Alan Cunningham retires

USD 443 superintendent Alan Cunningham has been a major asset to the school district for 43 years. After an immense amount of hard work and dedication to the students and staff of Dodge City Public Schools, Cunningham feels that his time has come to hang up the work shoes.

“For the first time in my career, I know it’s time,” said Cunningham. “I could have retired 8 years ago— I had enough points in the Kansas retirement system to take my full retirement, but I knew it wasn’t time yet.

“There was a lot of things that we needed to accomplish here in Dodge City, and I think that we’ve got a lot of them on the way. I don’t know if we got them all accomplished or not, but a lot of good things have happened that I’m glad I could be here to be a part of.”

Cunningham, who turns 65 this summer, graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1974 and began his teaching career at Northwest Elementary in that same year.

“My wife and I graduated from college, and we both wanted to move away from home,” said Cunningham. “I lived in Oklahoma City, and she was in a little town called Minco (Okla.). We met in college and married between our junior and senior year, both of us educators. She wanted to got to the big city to teach, and I wanted to go to a small town, so Dodge worked out great for the both of us.”

Cunningham became principal at Northwest Elementary School in 1981, then he served as the principal at Wilroads Gardens from 1990 to 1992. In 1992, he became the district’s first technology director and served in that position until he was selected as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in 1999. He has been superintendent since 2006.

“I tell people that I’ve been getting up and going to school every day for 60 years, since I started kindergarten 60 years ago,” said Cunningham. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when I don’t have to get up and go anymore.”

Cunningham has assisted and led many major district projects since he joined USD 443, the latest being the $85.6 million bond issue that passed last June.

“I’ve been involved in every (construction project) since I think the ones we built in 1995 when we opened Beeson, Linn and Soule. I wasn’t superintendent then, but I was assistant,” said Cunningham. “Then we built a new high school in 2001, and then the additions to Comanche and now the 12 improvements we’re making in 12 different schools. It’s been neat to see it, I really appreciate the community support through all this because they’re the ones that have to pay for it.”

Cunningham mentioned that one thing he looks forward to in his retirement is getting to travel with his wife and being able to celebrate her birthday and their anniversary.

“We have a son that lives north of Seattle, and it would be nice to be able go see him some time other than rush up in the middle of the summer and get back in time for school to start,” said Cunningham. “Also, my wife’s birthday and our anniversary have been in the first week of school every year for the last 43 years, so we’re going be able to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries I think for the first time this coming August.”

Cunningham stated that one thing he will miss the most in his position is the current relationships he holds with staff and district members.

“For the last 11 years in this seat I haven’t really had a lot of interaction with kids and such, though I love going to the buildings and seeing the kids and talking to kids,” said Cunningham. “My interactions have primarily been with big people, and I’m going to miss those relationships.”

Although leaving is a bittersweet feeling for him, Cunningham feels confident that Fred Dierksen, who will step up as superintendent this June, will do just fine in leading USD 443.

“I’ve known Dr. Dierksen for close to 30 years, since he was in Jetmore as a principal and I was a building principal at that time, and he and I would be in meetings and things together for southwest Kansas administrators,” said Cunningham. “Fred is a consonant gentleman and a quality educator, he is going to do just fine. He’s a fine a person and he has the best interest of kids and teachers at heart.

“It’s going to be a big learning curve for him coming to a big district this size from Sterling, but he’s looked at this district for 8 to 12 years. As a matter of fact, he’s asked on more than one occasion if I’m ready to retire because he wanted to put his name in the hat. I’m very proud that he is going to be the one to fill my seat.”

Cunningham said that he doesn’t plan on moving away from Dodge City any time soon. He added that he has been very grateful for the opportunities that Dodge City has provided.

“I want to thank Dodge City and USD 443 for taking a young teacher, fresh out of college in 1974, and letting me learn, make mistakes, grow and still keep me around,” he said. “It has been my privilege to be a part of this school district and community. It was a great place to start my career and great place to end it.”

To contact the writer of this story, email egarcia@dodgeglobe.com.