The time is now for Lake Mills Area School District Superintendent Dean Sanders.
For a long time, Sanders has looked at next year as the time he would be announcing his retirement from education.
But right now, the time feels appropriate for Sanders to announce his retirement from the superintendent position. He did so at last month’s LMASD Board meeting.
The reason why Sanders had always targeted the 2016-2017 school year as his last was because he wanted his daughter Kara’s senior year at Lake Mills High School to be all about her.
With the way Sanders has been feeling both mentally and physically, now felt as good a time as ever to step out of the superintendent role.
“There’s a combination of reasons. I think we’ve done good things in my time here but it’s time for new ideas and new blood,” Sanders said. “It’s a perfect time for me to walk away.”
When Sanders says “new blood,” he means it is time for the school district to experience someone with different ideas than him.
“I think there are people who can do a tremendous job in communicating to all of the people of the district better than I do,” Sanders said. “There are people with a different curriculum or learning styles background that could ramp up what we do. I just don’t have that. I’ve done what I’ve needed to do.”
What Sanders has done in his 12-year reign as Superintendent of LMASD is provide his successor a great infrastructure with which to work with.
Of course, right away one can see the new Lake Mills Elementary School and the changes that have taken place to the Lake Mills Middle School building and think that the only aspects of LMASD Sanders has bettered during his time in Lake Mills is the district’s buildings.
But it is the things that do not get noticed by the naked eye he is most proud of.
ACT and math scores are up in the district, finances are in good shape, personalized learning has come into its own with the advances the district has made in technology and the number of kids in the district is the highest it has been during Sanders’ tenure – perhaps ever in the district’s history.
“If I’m proudest of anything it’s that I hope parents know we cared enough about their kids to do things right,” Sanders said. “We built new schools because everyone cared about the education of the kids – we cared about the facilities they went to.
“We left a legacy of great facilities but that’s because the community saw the need for it. I can’t take credit for any of those projects because it took the whole community to get them done.”
If there is one facilties project Sanders said he is most proud of, it is the first one that took place during his tenure with LMASD.
When Sanders started as superintendent, a referendum had already been passed to allow the district to do some remodeling on the old high school auditorium, kitchen and parking lot.
The negative to remodeling the auditorium was that it only sat 210 people.
“It just didn’t feel right that we were going to remodel a space that was still going to sit just over 200 people,” Sanders said. “You can’t even get the whole high school in there.”
Board member Bob Dimperio asked the question, “What would it cost to put up a brand new auditorium?”
The difference was only $300,000.
“And you got 160 more seats. We have a pretty nice facility there,” Sanders said on the auditorium.
Upon building the auditorium, it had extended about six feet into the old tennis courts. So brand new tennis courts had to be built at the high school but they were to go where the football team practiced.
So a new practice field had to be constructed and some work on the soccer field had to be done as well.
The district borrowed just under $1 million in Sanders’ first month on the job in order to pay for those projects.
“I’m still really proud of those tennis courts. That soccer field is one of the best around,” Sanders said. “I’m still most proud of that first project because we got something done. It helped foster the idea that we wanted something better for our kids.”
After his tenure is over, Sanders expects he and his family to stay in the Lake Mills area.
Originally from Glenwood City in northwestern Wisconsin – Sanders’ first superintendent position was with the Glenwood City School District – many people have asked Sanders if he is going to move back to that area.
“I have no reason to move away from Lake Mills,” Sanders said. “It feels like home.”
The one thing the next superintendent will not have to worry about is Sanders breathing down their necks once he is retired.
He said he has no plans to be involved with education in Lake Mills.
That was the way Don Childs treated Sanders when Sanders began his tenure as superintendent. Childs had just retired from LMASD and left Sanders to figure out the job for himself.
“I think he and I had maybe two conversations in 12 years,” Sanders said. “I’ll be available if the next superintendent needs me, but I’m not going to call them.”
Sanders sees himself getting involved with a friend’s company that helps search for superintendents in school districts across the state.
“That will be enjoyable because I will be helping other districts and I can give back in that way,” Sanders said.
In his eighth year on the LMASD Board, president Rick Mason said it has always been a pleasure working with Sanders.
“You always knew Dean was going to put the education of the kids in the forefront,” Mason said. “It didn’t matter if it was the best kids or the ones who were struggling – his focus was on getting all of the kids the best education possible.”