Two weeks into his new job as superintendent of Johnstown-Monroe Local Schools, 54-year-old Dale Dickson said he is looking forward to serving the community.
"Servant leader is my leadership style," he told ThisWeek. "I'm here to serve the board and community. I like to work with people other than over people."
The school board approved a three-year contract with Dickson at a salary of $108,000 and a health and benefits package of $19,084 for a total annual salary-and-benefits package of $127,084.
Treasurer Tammy Woods said Dickson's health and benefits package mirror the teachers' rate. She said the district is negotiating the teachers' contract, so those figures could change.
Dickson retired from a position as dual superintendent of Berne Union Local Schools in Sugar Grove and Walnut Township Local Schools in Millersport.
"I made the decision to retire last year," he said. "Given changes in the system, STRS said I should retire. I flunked retirement."
Dickson, who turns 54 today, June 1, said he was too young to retire.
"I had feelers out," he said. "I've been in the running for other positions around the state. I was trying to see where I would be led. I have a strong faith in Christ. I don't always understand where I'm called to go."
He was a licensed pastor for the past seven years, leading worship and preaching at a United Methodist Church.
As Dickson went through the extensive interview process for the Johnstown job, he said, it seemed like Johnstown was the right place for him.
"The interview process was five hours talking with the community, administration and the board," he said. "Along the way, it seemed more solid that's where I'm supposed to be."
Dickson began his career in education as a teacher and athletics director at New Albany Senior High School in 1985. Four years later, he became principal of New Albany-Plain Local Middle School.
Dickson said a few Johnstown staff members are those he had taught as students in New Albany.
"There are quite a few students I had in New Albany embedded here," he said. "Great memories started coming back."
While Dickson was working in New Albany, he received a call from the New Lexington City Schools superintendent in 1990. He was asked to visit his hometown of New Lexington to share the "nifty" things he was doing with New Albany's student-centered program, he said.
"Walking out the door, he said, he had me come under false pretenses," Dickson said. "They had a job."
He returned to New Lexington to work, and he found a 25-acre property and built a home.
After serving as a junior high principal in New Lexington for two years, he became assistant superintendent of the district in 1992. He stayed in that role until 1996, when he became superintendent of the New Lexington City Schools.
He said Johnstown is about the size of New Lexington.
"Its close proximity to the city is very desirable," he said. "There was a draw here. It's a place I think I'm supposed to be."
Dickson said Johnstown's facility project should take a tremendous amount of his time during the next three years.
He said the board also is committed to virtual learning.
"I'm absolutely on board with that," he said. "That's a growing learning environment."
During a special meeting May 26, the board employed Jeff Rings as the high school virtual-learning coordinator. He had been serving as dean of students this year.
Dickson said the dean of students/athletics director positions would be combined at the high school level.
While he's looks forward to getting more involved with the community, Dickson said, he's in the process of getting his home on the market so he and his wife, Teresa, can move within the Johnstown district.
They are the parents of Amanda, who was set to be married this weekend. Their son, Aaron, is an Ohio State University graduate, and their son, Austin, is a college student majoring in sports medicine.
"We have empty-nest syndrome for the first time," he said. "My wife and I look forward to attending events here. I can't tell you how pleased I am with the support and the welcome from the board and staff. People seem refreshed and ready to do what's right for this district. Our goal is to get up here and get more involved."