dennis-argabright composite

This composite image shows, from left, Darren Dennis and Mike Argabright, both candidates for the position of USD 253 Superintendent of Schools.

Two finalists for the position of USD 253’s Superintendent of Schools have pledged more open communication lines with the district’s teachers and staff, as the board of education began interviews Monday.

Mike Argabright, who has served as USD 252 Southern Lyon County’s superintendent for the past 15 years, and Darren Dennis, the USD 512 Shawnee Mission Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, were the first two of three finalists interviewed for the position.

Argabright said he believes strong communication is something is an important quality he can bring to the table.

“I’m very visible,” he said. “I enjoy people, I like being around people, and whenever I have a bad day, I go to a kindergarten classroom, and it reminds me of the importance of everything that we do.”

Argabright said being a team player is imperative and communication with his team is important to him as a leader.

“It’s something that you just do daily, and that visibility is important,” he said. “Earning people’s trust is not easy. It’s not easy for anyone, but it’s something that I’ll work very hard at.”

Argabright said his background and experience has prepared him for the challenge of working with more children and staff in a larger community. And, now “would be a good opportunity” both for him and his family to make a move.

“I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been an athletic director, I’ve an assistant principal in charge of discipline and I’ve been a principal,” he said. “I conducted my dissertation for my doctorate in early childhood, and probably learned as much from that as any of the things I’ve experienced in my educational careers for preparing kids with the core foundation of academics and how important that is.”

Argabright said he brings with him a lot of experience working through construction and bonds, which he feels would be of immediate benefit to the Emporia district. He is also familiar with the community, as a longtime Lyon County resident.

“I’m very involved with Emporia right now,” he said. “I’m very proud of that, and connecting with our post-secondary institutions is just an awesome opportunity for employees, students, and building on the strong foundations that have already been laid by past superintendents pass board members, building on those foundations and bringing a positive approach is very important to me.”

Argabright said he is also interested in building on the foundations laid in the Emporia district when it comes to school redesign. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many aspects of redesign forward in many ways, he said, and how the pillars and modules of redesign and accreditation are shaped depends on each community.

“You have so much opportunity with post-secondary career development [in Emporia] that you have an edge on a lot of other districts, and so connecting those pieces is something that is important,” he said. “I’m already involved in that, and I will be involved in that. So I think there’s a great opportunity.”

Argabright stressed the need to keep community stakeholders engaged, as well as district staff, to keep the process moving forward “in a positive way.” In the end, it’s about “connecting with the community” because it’s “those partnerships that are going to be vital for those children.”

As for why Argabright would like to move on to the Emporia Public Schools District, he said the answer was fairly simple.

“Well, we call this home and we’ve always been very committed and loyal to where we’ve been, and that’s important to us,” he said. “I don’t really want to move very far, if at all, but we love Lyon County. We love the opportunities that it provides from an educational standpoint. It’s hard to be the community like Emporia, so if we can call this home, we would love to do that.”

Argabright has served as the Superintendent of Schools for USD 252 Southern Lyon County for 15 years. He previously served as a principal for 16 years in USD 389 Eureka at the Junior-Senior High School and as an assistant principal/athletic director there for three years.

The board of education will conclude interviews on Tuesday, Feb. 23. They will then determine which candidate is the best fit for the superintendent position in USD 253, Emporia Public Schools.

Darren Dennis

Dennis has 16 years experience in school district administration, including five years in his current position with the Shawnee Mission district. He previously served as the assistant superintendent for four years in USD 457 Garden City.

He spent a total of 11 years with Garden City, holding other positions which included Director of Learning Services, Director of Personnel, and Lead Associate Principal.

Dennis said he takes a “collaborative approach” to communication as much as possible, meaning he would be out in school buildings as much as possible.

“I would be visible,” he said, adding he would be visible in the community as well. “I would also see myself putting together advisory committees that would be comprised of not only staff, but also classified staff, certified staff, but also community members and student advisors as well, to try to round out my perspective and be able to address the problems — because they will see things that I don’t see and they will have ideas that I may not think of. So together, working as a team, we can try to address the problem as we’ve faced in essentially approaching everything that’s in a collaborative way as an entire district.”

Dennis has headed English Language Learners and Migrant education programs and homeless programs, working at large and small school districts.

He said he sees a lot of similarities between Emporia and Garden City, where he spent 11 years working for the USD 457 Garden City School District. He said Shawnee Mission is also surprisingly more diverse than many people give it credit for — which lends him more positive experience in coming to a district like Emporia.

“[Shawnee Mission] is obviously much bigger, but the problems we faced are remarkably similar, [and] coming from Garden City before that, in a very similarly sized and situated school district, so I feel like I would be able to step in and be comfortable in that role and understand the resources that are available in a community like this and in a district like this,” he said.

Dennis is also excited about the prospect of working through the redesign process with Emporia, which is calls a “leader in the state.”

“The school system, as it was traditionally run and traditionally set up, was not designed to meet the needs of all students, and so we — in order to get different results than we’ve always had — we need to do things differently,” he said. “That’s where I think the redesign comes in. I think it is a forward-looking way to look at how we can meet the needs of all, — because we have a responsibility to all students — and we need to design systems that meet the needs of all students.”

According to a written release from the district, candidates were selected “based on their fit with desired characteristics that were developed with input from focus groups and an online community survey utilized during the search process.”

One more finalist is scheduled for an interview with the board of education Tuesday, Feb. 23.

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