting a timetable."

Overall, looking back at his nine years in Dickinson, he said he'll miss connecting with the students the most.

"As a school superintendent, particularly as your districts get larger, you get further removed from the kids," Sullivan said. "I've made a concerted effort in every position I've had as superintendent to try and maintain that connection as much as possible."

Sullivan said that if he could give his past self any advice before taking on the mantle of superintendent, it would be to not rush into it.

"Do it later. Sometimes I wonder if I didn't do it too soon in my career," Sullivan said. "But you don't get to unring that bell. So it's all been good."

The sudden burst of growth that Dickinson endured during the oil boom proved a challenge for the school district to overcome. Sullivan takes no credit for the district enduring and growing alongside the community, instead pointing out he has been very fortunate to have a skilled staff.

"Please understand that I don't consider the things that have been accomplished to be my accomplishments," He said. "They were team accomplishments. I've been fortunate to work with quality people."

The presence of those people helped make the challenge of new growth into an enjoyable experience.

"It's actually been kind of fun to deal with the growth and the increase in enrollment," Sullivan said. "We've built two schools, we've put three additions on schools, we have a process moving forward to try and make sure the high school is properly positioned in the near future ... and it's all because I've been very fortunate to work with quality people."