The Ottawa school board offered a contract Tuesday night to Ryan Cobbs to be the next superintendent, after two days of interviewing candidates.
If he accepts the offer, Cobbs, Ottawa assistant superintendent since 2016, would succeed Jeanne Stroh who announced last fall she would retire June 30. The new school year begins July 1.
The school board plans to formally approve his hiring at the Feb. 12 board meeting.
Susan Ward, school board president, said Cobbs rose to the top during the interview with the board and other community members. She said what set him apart was his enthusiasm, visionary leadership and drive to see the Ottawa district be the best in the state.
“He is excited about our district and our community,” Ward said. “Ottawa is so poised for great things. It is so nice to see that energy and that commitment to be a part of it. The school system is an integral part of that growth.”
The board also interviewed Michael Lowers, executive director of Special Education for the Salina school district since 2013. Ward said Lowers was an excellent candidate.
For Cobbs, this was a dream come true. He remembers talking to his mom during his two-year stay in Europe after graduating from Ottawa University about returning to Ottawa and doing something great.
“When I became a teacher here with the mentors I had, it became very apparent for me, with my skill set, the best way of having an impact on our community was to rise through the ranks of education and become an administrator,” he said.
He said being an assistant principal and principal at the high school and as assistant superintendant paved the way for him to join the superintendent ranks.
“Not just a superintendent, the superintendent of USD 290,” Cobbs said. “That has been a goal since day one. I can’t tell you how excited I was to have the opportunity to interview with the board.”
Ward said the board set parameters for the superintendent candidates to meet and Cobbs met all of them and fit those the best.
“We wanted someone who had experience with the Gemini Project,” Ward said. “We wanted an instructional leader so every child can be college and career ready. He has experience in recruiting and retaining staff.”
Lincoln Elementary School and Ottawa High School are two of 42 schools participating in the Kansas State Department of Education’s “Gemini Project,” according to Herald archives. The project is part of KSDE’s Kansans Can School Redesign Project.
“Everything that is being pushed with this is really about ensuring that whether our students are going to post-secondary schools or straight into the workforce, that they can be successful in either endeavor,” Cobbs said of the project in a previous interview.
Ward said Cobbs’ familiarity with the district did have its advantages.
“He understands the challenges of our district,” she said. “He understands where education is going and some of those statewide challenges. He has that history. Because he has that history, he can look down the pike and say ‘OK that is what is coming. I know the players and we can work our way toward that direction.’ He is poised to set his own style and niche.
“Any time you have an internal candidate, you know them. Ryan interviewed well. He is going to make a great superintendent.”
Cobbs said being an internal candidate had both negatives and positives.
“I am from here and I have relationships with people,” Cobbs said. “Sometimes those relationships help me out and sometimes they don’t. They wanted to make the right decision about the leadership and the future of our district.”
Ward said Cobbs had a consistent message throughout his interview and during his tenure as an administrator.
“He has consistently wanted the best for the district,” Ward said. “He consistently has been a vocal supporter of it. He has that passion and energy to see our district succeed and be amazing. We have always seen that in him through the years. He definitely has lived it.”
Ward said Cobbs’ work on the different projects in the district should make the transition smooth.
“With this Gemini project coming on line, he is poised to develop that path to the end,” she said. “It allows to have districts to have conversations about areas that we have needed to for years. He relies on the teachers to be experts in their area. He can start the transition [earlier]. It will be a good bridge time [this spring].”
Cobbs said being the front person on the school redesign process was an advantage.
“I know more about it than anybody else,” he said. “I have been leading our teachers through those conversations. We have some great things coming our way. We can have a tremendous impact upon the system we work in. Ultimately for the betterment of our kids.”
Cobbs said the transition can start immediately by discussing the vision and goals of the board and he can relay that vision to the staff.
Ward, who has been a school board member for more than 14 years and experienced a few superintendent searches in the past, said this search went smooth.
“It is a long progress, but it has been well worth it and it has been pretty exciting to have a good end result,” Ward said. “It was good for us to go through the process to make this decision.”
She said it was nice to get started early on the process.
“When we have had a search in the past, if you get behind, it is difficult because people are already committed,” Ward said. “The thing about the superintendent positions in our state, there are lots of vacancies. There are not very many people that are of quality to necessarily fill those. We are having a shortage. We were glad to keep moving forward and make the decision quickly.”
Part of the selection process was giving the opportunity for committees to interview the candidates. Ward said those participating did a good job of listening to the candidates and reporting back to the board.
“We read every one of their comments,” Ward said. “They were so thoughtful and gave us great feedback. We are excited to receive all the great participation we had from the community, the teachers, the students and staff.”