Roger Sims, Journal Staff
Epps to bring energetic, motivational style to USD 344
Don Epps, left, and Travis Laver shake hands. Epps has been hired to replace retiring Superintendent Laver at the end of the school year in June. (Screen capture Pleasanton Schools Facebook)
PLEASANTON – Pleasanton school district parents and students can expect energy and enthusiasm from Don Epps, newly hired superintendent the district. They can also expect someone who communicates and motivates students, teachers, parents and the greater community.
He's also someone who's not afraid of using social media to get his message out. Since being hired earlier this month, the dynamic educator has posted motivation clips on Facebook.
Epps, who grew up in southeast Linn County and whose father David Epps operated the grain elevator in Pleasanton, was hired earlier this month to take over as Pleasanton USD 344 superintendent when current administrator Travis Laver retires at the end of June.
A principal of Royster Middle School in Chanute for the past five years, Epps graduated from Jayhawk-Linn High School, and considers his recent hiring as a homecoming. And he is pumped up about coming back to Linn County.
“This is moving home for me,” he said in an interview on Jan. 10. “This is five minutes from my parents’ farm. This is an opportunity to rebuild those connections.”
LIke many administrators, he got his start in education In the classroom. In 2002 he was hired to be a social studies teacher as well as a football and track coach. Toward the end of his six years there he dropped coaching in favor of finishing his degree in school administration.
His first job as an administrator was principal at the high school in Diamond, Mo., and from there he moved to Chanute.
About a month before he was hired, Epps was in the Pleasanton schools as a motivational speaker. He said he was impressed with what what he saw there.
“I noticed how much pride there was,” he said. “I want to get that story out that the schools are a source of pride in the community.”
Epps commended Laver for doing an “amazing job” in his 14 years as superintendent, adding he wanted to use that to build excitement and energy about going to school.
He expects the transition over the next year to his administration will be seamless. Pleasanton has been blessed to have an administrator like Laver who has brought stability and consistency to the district.
“We look to continue that,” Epps said.
One opportunity he sees next fall is the so-called “open enrollment” where students do not have to apply to be accepted in a school district in which they are not a resident. While many school officials are wary of that legislative plan, Epps is not.
Under the open enrollment system, students and their parents can freely choose what school in what district they will attend. And while some may worry that students will go to larger schools, especially at the high school level, because of more opportunities, Epps said it is an opportunity for small schools to show the benefits of a lower student-to-teacher ratio.
With the metropolitan area now within 35 to 45 minutes of easy commuting, it’s an opportunity for the Pleasanton schools to grow, he said, adding that a school where teachers and staff know all the students is an advantage that a school like Pleasanton offers.
But whether the students are local or commute from outside the district, the main thing is that they wake up every morning excited to go to school, he said.
“What I want for all our kids is I want them waking up every morning excited to go to school,” Epps said. “I want them to feel like they’re a part of something special, and if they’re not at school that day, school’s not as good a place without them. I want them to feel like they’re a critical part of that school.
“I want our teachers to feel like they can be unleashed. I never want a teacher thinking they’re going to work. I want a teacher thinking they’re going to make a difference in kids’ lives.”
He also said that, when the parents drop their students off or put them on the bus at the beginning of the day, they think that their children are going to the best learning environment in the world.
“That’s something we’re going to work on every day,” Epps said. “There are going to be struggles and there are going to be highlights along the way, but we’re going to keep that train going.”