By Mike Anthony
Incoming Lindbergh Superintendent Tony Lake said he views his new position as “a destination job.”
Lake, who currently serves as chief operations officer of the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan., will become Lindbergh’s next superintendent on July 1.
The Board of Education voted unanimously during a Jan. 7 closed session to hire Lake as superintendent. Board members approved a three-year contract with a starting salary of $200,000.
Lake will succeed Superintendent Jim Simpson, who is retiring at the end of the current school year. The new superintendent brings 27 years of education experience to his new role in Lindbergh, including 16 years in public school administration.
Simpson hailed the board’s selection of Lake as the district’s new superintendent.
“Dr. Tony Lake, I’ve been very impressed with him. He is very likable, very approachable. He is definitely a people person and plus, though, he has a tremendous amount of knowledge,” Simpson told the Call. “He’s very well-qualified for the Lindbergh superintendent (post), and I think it’s going to be a very successful tenure under Dr. Lake.”
During a Jan. 11 interview with the Call, Lake said he become interested in the Lindbergh post for many reasons, including the fact that it’s “a district of excellence.”
“When you peek into Lindbergh as an outsider and you look into it, you see amazing kids walking through the doors. You see amazing teachers because of the performance those kids are demonstrating whether that’s in the character ed area (or) whether that’s in the academics in the classroom. So you’ve got to have great teachers in order for that to happen,” he said.
“You have great building principals leading those teachers, and you have amazing parents, supportive parents, and then just a community overall that values education. So when you look for opportunities to advance professionally, you look for those kind of communities, and I’m coming from a community that has the same values. It’s a district of excellence, and when I saw that I just thought, ‘This might be — let’s go talk to those folks and see if it might be a good match.’”
Timing also was a factor in seeking the Lindbergh superintendent’s post, as Lake and his wife, Jennifer, will be empty nesters this fall.
Their oldest daughter, Taylor, is a junior at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and their youngest daughter, Makenzie, will graduate from high school this spring.
“So we felt this was maybe a good time to start looking,” Lake said.
Board of Education President Karen Schuster described Lake as the “frontrunner” of the 33 applicants.
Of the superintendent’s position, Lake said that when he talked to Brent Underwood, a consultant with the Missouri School Boards’ Association who facilitated the search for the school board, “I see it as a destination job. I don’t see … getting this job to go get the next job. This is a destination job …
“I want to do the best job for Lindbergh as long as I can and if that’s for the next 10 years, 15 years, five years, whatever that may be, I’m going to work as extremely hard as I can for the community and the parents and the kids and everybody as a whole, so I don’t have a vision of a time frame here.”
He later added, “The community’s got to want me to be here. The board’s got to want me to be here. People got to want me to be here.”
As superintendent, Lake said he will bring a collaborative leadership style to the district, one in which he views himself as another member of the administrative team.
“I’m coming in and I have an idea. Members of the cabinet have ideas. Parents have ideas and we need to listen to those, and I like to use the term, ‘It’s a we thing.’ It’s not me. It’s not about me. When people would ask me, ‘Well, how are you going to do this?’ Well, I’m going to have some ideas for it, but together we’re going to figure this out.
“It’s not about me. It’s about what does the community want, and once the board sets this vision and we set those goals, then it’s my job to put the right people at the table to make sure that vision is met.”
Last week, Lake immersed himself in the district, visiting every building and meeting as many people as he can.
“I just want them to know who I am as a person and I want to get to know them as people and once those relationships are developed and they’re there, there’s nothing we can’t do,” he said. “And so it’s the same thing with the board, just building those relationships, getting to know them, understanding their points of view and understanding what their visions are. And then taking all of those and collectively finding that ground of how we move forward as a district. Because again, it’s a we thing, it’s not one particular person. It’s a team mindset, and that’s really what I’m going to bring to the table.”
As he prepares to become superintendent, Lake said he believes that it’s important to learn about Lindbergh’s “culture” and plans to do that through what he calls a “listening and learning tour.”
“What I see is I need to understand the history before we can move forward because there is just this tremendous reputation and long tradition of excellence — academic excellence (and) financially being good stewards with money. I need to learn that, the Lindbergh way …,” he said.
Once he gets a feel for that, the goal will be to go from “best to next.”
“We’re in best practice, how do we go to that next practice?” he said. “I’ll use an analogy, I’m an old basketball coach. So you keep your foot grounded and you pivot. So this is what we’re doing and it’s going really well, but what can we pivot out here and dip our toe in … that even makes it better? You have to continue to do that or if you don’t strive for excellence, you begin to decline … So I think that’s really important for me just to understand. I can’t move forward without knowing the history.”
Lake said that he was very appreciative of the warm welcome he received here last week.
“It’s been a great two days. Every minute I spend here it validates that I made the right decision for my family and for us. People could not have been any more warm and welcoming. It’s been an amazing two days,” he said.