When he came to Collier County in 2002 for an interview, Dennis Thompson didn’t leave with the schools superintendent’s position.
But he made an impression.
Now he is returning to voice his opinions on education and how he would lead the Collier County School District if offered the top job.
The Naples Daily News has been unable to reach Thompson for an interview. So the newspaper obtained Thompson’s 2002 superintendent application as well as videos of his interviews in March 2002 and May 2002 with the Collier County School Board to review Thompson’s ideas.
At the time, Thompson was the chief instructional officer for the Metropolitan Nashville Public School District in Nashville, Tenn.
In his letter of interest for the position of superintendent, which was received by the district Dec. 1, 2001, Thompson said his work and leadership experience made him a qualified candidate for Collier County.
“My combination of experience in public education, the military and business, as well as my three years as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and Leadership at West Point gives me an outstanding academic and practical background in organizational leadership in large and diverse systems, such as the Collier County School System,” Thompson wrote.
Thompson is a 1976 graduate of West Point, where he earned degrees in national security/public affairs and engineering, according to his application.
He holds a degree in educational psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and a degree in education administration from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.
At the time of his application, he was scheduled to complete a doctorate in education administration from Tennessee State University in Nashville, according to his application.
Thompson previously had worked as a school counselor at New Providence Middle School in Clarksville, Tenn., was a self-employed organizational/financial consultant and held several positions in the U.S. Army, including director of personnel and community activities, according to his resume.
“I grew up in a military family and a bilingual family,” he told the Collier School Board in March 2002. “I have lived in more than 20 different places on four different continents. I have a great respect for diversity.”
At the time of his interview that March, Thompson told the School Board he was working on developing standards in reading and writing for the district. Thompson said the district was starting with what Tennessee seniors should know when they graduated and working backward to kindergarten.
He told the board that once the standards were completed, the district planned to train principals and teachers on the standards, but also would pass out copies to all parents and students.
Thompson added that he believes elementary school students should be assessed three times a year to determine if they are meeting those benchmarks, while middle and high school students should be assessed twice a year.
He said he thought clearly defined standards helped minimize the gap between schools and students.
“If the written, taught and assessed standards are not the same, you will see academic performance based on a socio-economic level,” he said.
Thompson added that he would like to see a reading specialist in every elementary school, but that the reading specialist would be responsible to teach teachers how to teach reading most effectively.
In Thompson’s May 2002 interview, one board member wanted to know how Thompson would pay for those reading specialists, which would have cost the district $1.28 million, and how he would hire for the position.
“I would train our own,” he said of how he would hire for the position. “How would I pay for them? I would go through the budget line by line. I want to have a student-centered budget. It’s all about the kids’ future.”
During the March 2002 interview, then- Board member Donald York asked Thompson what he thought of privatizing school services.
Thompson said he believed that services performed infrequently could be contracted out. He added that if the service was critical to the operation, like transportation, it shouldn’t be contracted out, regardless of how much it might save the district.
“When you contract out, you lose control,” he said. “Besides, people like to feel like they are part of a team. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers are part of that.”
Thompson added during the March 2002 interview that he would like to incorporate school principals into the district’s leadership team, which he said would be a challenge for Collier County because the schools were very spread out from each other and the administrative center.
When asked what his management style was, Thompson said he believed in loyalty.
“I give loyalty and I expect people to be loyal to me,” he said. “I expect people to speak frankly. I have to hear all points of view before I make a decision. That is why I often seek out contrary points of view.”
Thompson added that once a decision is made, he expects everyone to be on board.
School Board member Linda Abbott, who remains on the board today, wanted to know then what Thompson thought his strengths were.
“I am able to establish an atmosphere of trust,” he said. “I like to get out and meet people. I like talking with them.”
Thompson said he believed a superintendent should host a town hall meeting at every school in the district.
“You go and you find out what is important,” he said. “And every now and then, you get some good ideas.”
Thompson told the board during his interview that he believes in sharing ideas and bringing ideas to the district.
“I believe it is extremely important to communicate with everyone in the community,” he said.