Larry Sullivan was looking forward to retirement.
After over 40 years working in education starting as a school psychologist with various stops including as a lobbyist in Washington DC and as assistant superintendent in Canton, Ohio, he retired from his position as Lane Education Service Director (Lane ESD) superintendent last June.
But then the phone rang.
On the other end was Forest Grove School District superintendent Yvonne Curtis who knew Sullivan from her time as 4J elementary director. She was looking for an interim director for student services and Sullivan said yes. He worked for four months and then went back to retirement.
But after two months, the phone rang, again.
This time it was Raquel Gwynn, who Sullivan had helped hire in 4J, announcing that she was leaving her job as principal of Spring Creek Elementary to work as an education specialist in the office of teaching, learning and assessment for the Oregon Department of Education. In February, Sullivan took the job as interim principal at Spring Creek.
“I think friendship gets you in trouble. It usually does,” Sullivan said with a laugh.
Now a year removed from his initial retirement, Sullivan has work lined up once again. This time as the interim superintendent for South Lane School District, a decision was publicly announced at Monday’s school board meeting.
For this position, it was not South Lane seeking out Sullivan, but the other way around.
“I have such huge respect for the wonderful things and the stellar work that’s being done in South Lane. Whether it be instructionally or working with the community, staff. All those things. And I know that there will be an interim period and that’s what I’m interested,” Sullivan told the Sentinel.
“I said if you want an interim, I’m very interested in being here. If you just want someone to try out for the job, I don’t want to be here. That’s not what I want to do. I want to help you get ready and make those transitions. And sort of refocus yourself.”
One of the areas that Sullivan said he is especially excited to be working with is with P20, the program that focuses on helping students from prenatal through 20 years of age.
“They are doing remarkable things from pre-natal to college and career. I want to focus on that. Probably of any district – their P-20 is so vibrant,” he said.
Sullivan notes that after being at Spring Creek Elementary, his mindset has shifted away from retirement.
“I’ve had just a great experience here. And I think in part I wouldn’t even have thought of going to South Lane – maybe I should retire and go play golf or something, go surfing or something – but you know it sort of revitalized me a little bit,” he said.
This rejuvenation will be welcomed in a district that, after the departure of Krista Parent as superintendent, “needs healing” according to members of the school board. Sullivan believes he is up to the challenge.
“Transition is one of the things we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to. Whether it be business or education or things like that is really transitions… You know, we tend to want to go immediately to the goals of what the change is going to be,” he said.
“But there is a whole transition process. You know, sort of an ending of one thing and loss and a whole lot of things that takes a lot of support. I think that’s what I will focus on, really supporting.”
His familiarity with the district, knowledge of staff and admiration for what is being done has put him in a position where he wants to be in this role and help the district move forward.
“It’s really supporting, reengaging and focusing on what we need to do well. There’s lots of noise when you make a transition. Whatever transition – a new superintendent, a new principal, whatever it is.
People are unsure, people don’t know,” he said. “I think focusing on that, focusing on working with the community. Because, schools are really the hub of the community in many ways. And there isn’t a person in the community that doesn’t think about the school district.”
For Sullivan that starts with building relationships around the community and letting the staff do what they need to do.
“My goal, when I go down there is really to spend a lot of time doing the type of work that can allow the administration to get back to their work because all the administration has been doing double duty for a while,” said Sullivan.
“So my job is really not getting in the way but helping.”