Steve Hopkins

Steve Hopkins, right, gestures as he talks to the media during his introduction as the new superintendent of the Natrona County School District Friday morning. Hopkins, the district's associate superintendent of business services, will succeed Joel Dvorak, who is retiring effective June 30.

Pending a vote by the Natrona County School District board of trustees, Steve Hopkins will become the district’s next superintendent.

Trustees announced the decision to promote the district’s associate superintendent for business services at a press conference Friday. Hopkins has held the business services position in the district for 17 years. 

“He’s a proven leader in our district,” board Chairwoman Rita Walsh said. “He has earned the respect of the entire education community, the board and the whole community of Casper.”

The board is scheduled to vote on the appointment at its next regular meeting Monday.

On June 30, Hopkins will replace current Superintendent Joel Dvorak, who in November announced he’s retiring.

The board's last superintendent search, which covered 10 months in 2007 and 2008, included one rejection from a candidate and some disgruntled members of the public who were part of an advisory committee tasked to assist in the search.

Today, the district is the middle of a construction boom, with pending projects around Casper totaling more than $200 million.

Board member Elizabeth Horsch said a national search would take up to two years to complete and would disrupt the district's momentum.

"So it was clear to us is that we didn't have two years to set aside the work that we were doing," Horsch said.

The board approached Hopkins and offered him the contract, according to Horsch, who chaired the search. Contract negotiations are in the final stages.

Hopkins earned an accounting degree from Brigham Young University and was an accountant for 15 years before working for the school district.

Board members said Hopkins’ experience and knowledge of the district’s priorities will maintain momentum through massive construction projects and a planned overhaul in the education system. Their choice reflects a strategy to not slow those efforts, Walsh said in a press release.

In his current job, Hopkins helped the board and superintendent make responsible decisions and has earned respect not just in the district, but also with the state Legislature, the release said.

Hopkins said he started kindergarten at Pineview Elementary School 50 years ago and now has a grandson starting kindergarten in the district.

“The district is on a good trajectory, and that’s because of you,” Hopkins said. “And the 'you' goes well beyond those that are in this room.”

He said all those who support the learning team of student, teacher and parent play a role.

Hopkins said after the announcement he plans to spend the next five months gathering information from stakeholders such as parents, staff members and the community about where they think the district can improve.

"I think the prime responsibility that I'll have will be to take this list of priorities and this awesome team that I've described to you and bring those two pieces together and continue having them focus on the direction that we've been on," Hopkins said. 

The main reason he accepted the offer is that the board is focused on what he believes is most important -- student learning, he added.

“I think the strongest hires are from within” said Mark Higdon, executive director of the Wyoming School Boards Association. Someone who understands the district is a key asset, he said. He added that he’s always believed the local school boards are the best ones to decide what talents they need in the position.

As they began the search process, trustees identified a set of a dozen traits they wanted to see in a new superintendent. Trustees said Hopkins met all those criteria.

They also debated hiring someone with a business background versus a more traditional educator.

Heather Duncan, associate professor in educational leadership at the University of Wyoming, said being able to manage resources is important, and business acumen could prove useful in a district that manages huge financial resources. Business and education also are different, she added. Business is more controlled whereas students are a mixed bag with a vast and diverse range of needs, Duncan said. There’s also a balance to being a good manager and a good leader, and both are needed.

“You have to build those relationships with the community to become someone who is credible to parents, community, principals and teachers," she said. "Building of relationships is key to any leadership position.”

It takes a great communicator, especially in the listening department, to work with so many factions of stakeholders. And knowing the context of a district is crucial, she added. What works in one district won’t work in another.

“You’ve also got to negotiate the federal and state legislation and make it fit into your context,” Duncan said.

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Reach education reporter Elysia Conner at 307-266-0593 or elysia.conner@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @ElysiaConner


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