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TMP principal leaving school

4/3/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Bill DeWitt said it was hard to say "no" to his alma mater and the town in which he grew up.

The same held true for the city where he went to college, got married and started a family of his own.

DeWitt -- who left the Lawrence area four years ago to return to his native Hays as principal of Thomas More Prep-Marian High School, from where he graduated in 1992 -- is headed back east.

He told his staff Tuesday morning he had accepted a job as assistant principal and athletic director at Lawrence High School for the 2013-14 school year.

Reactions to the news of DeWitt's departure ran the gamut, from shock to sadness, disappointment and even heartache.

"It's hard for me to talk about it," said Father Daryl Olmstead, who as bishop designate for Heartland Parishes of Ellis County has worked closely with DeWitt the past four years. "I've worked with him on everything and developed a close friendship. I'm excited for him, but sad for the school -- and for everyone else here."

People like DeWitt's style

By all accounts, DeWitt, who will turn 40 in May, is genuinely well-liked.

"He did so much for the school," said Deana Rupp, mother of TMP eighth-grader Taryn Rupp.

DeWitt's philosophy is that students respond best to high expectations, so he stressed that -- and strong values.

"He is a strong leader and seemed to have a good way with the kids," said Becky Wasinger, mother of TMP junior Lexie Wasinger.

Senior Kade Megaffin said he thinks DeWitt's ability to deal well with people of all ages will serve him well at his new school.

"It's sad that we're losing him, but I'm excited to see what things he can accomplish in a bigger school in a bigger city," said Megaffin, the oldest of three brothers who attend TMP.

Lawrence High is one of two Class 6A schools -- the largest classification in Kansas -- with nearly 1,500 students in Lawrence (population 88,700). TMP, with its enrollment of 234 in grades 9 through 12, is a 3A school.

"I have so much respect for him. He's always been one to listen to student input," Megaffin said. "He may not always agree with you, but he's always willing to listen."

"I feel sorry for my brothers," Megaffin added, "because I was able to have (DeWitt) for all my years here, and they're going to miss out. But I'm sure TMP will get someone good to come in."

DeWitt, who said he will finish out his contract through June "to help ensure that all pieces are in place for next year," echoed that sentiment.

"The school has tremendous momentum right now, and it will continue," he said in an email note to parents Monday.

Nonetheless, Megaffin said, "whoever comes in will have big shoes to fill."

Strong ties to Lawrence

Both DeWitt and his wife, Amy, are graduates of the University of Kansas, and he has remained an avid KU fan. The DeWitts were married in a Catholic church in Lawrence, where all three of their daughters were born. They lived in Eudora -- about 10 miles east of Lawrence -- for 10 years, while DeWitt taught and coached at Tonganoxie and Eudora, before coming to TMP in 2009.

"It's two great loves," DeWitt said of Hays and Lawrence. "(Lawrence) is the only place I'd ever leave this school for."

That opportunity presented itself after the first of the year when some friends of DeWitt's told him about the job opening at Lawrence High and urged him to pursue it.

"Everyone knows I love (KU), that I lived (in that area) for 18 years," he said. "I thought, 'What do I have to lose?' " by applying.

As the process progressed and he was eventually offered the job, DeWitt had to huddle with his family.

"There are a lot of mixed emotions because Anna will be a seventh-grader next year," DeWitt said of his oldest daughter. "We've all made some great friends here. But at the age my kids are at, for our family, it's an easier time now than later."

DeWitt's mother is deceased, and his dad lives in California. But the move will take the DeWitt children closer to their maternal grandparents, who live in southeast Kansas.

"We took the girls farther away from their grandparents to move here," DeWitt said. "Now, we'll be two-plus hours from them instead of six."

Moving on

Randy Walker, chairman of the board of trustees for Hays Catholic Schools, said accomplishments were many during DeWitt's tenure, most notably the creation of a junior high school, adding seventh- and eighth-grade classes to the HCS curriculum.

Holy Family Elementary services students in preschool through sixth grade, but prior to this year, there was no Catholic school in Hays for the seventh- and eighth-grade levels. Most TMP-bound students attended Kennedy Middle School, the smaller of two public middle schools in Hays.

When Hays USD 489 voted in 2011 to close Kennedy at the end of the 2011-12 school year, DeWitt and the board headed up a group effort to establish a junior high. When school started last August, seventh- and eighth-graders joined the high school students on the TMP campus, which underwent renovations and reshuffling over the summer to make room for the 120-some new students.

And he added principal of the junior high to his title.

Announcement 'bittersweet'

"I don't think we would have been able to do what we did with the middle school if it hadn't been for Bill," said Walker, who has two sons, senior twin brothers Lucas and Jonathan, currently attending TMP.

Jeff Brull, advancement director at TMP, agreed.

"We would, in no way, be where we are today with our Catholic schools without Bill's leadership, advocacy and passion for Catholic education," Brull said.

Walker said he "worked closely with (DeWitt) from a board standpoint and a family standpoint. Our kids just love him. He's been a good principal, a good person. It's a good family. I hate to see him go. On the other hand, we're happy for Bill. It's bittersweet."

Ditto for DeWitt.

"It has been a privilege to come back to Hays serve as (TMP's) principal," he said. "This was not an easy decision to make."

Walker said he and the rest of the board are scheduled to meet Thursday to set up a search committee that will include members of the board and from the community.

"Like Jean always said," Olmstead said of Jean Ross, former president of TMP. "God provides. I'm sure He will provide this time, too."