ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
On the first day of school last week, as children found their way to their classrooms, the new superintendent of Marion-Florence USD 408 was greeting them and their parents in the hallways.
“I really enjoyed the enthusiasm I saw from students and the smiles,” said Lee Leiker.
“And I saw parents today with cameras and videos. What a great idea to take a picture of the excitement their child is feeling for school. I want us to try and maintain that excitement throughout the year.”
Leiker, 42, and wife Diane moved to their new home at Marion County Lake in June with sons Jordan and Landon. Jordan begins his freshman year at Washburn University, and Landon is in the sixth grade at Marion.
Mother and homemaker Diane has an education background and a history of active school and community involvement. “She’s a great volunteer,” Leiker said.
The family moved to Marion from Johnson, where Leiker was superintendent of schools in the Stanton County district for the past three years.
Leiker earned an associate degree at Colby Community Junior College in 1983. Two years later, he earned a bachelor’s in education from Fort Hays State University.
He started teaching in fall 1986 at Smith Center High School-math, science and computers. In 1992, Leiker completed his master’s in administration and became principal in 1993 at Colby High School.
By 2000, he earned a specialist in education degree in school-district administration at Fort Hays, then accepted the superintendent job at Johnson.
Two major factors influenced Leiker to accept the position at Marion.
“First of all, the job was here, but I really believe the main attraction for us is that Marion is an outstanding educational district,” Leiker said. “And it’s a very progressive, positive and exceptionally nice community to be involved in as well.”
Other factors were the chance for professional advancement and the lure of this part of the country.
“It’s a very attractive area of Kansas-the moisture and the location of (nearby) metropolitan areas,” Leiker said. “And we have not been disappointed in any way. I’m honored to be a part of this district. I really feel fortunate that I’m able to be a part of the staff.”
Growing up in Colby with three other siblings, Leiker’s career choice was influenced by his father, who was also a teacher.
“I grew up in a family where education was very important,” he said. “I always enjoyed it and always grew up with the idea that education was something I was interested in.”
As a teacher, Leiker enjoyed the classroom setting but felt drawn to administration to be “more intricately” involved with students.
“I really like the opportunities that a superintendent position provides in that you can be actively involved with students kindergarten through 12,” he said. “And I really enjoy seeing and being involved in the whole process of public education.”
Leiker listed the following as key factors in the duties of a superintendent:
— Instructional leader and financial manager-monitoring quality instruction and providing strong financial management.
— Supporter of students and staff-acknowledging efforts made by both groups.
“I think students have to be recognized by everybody in the district and that includes board members and the superintendent,” Leiker said. “And I think teachers deserve and need that same thing. I think that’s the responsibility of the superintendent to recognize the efforts of the employees.”
– Liaison between the board of education and all employees-keeping the board informed of current events as well as individual and group accomplishments in the system.
– Observer of daily operations-food service, transportation, custodial services, test scores and programs, such as No Child Left Behind.
“I spend a lot of time looking at the data, and I think that’s extremely important,” Leiker said.
– Public-relations facilitator-keeping an open-door policy with parents and the community.
“I’d be glad to visit with anyone who has a question,” Leiker said. “I think that’s very important, because it’s hard to support something if you don’t understand what’s happening.
– Visionary-to find ways to help a school district renew itself.
“I think you have to be a vision center,” Leiker said. “What do we want to become as a school district? What are our expectations? I think, as a superintendent and educational leader, you have to continue to talk about those expectations with staff and students so that it becomes a reality. If you focus on it, you can achieve it.”
The importance of the future and renewal can not be underestimated, Leiker said.
“I think school districts have to renew themselves by becoming better tomorrow than they are today,” he said.
“School districts have to empower teachers to take an active role in school improvement, to let them be in charge of some of the important things and be involved in the decision-making process. I also want to listen to students. Schools don’t operate well in a dictatorship.”
Working the coming year on important issues such as budgets and new federal programs, Leiker said he sees those as opportunities and not challenges.
“We can say the budget is a financial challenge, but it also is an opportunity to find ways to operate more efficiently, and I think we owe that to our community,” he said.
“I think some people may think the federal requirements of No Child Left Behind are challenges. But, I see those as tremendous opportunities. We’re going to do a better job for students than we’ve ever done because somebody has set the bar higher.”
Outside the school, Leiker said he and his family enjoy fishing, hiking, camping and working in the yard.
“We’re outdoor people,” he said.
“I’m extremely fortunate to be in the Marion County school district and also fortunate to be in Marion County. It’s a wonderful place.”