Keith Hall is no stranger to Hays and northwest Kansas, and he said that familiarity and his recently started position in Hays USD 489 would allow for a smooth transition should he be selected as the district’s new superintendent.

On Wednesday, Hall, 61, was the first of four finalists to interview for the position being vacated in June by John Thissen, who is leaving after two years to be closer to his family. During a public meet and greet session Wednesday afternoon, he answered questions from local media.

The son of a Navy veteran from Gorham, Hall graduated high school in Connecticut and got his bachelor’s degree in 1979 at Fort Hays State University. He taught at Stockton High School and then was its principal from 2001 to 2008.

In 1997, while he was an industrial education teacher at Stockton, he was selected for a Milken Educator Award. Dubbed by Teacher magazine as “the Oscars of teaching,” the award from the Milken Family Foundation is given to selected teachers who are judged by blue-ribbon panels to recognize exceptional educational talent, contribution and potential. It includes a $25,000 award, a week of workshops and networking opportunities.

“Outside of my wrestling referee sportsmanship award, which I’m seriously very proud of, that’s the greatest thing that’s happened to me as an educator,” he said.

For the last 10 years, he was superintendent at Osborne USD 392. On Jan. 2, he started as interim director of finance for USD 489.

Returning to Hays was something he’d planned on, he said.

“I love the Hays community,” he said. “When I first moved here — I was from the east coast — I didn’t love Hays so much. But both my children went to school here, I graduated from here, my wife graduated from here.

“I knew wether it was my work life or my retired life, I would be in Hays for sure. There’s never been any doubt in my mind,” he said.

He said the move was a good situation for his family. He lives in Russell, but said if selected as superintendent he would move to Hays.

Moving from USD 392 — a 1A district with an enrollment of 308 and about 30 faculty — Hall said he has a sense of familiarity in USD 489 that led to his decision to apply for superintendent.

“You never know going from one school district to the next if they’re relatively the same. I’m not saying it’s the same where I came from, but I’m saying it’s familiar, the processes are things that I know and as I observed and worked with staff, I thought maybe I can help this district move forward,” he said.

Hall said USD 489 has lived up to its reputation.

“It’s a great district. It has a great community supporting it and it has teachers that really care about kids. I’m just really pleased with the experience since I’ve been here. People are really excited about excellence,” he said.

He said as superintendent, he would have three main goals — district unity, completing building projects and supporting staff through accreditation processes.

Unity is a process whose components are not always under one person’s control, he said, but he said he believed it can be accomplished.

“I think I have enough experience to understand what needs to be put in place to move that along,” he said.

Those components are trust, collaboration and focus on goals, he said.

“Once you get those things in place, then it starts moving through your system incrementally. It won’t happen immediately. It’s certainly not a linear process, and it’s not a simple process,” he said.

Looking to building projects, Hall said the renovation of the former Oak Park Medical Complex to house Early Childhood Connections is in early stages, but working with the process will help ensure its completion on time for next school year.

“We have to finalize all the design pieces first of all, put the bids out. It’s just a matter of making sure the preliminary work’s done and then starting the work. That’s about all you can do is work as hard as you can to get everything in place to get the work started. But you’ve got to be thorough, too, and that’s what makes it a little more difficult,” he said.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, the board took up discussion of future facilities planning and a possible bond after about a six-month hiatus on the topic. Developers presented a $29 million plan, the bulk of which would renovate and add to Roosevelt Elementary School.

As interim financial director, Hall will be involved in any bond discussions, and he said that will be of assistance should he become superintendent.

“I’ll have all that background knowledge to come in handy. What I can give just because of they way things worked out, I think I can give a very seamless transition to that bond work,” he said.

Even though a bond proposal would be the district’s third attempt presented to voters, Hall said it’s a new start.

“The feeling I got from the conversation at our last board meeting, in my mind we’re restarting the conversation. So what I would do is defer to the board processing that again and deciding how they’re going to move forward, and then I would act accordingly,” he said.

Even if he’s not selected as superintendent, Hall said he would like to stay in USD 489.

“I hope I can be here to support anybody who does get the job, because I’m glad to do that. I hope I can continue to work in this district It’s a great place,” he said.