Kathy Hageman • Reflector-Chronicle

Greg Brown, Abilene’s new superintendent of schools, joined the school district July 1. He said Abilene already feels like home and he looks forward to meeting community leaders and patrons in upcoming weeks.

Abilene’s new superintendent of schools said he is looking forward to meeting community leaders and school district patrons and encourages people with questions to stop by and see him.

“The door is always open,” said Greg Brown, Abilene Public School’s new superintendent of schools. “That’s one of the things that’s kind of fun about having an office downtown.”

Brown officially joined the Abilene school district July 1 and has spent the last couple weeks getting to know who’s who.

“I’ve got a list of goals for the first 100 days. A lot of those goals include building relationships and finding out who does what. I’ll be leaning hard on Chris Cooper (assistant superintendent) and of course, the board members — they’ll be outstanding on that, and the ladies in the office who have been here a long, long time,” Brown said.

Brown came to Abilene from Yates Center where he spent four years as superintendent. Before that, he spent nine years in Hillsboro where he was the middle school principal and district curriculum coordinator eight years. Previously, he spent 21 years in the North Ottawa County (Minneapolis) school district, starting as a math teacher and coach before becoming principal.

Brown said he was drawn to the Abilene district because it has a “great reputation and a lot of great leaders.”

“The biggest excitement I’m having is being part of a really solid team of leaders. The building administrators and folks who work here are really solid people that are in the business for kids,” Brown said. “It’s really obvious when you meet them. I’m really kind of humbled to get to work with such a good team.”

‘Back door’ administrator

Brown said he considers himself a “back door administrator” because he never planned to be one.

“I had no intention of being an administrator. My superintendent at the time told me the board wanted to talk to me about the principal position,” Brown explained. “I was a veteran teacher and I thought they wanted me to share some ideas of what we should find in a principal so that’s how I was answering the questions.

“It took me about 45 minutes to realize they were interviewing me!” he recalled with a laugh. “I had just become the head football coach. That was my professional challenge and I had just got there. I had no intention of not being the football coach, so I was principal and head football coach at the same time. I was too dumb to know how much of a challenge that was.”

MTSS program was draw

One thing that attracted him to Abilene Public Schools was the district’s commitment to MTSS or Multi-Tiered System of Support, a framework that provides targeted support to struggling students.

“Abilene isn’t the only school system that does it, but it’s the only one I’m aware of that has committed itself as deeply as it has to the MTSS process — making sure students’ academic needs are met as much as possible,” Brown said. “That’s really exciting to me because I’ve always tried to be an instructional leader as an administrator.”

Brown also knew of Abilene’s strong connection to MTSS through his wife Denise Brown, an educational consultant who helped Abilene get its MTSS program established.

“Professionally, I thought it would be exciting to be part of such a strong system,” he added.

Looking down the road

Brown said he’s familiarizing himself with projects the board of education wants to address, including ongoing facility issues.

In 2014, Abilene school district patrons approved a $24.2 million bond issue to improve district schools. However, the money ran out before all planned projects were completed so some were put on hold to be addressed at a later time.

Last year, the board indicated it was time to take another look at the football stadium, vo-ag building and bus barn but the decision was made to wait until a new superintendent (Brown) was onboard.

“Abilene has got some really great facilities and then some spots that aren’t so great,” Brown said. “We’re looking at being wise about approaching some of those upgrades. I think it’s beneficial in any community to build relationships with other community leaders. It we work together as much as possible, hopefully, we can pool our resources and leadership and make some things happen.”

For many, the Abilene High School football field and stadium has been an ongoing concern.

The old stadium, built during the 1930s, leaks, locker rooms need to be expanded, restrooms need to be rebuilt, drainage issues must be addressed and the list goes on. The stadium also is surrounded by a residential area making expansion difficult.

“I had a chance to drive around the block while (AHS) was hosting the regional track meet. It gets real busy real fast around there,” Brown said.

He is intrigued by an editorial written in June by Reflector-Chronicle Sports Editor Ron Preston who suggested the school district, city of Abilene and other groups look at creating a sports facility master plan.

“Perhaps there’s some thinking that should be done collaboratively and see where we end up, looking at community needs,” Brown said.

He has seen positive results come from a similar joint project. During his time in Hillsboro, he witnessed several public entities in the Marion County town work together on a stadium project.

“Hillsboro did some really forward-thinking things with facilities that had needs not a whole lot different than Abilene’s. They were very intentional about building a collaborative partnership with USD 410 (Hillsboro Public Schools), Tabor College and the city. They pooled some resources. It wasn’t the kind of thing that happened overnight, but they were able to do some pretty cool things with that,” Brown said.

Getting settled

With a full slate of projects coming up, Brown said he and his family are taking some time this summer to get settled. He and his wife Denise and their two foster children, high schoolers Peter and J’Angelo, are already immersing themselves in the Abilene community.

“Both boys have been going to summer weight training and Peter is playing senior Babe Ruth baseball so we’re in the throes of it,” Brown said.

Besides their foster children, the Browns are parents to four grown children and nine grandchildren.

Daughter Jillian Marsh and her husband Caleb live in El Dorado with their children Newell, Emmerine, Lincoln and Mia. Son Nick Brown and wife Kayla live in Denver, Colo., with their children Rylan, Jameson and Bowen. Son Spencer Brown and wife Amanda live in McPherson with their children Beniah and Abigail. The Browns’ youngest son, Jesse, has taken a job in McPherson.

Even though Brown’s job in Yates Center didn’t end until June, the Browns moved 90 percent of their belongings to Abilene around Easter. Their home in Yates Center sold almost immediately after it was announced he had taken a new job in Abilene back in January.

“We sold ours in a blink of the eye to a young couple so we got real busy working with a local realtor here and got us a place,” Brown said.

Brown already has connections to Dickinson County. Both of his parents, Barbara (Richards) Brown and the late Edmonde Brown, grew up in Solomon and graduated from Solomon High School and he still has family living in the area.

So Brown wasn’t surprised when his aunt’s brother, who it turns out lives about a block away, recently walked down his driveway to say hello.

“The world gets real small, real fast,” he said.

Even though Abilene is a larger community than Yates Center, Brown said he’s looking forward to the new challenge. He recalls speaking to teachers back in January during his interview day and asking Abilene High School football coach Steve Simpson “what is the coolest thing about teaching and coaching in Abilene?”

“Coach told me ‘it’s a little bigger community, but it’s still a small town atmosphere. You still have the best of both worlds,’” Brown said.

“It feels like home already. That’s the neat thing.”

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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