New Papillion-La Vista Superintendent Andy Rikli is quickly mastering the diplomacy required to manage a district with two rival high schools.
Just deciding where to buy a house has the potential to draw scrutiny from the partisan Monarchs and Titans.
Asked about his move to the district, Rikli, who took over July 1, notes that he and his wife, Amy, searched both communities, Papillion and La Vista, before buying a house in Papillion's Shadow Lake subdivision.
Shadow Lake is an upscale development south of the Shadow Lake Towne Center shopping mall at 72nd Street and Nebraska Highway 370.
Although the couple found Cimarron Woods in La Vista attractive, Rikli said clinching the deal were the many young families in Shadow Lake and the five-minute commute to the district's central office.
Being a quick study will be helpful as Rikli jumps from Westside Community Schools, with one high school, into a district that is Nebraska's fourth-largest and growing.
Already Rikli is talking about the need for a third high school within 10 years, maybe sooner, if enrollment growth continues. That's something that Papillion-La Vista Public Schools officials have mentioned as a likelihood down the road, but first they need to build and staff new elementary and middle schools paid for with last fall's bond issue.
Drawing up attendance boundaries for those schools is on Rikli's radar.
In the short term, however, the 39-year-old former Westside administrator said he doesn't plan to push for any dramatic changes in the way the district does business.
He said he is heeding advice from some accomplished superintendents, who have said that there's no need to rush: “This is a marathon; it's not a sprint.”
He said he's walking into an organization that's “highly functional.” He won't seek change for the sake of change.
Rikli replaced retiring Superintendent Rick Black, who set a casual tone during his six years, wearing cowboy boots and quoting country song lyrics at honors assemblies.
Rikli, a self-professed lover of spreadsheets who previously served as Westside's assistant superintendent for administrative operations, said he can't replace Black and won't try.
Although Rikli might look like a polished, professional city boy, he points out his country roots as an asset in a district where small-town values still hang on amid suburban subdivisions. He said he can be at ease with a group of state senators and also talk shop with local farmers.
Born in a small town in northwest Missouri, Rikli spent his early childhood in Rochester, Minn., before moving to Auburn, Neb., with his mother. His parents were divorced.
He said he baby-sat, sacked groceries, walked beans and detasseled corn.
“I'm from Nebraska,” he said. “I graduated from a small Nebraska town. My wife's from a small Nebraska town. So I think culturally we'll fit in very well with the Papillion and La Vista communities.”
He said he hopes to win people over with honesty and openness.
“All the intelligence in the world, all the work ethic in the world, counts for very little if people can't trust you, if people don't see you as an honorable individual,” he said.
The community expects the superintendent to be highly visible — at extracurricular events, speech contests, concerts, sporting events, he said. Rikli said he expects to hear from the community at those events.
“I hope I'm approachable,” he said. “I hope people, when they see me at the volleyball game, the football game or the grocery store, feel like they can approach me and introduce themselves, because that's the kind of person I am,” Rikli said.
In the meantime, he said, he has been setting up meetings with business, faith and community leaders. He has also been holding focus group sessions with district employees, asking what is going right and what needs improvement.
Over the next few weeks, he plans to meet with elected officials who represent the area, business groups and leaders of Parent Teacher Organizations and school booster clubs.
With the district's proposed 2013-14 budget already under development, he said, he will offer input, getting involved “as much as the business office needs.” He said he has great respect for the district's assistant superintendent for finance, Doug Lewis, and his staff.
Rikli said the district's enrollment growth — 400 new students last year and an expected 300 this year — will continue to put a strain on facilities and the budget.
He said reviewing the strategic plan will be on the to-do list, with an eye toward making it an action plan rather than a report that gathers dust on the shelf.
Rikli will be paid a $200,000 base salary for the first year of his three-year contract. He will receive a transportation allowance of $7,500 a year plus reimbursement for mileage when using his personal vehicle on district business beyond a distance of 30 miles.
The district is paying for a $250,000 life insurance policy. He is eligible for district health and dental insurance and sick leave.
He receives 20 vacation days per year, and he can carry over unused sick days into future years as long as the number of accumulated days does not exceed 30.
The Riklis take possession of their house July 19. They currently live in the Elkhorn area. The district is reimbursing the family for moving expenses of up to $4,500.
Rikli's wife, Amy, is vice president of commercial lending at First National Bank of Omaha.
Their two older children, Adrianna, 9, and Meredith, 6, will attend Bell Elementary School. Their youngest, son Sam, will turn 3 next month.