After 32 years, Dr. Dolman retires

Published on Thu, Jun 5, 2003
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After 32 years, Dr. Dolman retires

Note: Dr. Gordon Dolman, superintendent of the Blaine school district, is retiring after 32 years in education. Dolman recently spoke with Pat Grubb of The Northern Light and this is what he had to share.

TNL: You�re still a young man. Why are you retiring?
GD: I think timing. I�ve done all that I can and I think it�s time to look at alternatives. I�ve had a great experience the last three years at Western Washington teaching educational law at Woodring College. I just really enjoy that, it�s another part of my life. I�m not moving away, this is my home.
TNL: What will you be doing after retirement?
GD: I�ll be teaching graduate classes as needed, primarily in law and in finance. I�m currently on an advisory committee as they�re hoping to have a cohort ready by January for a superintendent certificate.
TNL: Where did you go to school?
GD: I got my doctorate and superintendent credential at Seattle University.
TNL: Can you describe your career for us?
GD: I started teaching at Olympia school district in an alternative program, an individual learning project. I had a degree in psychology and graduate work in special education. I got my masters in special education and went on to the Issaquah school district as vice-principal of Echo Glen Children�s Center which is one of the state�s largest centers for adjudicated youth. It�s a prison. I was there for three years. What really made me look at another school was, I was an acting principal but as vice-principal, if kids escaped it would be up to me to go out and look for them. We had one student who had a gun and went into a home and shot one of our staff members. We could go out in our yellow slickers so no one would shoot us in their yards and I was thinking, �This is something I don�t want to be doing.� I interviewed at North Thurston and they asked me why I would be interested in coming there and I said I would really like to talk to a kid who�s toughest problem was finding a date this weekend. After North Thurston I had the chance for the principalship at Blaine and I jumped at that. That was in 1984. I was a principal here for a year and the superintendent at North Thurston called and said there was an opportunity there. So I talked to my family and my three boys and they said �Neat, we�ll come visit you.� They came to Blaine and they fell in love with Blaine. Because they could do things here. They came from larger schools but the opportunities here are wonderful. You look at honor night. None of those kids are being held back by being in a smaller school. I look at larger schools and the opportunities for kids are less and the recognition for kids are less. After five years, Bob Gilden retired, I was lucky enough to get the superintendent�s job. My first objective was to get that pot of gold that�s under the superintendent�s chair and it wasn�t there. As a principal, you knew those darn superintendents had all this money that they were just hiding from us.
TNL: Was it challenging to transition from being a principal to superintendent?
GD: Yeah, I didn�t think it would be but until you sit in the seat you have no idea what they�re doing. You think you do as principal but I think the biggest thing for me is, I�m a pretty social person and as principal I had lots of staff that I could talk to, I had a network of other principals. When you�re superintendent that all narrows pretty quickly. As a kid I loved high school and I loved being principal. We did all that goofy stuff, dressing up but when you�re superintendent, nine times out of ten, when they call you up, it�s not to tell you what a great job you�re doing. They don�t realize that a lot of the job is not connected with kids, it�s keeping the lights on, making sure the kids have heat, and the building program. The most frustrating part is working with the legislature because they get down there and they forget.
TNL: What was your most favorite aspect of being superintendent?
GD: Again, it�s working with the kids. You know, if I had a down day and I would have some of those, the best thing to do is go to the primary school. Those kids don�t have down days and they don�t care if you�re superintendent or what. They come up to you and say �Who are you?� TNL: What were some of your greatest achievements?
GD: As superintendent I think about the building program. Being able to maintain the confidence of the voters. I remember the first bond, $15 million and Mike Dodd turned to me and said �Now the tough part begins.� I didn�t have much background in facilities and I thought, �Whoa, how am I going to spend all of this.� In building, like anything, it�s the unknown that you run into, the things that you don�t plan on. Now I�m aware that we pay sales tax on those structures, but at the time, that�s seven and a half percent and you�re going �Hmm, let�s see. Did I put that in the budget and I go, whoops.� I think I am most proud of the fact that we never overbuilt. You can go past what the public is comfortable with, we haven�t built the Taj, they�ve been real functionable buildings every time. Our schools are used a lot. Most of all, I�m really proud of our academic program. As the years have gone by, we�ve continued to get better and better staff members, they�re better trained and their commitment to kids is just phenomenal. I think it shows in a number of ways. You look at honor night and there�s the end product. Our test scores are great. Our middle school is in the top five in the state. You know, the hurdles keep on getting higher such as the No Kids Left Behind federal requirements and I have no concern at all about our district being able to meet those requirements. Because the staff is well-prepared, they�re committed and because I think size is a real factor. I think we�re the perfect size. I�ve been in larger districts and larger is not better.
TNL: What�s your funniest student story?
GD: There�s a lot of them. I think the best experience I ever had as a principal was we used to have the earth science field trip and it�s a risk management nightmare but it�s just a wonderful trip. You study all year and then you get to go study the formations. It starts right away with Mr. Jorgensen asking me to check the lights and having the airhorn go off. OK, so we get to eastern Washington and I have some smokebombs and I say we have a bus fire and he comes running out with an extinquisher and I say �Ah, gotcha.� That evening at Blue Lake a kid comes up to the campfire and says we�ve got a snakebite. I look at this kid and he�s white as a ghost, Mr. Jorgensen goes to get the snakebite kit and I just bit big time. Here�s the kid with wounds and I�m taking out the kit and I�m shaking and Mr. Jorgensen comes up and dabs his finger into the wound, takes a lick and says, �Umm, ketchup!� I�ve never been so taken in my life. On the way home, all of the kids are exhausted and sleeping and Jim and I run down the bus aisle yelling, �Hey! Hey! Hey!� and the kids all jump up and we point outside at the hay fields. Of course, two weeks later, I come back to my office only to find it full of hay. They did not forget either.
TNL: Did you ever find out who put the Volkswagon on the roof?
GD: No, we never did. But those are neat things, you know. They really are.
TNL: Any closing words?
GD: I think being a teacher is one of the best jobs I have ever had. Superintendent is not. I really enjoy kids, I enjoy working with parents. Sometimes we get sidetracked, working with the legislature or whatever and it�s not about that, it�s about kids. Every kid needs an advocate and by and large, they get that at Blaine. I firmly believe that every kid can succeed. You need to define what that success is. I don�t think our goals are achieved through more testing, it�s through people. People say things have so changed. Yeah, things have changed but kids are still kids. In the lunchroom today at the high school, high school kids are still high school kids. Sure, they dress differently, their hair may be a different color but it�s springtime and high school kids are still high school kids. I tell parents, �Yeah, they�ll get through that.�