By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. — Destry Brown does some of his best administrative work in the saddle of a Yamaha motorcycle out on the open road.
“My most creative time is when I’m riding,” said the new superintendent of the Pittsburg school district. “I guess it’s my idea factory, where I do my problem solving and play through all scenarios.”
Brown last week worked his way through a stack of about 30 handwritten birthday greetings to district employees whose birthdays are in August. In the Frontenac school district, where Brown spent the past three years, such a task meant addressing just a few cards each month for the staff of about 50. In Pittsburg, the staff totals 500, which means the possibility of writer’s cramp.
“I believe in personal relationships. The bedrock of the whole district is the people, and it’s important that I value every person in it,” he said of the effort.
Assistant Superintendent Cory Gibson said Brown doesn’t fit into the standard administrative mold.
“He is not a stereotypical suit-and-tie superintendent, but much more of a laid back and ‘let’s have fun’ kind of guy,” Gibson said. “In our directors’ meetings he begins the meeting by asking each person what they have done to make someone’s day.”
Brown said his life has been enriched by the people he has met along the way. That includes young people, whom he misses getting to know in a classroom setting.
Formerly an elementary teacher, Brown started his interest in education as a 14-year-old, growing up in Fort Scott, when he volunteered to be one of the youngest Little League coaches in history.
“I guess my core values are totally about kids, and have been for most of my life,” he said.
As a high-school student, he enjoyed volunteering at Winfield Scott Elementary during what was then an open lunch hour. Eventually he student-taught there.
He’s never wanted to live anywhere but Kansas, and has what he calls a passion for the state — especially the western part with “wide open spaces and unique places.” He dreams of one day taking on a project to do something — perhaps play golf — in each county in the state.
“There’s not a better state you can live in and raise kids in,” he said.
He and his wife, Beth, have raised a son, Keaton, who at age 16 will finish out his junior and senior years in Frontenac High School. Beth coordinates the community’s Meals on Wheels program, for which Destry has served as a delivery volunteer and made several lasting friendships as a result.
The family has endured its share of challenges: Beth was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis not long after Keaton was born. She now is confined to a wheelchair, which has added a new dimension to Brown’s life.
“She’s stubbornly independent, but has lost some of that lately. She cannot drive now, and I have to help her with things she can’t do, like getting in and out of the tub. If she has an appointment, I have to leave work and take her, or else find someone else to do it,” Brown said. “I do get cranky sometimes.”
He is the main chef in the family, and said he loves to cook new recipes.
“I watch a lot of Food Network, and go online to pull off a lot of recipes,” he said. “I really love making breads, the yeast smell, and memories of my grandmas who both made great pies and rolls.”
The family has bought acreage at the eastern edge of Pittsburg where they hope to build a home soon.
Meanwhile, Brown said he wants to build the morale and nurture the culture of the district. What he’s done so far he’s done well, Gibson said.
“Destry is a person who is not scared of taking risks. Only being a few weeks on the job, he has made a handful of changes that will make the district run more efficiently or cost effectively.”
By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
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