Sheridan Schools' Superintendent Retiring After 21 Years
For a little over two decades, Craig Dougherty has led Sheridan County School District #2 as superintendent. And now he's retiring. Dougherty began his teaching career in Alaska, moving to Montana to teach on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. He came to the Sheridan County School District as an assistant superintendent. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke with Dougherty about his unique impact on the school district. He begins by describing what it was like when he first took over as superintendent in 2000.
Craig Dougherty: It was like a typical school district. It was almost 100 percent management. You had administrators, and then he had a tier of central office people, and then principals who manage their buildings, and then teachers, and no one collaborated with each other. As a matter of fact, all the elementary schools did their own thing. It was kind of an us-versus-them type of a thing. And so we really had to just start having conversations about, 'Well, what is best for the child?' We want our adults to be highly trained and skilled. But we really have to get to the root of why we're here. And that's that the child needs to become a reader, writer and mathematician in [order to be?] a great human being. And in order to do that, we had to figure out how we had to work with each other, not to meet in groups to talk about a field trip or somebody's birthday coming up, but to really dig down deep and answer four questions: What do we want the kids to learn, specifically? How are we going to measure that they've learned it? And then what are we going to do with those kids that don't get it right then and there? And then what do we do with those kids that already got it? And so we started doing our collaboration on a regular basis. And it was just gut-busting hard work, because it changed how people were used to doing things. Principals were no longer managers. Central office was no longer just sitting in our office and counting pennies. Teachers were no longer closing the door in isolation and not talking to each other. It goes back to what my dad had said, he said, 'You're about learning. And so try to get in there,' and because he was not a fan of administrators as a teacher, and so he said, 'try to do the right thing.' So I think over the years, that's what I've tried to do.
Catherine Wheeler: Was that one of your biggest goals to foster this environment of collaboration? Has that been your thesis as superintendent, do you think?
CD: Well, I don't know if I wasn't smart enough to figure that out initially, because I had to learn a lot. My dad always said to hire people a lot smarter than you are, that are skilled in areas that you want to have skill areas in, and then look to people that have accomplished great things with learning for children. When you look at Sheridan, we've got more Title One kids. In other words, we've got more kids in poverty than not. But we have teachers who don't care about that. They don't care where the child grew up. They don't care if the mom is single and working three jobs. All they care about is I've got this kid who needs to become a reader, writer, mathematician at a very high level. And there's no excuses. When the kid fails, we fail. And in our district, we have not made excuses. That doesn't mean we have all successes. No, it's the opposite of that. We do have failures, but we have a framework for dealing with that failure. And then we have a plan because it's a structure. From within this framework, we have a phenomenal amount of initiative and creativity and just profound learning by the teacher to get that kid where they need to be. Our results have demonstrated great things for children. And I think that's the difference is that our focus is always the child as a learner. And that to us is being responsible to our constituents. It's being responsible to our state. It's being responsible to our state and national economies, because we're producing kids that can produce when they leave us.
CW: How are you feeling about retiring?
CD: Well, it's bittersweet. I have struggled with that. And it's quite frankly, something I'm still struggling with. But the district is in great hands, Scott Stultz, the next superintendent, is phenomenal. He's going to take things to another level. And that's the whole thing. It's not about one person. I've always tried to hire people, like I said, who are a lot smarter than I am, that have an understanding of this framework, have an understanding the child is the epicenter of who we are. There are no excuses for learning. We have great gifts from this state in terms of the money that's been provided, which is unbelievable. So for me that's bittersweet and that I'm ending that path right now. But then I'm having some things opened up to me that I'm going to try to impact at a larger scale nationally and and statewide.
CW: I think it's important to mention that you were recently selected as part of the governor's new RIDE Advisory Group. How are you feeling about that opportunity?
CD: This is the third time I've been around with a different governor. And so it seems like they liked the ideas. I think the lot of the legislators have liked what Sheridan is doing. I think we just have to have a real true analysis about where we are as a state. Where are we in terms of our learning for all children? I think we're a small enough state that we could all work together. But we have to be honest. And we have to say, 'Let's put the cards on the table,' and decide what is the best way that everyone can basically decide what is the best path for children in our state at a very high level of learning. And I think that's what the governor wants. And so what that's going to take is looking at the brutal facts, and if there's some brutal facts out there, we need to be honest about that. And then say, 'Okay, what can we do to chart a path to make changes?' And to me, it's thrilling. So that's why I get up in the morning, but I'm really looking forward to it. And I'm honored to have the governor visit with me and that he wants me to be a part of that.
CW: My last question for you is what are the things you've learned from this job?
CD: Well, that great educators are some of the most skilled individuals in the country. And if I could pay those people over $100,000 a year I would, because you cannot imagine what a child gets to do. What I've learned is that the great teaching, and result of great learning by individuals that we've witnessed in this district is so profound. You can't put a dollar value on it. What I have learned is that it's within the framework, you have to allow the phenomenal creativity that teachers can bring to the table, because within that framework, they can fly. And then their kids can fly. And Katie bar, the door, All things are possible.