Twin Falls Superintendent Wiley Dobbs Sets His Sights on New Adventures
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – He’s worked hard, he’s had a successful career, and though Dr. Wiley Dobbs retire this summer from the Twin Falls School District, he has no plans of leaving the education field behind.
He’ll just be working in other aspects of it – and in other places.
Dobbs will retire as superintendent on Aug. 31, but just five days later he’ll start work at the Idaho Digital Learning Academy in Boise.
And after that?
Let’s just say he’s in the running to fill a position as “director general” – basically, a superintendent – of schools in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in western Asia.
He was one of about 60 original applicants but now is one of five remaining candidates, he told News Radio 1310 recently in his office, where a lifetime of recognition and award plaques decorate the walls. On a bookshelf in one corner are pictures and trophies from his favorite sports.
Dobbs sits confidently and comfortably behind his large desk. He knows there is more to be done in the district, but it is work that someone else will do. He is happy with what he’s accomplished and now is ready for new adventures.
“Now just seems like a good time for me to leave and someone else to take over,” he says.
Whether he lands the job in Abu Dhabi or winds up somewhere else – he wouldn’t start work for about 18 months – he’ll take with him more than 30 years of memories as a Twin Falls educator and administrator, as well as a lifetime of lessons taught to him in the unlikeliest of places: the wrestling and judo mats.
Not everyone who meets Dobbs may realize he is a judoka – a lifelong student of judo. But if the setting is right, as it was during a media interview recently, it doesn’t take him long to open up about this form of pedagogy, something he’s been passionate about for a long time.
Dobbs started practicing judo at age 7, in large part because of his dad who competed. It didn’t come easy following the footsteps of his father – a man whom a young Dobbs deeply admired. Dobbs didn’t win a match until he was 15, but instead of his father being angry or frustrated with him he encouraged him to continue and never give up on his dreams.
Dobbs says he remembers one time falling after a competitor swept him on the mat. Instead of mentioning his failure, his father commented, “That was a beautiful ukemi” (fall).
“It would have been easy for him to be a little upset, he being a competitor and all,” Dobbs says of his dad, “but he wasn’t.”
Someone believed in him, which helped him to believe in himself.
His father also encouraged him when Dobbs competed on the wrestling mat for Twin Falls High School, the same school in which he later became head wrestling coach from 1987 to 1991. It was that type of encouragement that had a significant impact on Dobbs becoming the kind of man he is today. It gave him the confidence and courage to pursue his passions. Wrestling and judo were a couple of those passion, but so was pursuing a career in education. He carried the lessons he learned early on into his profession.
Competing taught him how to deal with people up close and personal, for instance, whether it’s in day-to-day responsibilities around the district office, a classroom setting or in a business or public meeting. After a meet, competitors shake hands. The friendly attitude is something he’s tried to maintain even when dealing with opposing viewpoints as superintendent.
Colleagues can disagree on points but still maintain a friendly working relationship. Besides, he says, it’s not as intimidating to confront professional opposition after you’ve had someone coming at you on the competitor's mat, wanting to physically take you down.
"I've never seen him angry," says Michelle Lucas, district superintendent secretary. "He is very approachable."
Making a Difference
There rarely has been a time in Dobbs's life when schools and education were not a part of it.
Dobbs grew up in Twin Falls, attended the College of Southern Idaho, and headed to San Jose State University where he stayed for a year before moving back to the Gem State to pursue two bachelor degrees from Boise State University – a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science.
He returned to his hometown in 1984, and over the next two decades worked as a wrestling coach, teacher of several subjects, and principal.
One of his more memorable career experiences was helping develop Magic Valley Alternative High School, now Magic Valley High School. At the time that he became principal of the school in 1991, it shared a building with the First Presbyterian Church. Students would set up canvas walls in the building for class on Monday mornings, and take them down again on Friday afternoons so the building would be ready to host church services on Sunday.
Between 40 and 50 students started at the school, he says, but it quickly grew to 120 students.
“It established a second chance for kids who dropped out of high school,” he says. “I was very proud of the work I was a part of at the high school.”
It’s About the People
Dobbs recalls with fondness many of the students and staff he’s worked with over the years. In a letter he sent to district employees last September announcing his retirement, and in media interviews, he mentions many of those people by name – Patti O’Dell, Judy Watson, Frank Charlton, Bill Jones, Dale Thornsberry … the list goes on.
It was at Vera C. O’Leary Middle School, where he worked as principal from 1992 to 2000, that he learned firsthand the concept of synergy.
“We worked as a team,” he says of the staff. Everybody worked hard, pursued the same goals, and got along well.
It is a concept that he’s tried to implement as a superintendent throughout the district. He is quick to note that the district’s successes are not all his own, but because of the efforts of many.
Still, those who’ve worked with Dobbs say he has influenced them. It’s readily apparent he cares deeply for those with whom he works.
“It’s been a pleasure working with him,” Lucas says. “He’s been a wonderful mentor and extremely approachable. … He’s always looking for the best interest of his students.”
After Dobbs became superintendent in 2003 – before that he was director of operations and interim superintendent – he tried to foster the same environment he learned at O’Leary: where people felt comfortable working together to achieve the same goal.
Dobbs reflects on his time as superintendent and, for the most part, says he feels encouraged by what the district has accomplished over the past 14 years.
Since he’s been superintendent, the district has built a new high school, two new elementary schools, and a new middle school will open this year just as he leaves his post. There also have been a number of facilities levies that were passed – the most recent on March 14 – which helped improve existing schools.
Dobbs doesn’t pat himself on the back, but quickly acknowledges that the community has had a big part in its successes.
He mentions CSI, the city of Twin Falls and other local partners that worked to “establish economic growth” for the area, he says, and voters supported the ballot issues that helped improve existing schools and paved the way for four new schools.
Big Shoes to Fill
It is still undetermined who will fill Dobbs's shoes, but the candidate pool has been narrowed to three – Dr. Brady Dickinson, who currently works as the district’s director of operations; Dr. Jim Shank, current superintendent of Coupeville School District in Washington; and Monte Woolstenhulme, superintendent of the Teton School District in Driggs.
Community members will have the chance to meet the candidates at an open house today at 4:30 p.m. at Canyon Ridge High School.
Whoever becomes the next super, Dobbs says he hopes the same level of community and staff support will be offered to his replacement. It is everybody working together that makes success possible, not one person doing it alone.
Lucas says people around the district office are a little anxious to see Dobbs leave, not only because he has been a great boss, she says, but because they have no idea what the next superintendent will be like.
“We hope we’ll get someone just as good to replace him,” she says, but notes that whoever that person is will have big shoes to fill. “It’s kind of tense around here not knowing who our next boss is going to be.”
Dobbs won’t have much of a break between the time he retires from the district on Aug. 31 and the time he starts work at the IDLA on Sept. 5, where he’ll be serving as a type of coach for the academy’s digital efforts. But he’s used to being busy and, in fact, prefers it that way.
He’ll work with IDLA until he moves out of the country, but it’ll be a while before that happens. If all goes as planned, he expects to leave Idaho sometime in 2018.
Before he leaves his post, however, Dobbs will receive the 2017 Inspiration Award, given on behalf of the Joint Leadership of the U.S. Congress and board of directors of the Congressional Award Foundation.
According to a letter that informed Dobbs of the honor, “the award is given each year to an adult in the Congressional Award program who is making a difference in the lives of young people they support. The leadership and service you provided through your work has been just that to your Congressional Award participants … an inspiration.”
Dobbs will be given the award at a gold medal ceremony on June 21 in Washington, D.C. It is one of many awards that he’s received over the past three decades for his service and commitment to the education field.
Dobbs didn’t go into his career for awards, but they serve as emblems of his commitment to the students and staff he’s affected over the years. It’s a number that is difficult to quantify.
It also is difficult for him to quantify all that he’s learned over his 33-year career with the district, or all of the things he’s taken away from the wrestling and judo mats.
He still plans to practice judo, and to serve as a mentor and coach for younger competitors, but says he has specific rules nowadays for those with whom he practices.
“They cannot hurt me,” he says with a chuckle, noting that even though he can still handle long work days, his body can’t handle the judo swipes as easy as it once did.
During his time competing, Dobbs has broken several bones, including seven in his left hand, had a total knee replacement and experienced several concussions. Now that he’s nearing his 60th year he doesn’t want to experience anymore broken bones. He says this with a smile, for he soon adds: “I probably will not compete anymore. Probably.”
If nothing else, his judo skills might come in handy if the plans of his district staff are put to the test.
“We’ve talked about tying him up and locking him in the vault,” Lucas says with a laugh. “Everybody is extremely sad. We don’t want him to leave.”
Dobbs, however, says when he leaves his post he has every confidence the district will be in good hands.
Summing up what he’s learned over the years, he says first of judo: “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” broken bones and all. “It’s been wonderful.”
And of his career as an educator and administrator for the Twin Falls School District, he says it hasn’t always been easy, but it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.
Dobbs is not one to dwell on the past, however, and he looks forward to adding new memories to his life’s book starting in September.
Still sitting behind his desk and reflecting on what has transpired so far, he simply says: “It’s been a great career. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”