USD 489 in Hays is way bigger than USD 487 in Herington, but Ron Wilson says the similarities are fundamental.

Wilson, superintendent in Herington, was in Hays on Thursday as the fourth and final candidate interviewed for the USD 489 superintendent job.

He noted his district, with 500 students, is a 2A school, while Hays is 5A.

“It’s still people working in schools and working toward student success,” Wilson said. “Although there are more kids and more staff we’ve still got the same mission, the same goal, there are so many great support people all over this district that it’s really amazing to see what’s going on.”

Earlier in the day, Wilson toured some of the schools, which because of the severe weather were closed. While seeing schools in action is uplifting, he said, instead he was able to have uninterrupted time talking with teachers, who he said relayed great things going on in the district.

Wilson made his comments Thursday afternoon at the Toepfer Board Room of the Rockwell Administration Center, 323 W. 12th St. While his appearance was for a public meet and greet, the only people present were two news reporters, Wilson’s wife, and Kathy Rome, Kansas National Education Association. That’s been the case for all the public sessions with the candidates.

Wilson said his relationship with teachers and staff is a high priority.

“I would be disappointed if I did not have a great relationship with the teachers and the teacher union,” he said. “I’m very supportive of teachers and I feel strongly, when it comes to teacher pay, that’s got to be a priority of the district … it’s our teachers who are going to make the biggest impact with students.”

Wilson said he’s had experience with interest-based bargaining, which focuses on win-win solutions in negotiations.

While the process takes time, he said, he described it as a very positive and productive process, and one that requires trust.

“I’m not saying that’s something that I’m going to for sure bring to this district,” he said, “but it’s something I would definitely support if there is an interest from the association, as well as the board.”

Rome told Wilson that interest-based bargaining had been used in the past in USD 489.

“There’s definite interest from the association,” said Rome, adding “some of the board members have expressed interest. I just think it would be good for everyone to go through training to have an idea of what it’s like.”

A Dickinson County native, Wilson said Hays is very attractive, because his professional goal has always been to be a superintendent in a large district. Also, Hays is closer to his aging mother-in-law in Colorado Springs. He also has a son who is a senior at Fort Hays State University.

With two failed bond elections in the past three years for USD 489, Wilson was asked about his ability to steward such a process.

“As superintendent, I want to figure out the best way to support everyone. So I’ve got to support the teaching staff and the administration, but also at the same time support our community in terms of what they desire,” he said. “I think I see my role as more of a consensus builder, trying to bring everyone together to come to a consensus.”

Wilson has been in Herington for two years, and prior to that he was a middle school principal in Abilene for 19 years. He is a graduate of Kansas State University and Bethany College.

Wilson spoke favorably of a Herington program that has helped kids.

The district is one of seven in the state in a mental health pilot project of the Kansas Legislature. Started last session, mental health services are brought into the school. Kids, with parent permission or by request, are able to get mental health services without leaving school and missing classes.

In Herington, 60 to 70 kids, K-12, are receiving the services.

“Had we not been able to do that, the number might have been in the teens or less,” Wilson said. “It’s been a positive thing and we’re hoping the Legislature allows us to continue with the pilot. If it were not to continue, we’ve got to figure out a way in Herington to continue it. It’s that important.”