If you were a kid, had a kid, knew a kid who went to a Twin Falls public school, read a newspaper or learned anything about judo in the past 30 years, chances are you’ve heard about Wiley Dobbs.
The Twin Falls superintendent will retire Sept. 1 after more than three decades in education.
A 1976 graduate of Twin Falls High School, Dobbs began his career in the district in 1983. He’s been superintendent since 2003. In that time, he taught or oversaw the education of 132,800 students.
Needless to say, he’s touched a lot of lives.
In our special Big Story report on Dobbs and the role of superintendents in today’s school systems, we asked Twin Falls students to weigh in on Dobbs’ performance. We thought Fabiana Casella, a 7-year-old second-grader at Harrison Elementary School, summed it up nicely: “Dr. Dobbs is kind, does good magic tricks, and he worries about snow days and is smart.”
That’s pretty high praise from a youngster.
Older folks appreciate Dobbs, too. Just a few of his accolades include being named the state’s superintendent of the year, the state’s educator of the year, invites to Washington, D.C., for leadership and education summits and a lifetime achievement award from the Chamber of Commerce.
Just last week, he was in Washington to receive the Inspiration Award, given to a Congressional Award adviser on behalf of the joint leadership of Congress and of the Congressional Award Foundation. Dobbs has helped scores of youngsters earn Congressional Awards, given to high-achieving students by Congress.
But it’s the little things, the quiet acts that don’t earn much newspaper coverage, that truly separate Dobbs from other leaders. He meets personally with kids moving into the district for the first time, guiding them on tours through their new schools. He helped students with a landscape project to honor a classmate who died. A cancer survivor, Dobbs also helped organize Relay for Life activities in the schools. The district’s program to help migrant and refugee children integrate into American life is among the nation’s best.
Outside the district, Dobbs is a widely known judo champion who helped introduce countless students to the sport.
In Dobbs’ final evaluation from the Twin Falls School Board, the board wrote it had “determined your unwavering dedication and continued leadership to the Twin Falls School District #411 is of the highest quality.”
As an administrator, he shepherded through more than $189 million in ballot measures for new schools, initiatives and supplies. That’s almost unheard of in the Magic Valley, where neighboring districts often struggle to gain that kind of financial support from their taxpayers.
Dobbs was an educator when few people were using the internet, or even knew what it was. This was before school shootings and lockdowns and sheltering in place and debates over who gets to use what bathrooms.
Dobbs always seemed to be one step ahead. In 1999, writing in the Times-News, he said, “The Industrial Revolution has given way to the Information Age. High levels of education are required for the vast majority of our students if they are to fit successfully into the ‘Work Force 2000.’ I predict that within 10 years, it will be obvious which public schools have successfully engaged in systematic change and improvement and which have not. The gap in student achievement will be unpleasantly conspicuous.”
Because of his leadership, the Twin Falls district is a leader in technology, and more students than ever are earning college credits, often while they’re still in high school. And Twin Falls schools are among the state’s most fair, nurturing and respectful to their students, celebrating diversity and the right of every child to earn an education.
With Dobbs’ recommendation, the Twin Falls district was one of the first and only in Idaho to adopt policies to protect LGBT students from discrimination.
For Dobbs, it’s the students who’ve always been front of mind. Even when this newspaper has clashed with the district over transparency or policy issues, Dobbs has been the ultimate gentleman, clearly advocating for what he thought were the best interests of students, teachers and the district. He has epitomized integrity, grace and humility.
Even though he’s retiring, Dobbs isn’t giving up on education. He plans to move to Boise to work full-time for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy. He was also hired by the Idaho Principal Mentoring Project to help school principals in the Boise area. And Dobbs is considering administration jobs outside the United States, perhaps with the Defense Department and embassy schools.
We can’t help but believe Dobbs would make an outstanding state superintendent of Idaho schools, if he ever got the itch to run for office.
One thing is for sure: He’d have our support, and the support of thousands of students, parents, teachers and Magic Valley residents.
Congratulations, Dr. Dobbs, and good luck in your retirement, wherever it leads you.