Dighton, Kansas (population 1,023) is the county seat of Lane County, about three-quarters of the way heading west across Kansas on Hwy 96. The district covers 619 square miles of Lane County. Since it is about 40 miles west of Bazine, where I started teaching, and about 60 miles east of Leoti, my first superintendency, I have been through Dighton many times. The most memorable time was when I was with a busload of track athletes from Bazine and we stopped for gas at the Dighton Bowl/Quick Shop. Those young Bazine kids had their tender sensibilities offended when a passing car mooned them. Until recently, when I thought of Dighton, I thought moonings.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a legislative forum in Johnson County. Newly-elected Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman introduced several dignitaries in attendance, including Majority Leader Don Hineman and Senator Jim Denning. The Speaker pointed out that all three have roots in Western Kansas: Meade, Dighton and Great Bend. From my seat in the back, I spotted District 23 Representative Linda Gallagher, Dighton; former Blue Valley Board Member Tony Thill, Ellinwood; Basehor-Linwood Superintendent David Howard, Fairfield; and Emporia Assistant Superintendent Rob Scheib, Dighton. Western Kansas was pretty well represented, especially Dighton.
I began to think that maybe all roads lead to Western Kansas, and more specifically, to Dighton. Dighton is home to Majority Leader Don Hineman, a great friend of education. His sister, Linda Gallagher, represents Johnson County District 23 in the House of Representatives and is also a supporter of public education. That is pretty good representation for a town of just over 1,000 people.
But that is just a start. Randy Weseman, longtime superintendent of the Lawrence public schools, current KASB staff member and a former Dighton Hornet himself, got his start as a guitarist with the “famed” band “The Stingers” at age 16. Mike Cook, executive director of the ESSDACK service center in Hutchinson, is also proud Hornet. As was Mike’s dad Al, a standout member of the KASB Worker’s Compensation board of trustees for many years. Rob Scheib, Emporia USD 253 assistant superintendent, is a Hornet who traces his roots to Lane County farmland. And who can forget KSDE superstar CTE Director Jay Scott who once roamed the courts and fields of Hornet-land. Last but not least, Angela Lawrence hails from Dighton and is now superintendent in Russell.
Now you might be thinking, ‘well, good for Dighton, but why does this matter to me?’ Bear with me, I am getting there. The good folks of Dighton, Kansas, have elected school boards, built schools, hired teachers and other staff, and paid the bills for hundreds of kids over the past 100 years or so. Many of the folks who went through those schools are still in Dighton, contributing to the community. Many more have ventured farther afield. And based on the handful of folks I know, Kansas has benefited from the investment made by Dighton’s residents through the years.
- Johnson County has benefited from Linda Gallagher’s representation in the House of Representatives.
- Lawrence has benefited from the leadership of Randy Weseman.
- Emporia has benefited from the knowledge and skills of Rob Scheib.
- KASB has benefited from the wisdom and insights of Al Cook.
- Central Kansas has benefited from the vision of Mike Cook.
- Russell has benefited from the leadership of Angela Lawrence.
- Kansas has benefited from the education direction set by Jay Scott.
- Kansas will benefit from the wisdom, leadership and collaborative spirit of Don Hineman.
There are 286 school districts in Kansas. Every one of them has similar stories. Weave them together and you have Kansas, without internal boundaries, all living the American vision of E pluribus unum. Johnson County educates kids who live all over Kansas. The rest of Kansas educates kids who move to Johnson County.
Let’s remember this in the months to come. Parochial interests are a strong pull, but our sense of pride in our state needs to be stronger. To quote Speaker Ryckman: “The better Meade is, the better Johnson County is.”