For the time being, Richard Bechard plans on being a commuter.
Bechard, the incoming Activities Director for the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, will make the drive from his current home in Johnson County, Kansas, as he prepares to assume his new duties July 1. This doesn’t mean he’s reluctant to leave his old home and old job behind, or that he’s having any second thoughts.
Quite the opposite, actually. Bechard, in fact, is already feeling welcome and at home in his new surroundings.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Bechard said during a reception held for him May 28 at the district’s Stansberry Leadership Center. “All the high schools and middle schools I’ve been able to get out to were great welcoming and excited. I feel very welcomed by the community already and just coming into a district with the quality of Lee’s Summit is exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”
Bechard comes to Lee’s Summit from the Blue Valley (Kan.) School District, where he served as activities director for eight years. Before that he spent 16 years as a principal and activities director in Holton, Kan., and was also and athletic director in Stockton, Kan. When he decided to leave Blue Valley, an affluent suburban district with more than 20,000 students and five high schools, he said he wanted to find another district with the same level of athletic and academic success. He believes he’s found that in Lee’s Summit.
“I saw a lot of similarities in the two districts,” Bechard said. “I truly believe that Blue Valley is a top district in the state of Kansas and I think Lee’s Summit is the same way in Missouri. And that was just attractive to me to be able to work in the top district in Kansas and now the top district in Missouri.”
Bechard said a big reason he’s here is the man he’s succeeding: Darwin Rold. Rold, who is retiring next month after 24 years as Lee’s Summit district activities director, is an old acquaintance of Bechard’s.
“I’ve known Darwin Rold for a number of years and just through him heard so many good things about Lee’s Summit that it was just something I wanted to check in to,” Bechard said. “I really liked what I saw and I was fortunate enough to be put in this position.”
Bechard said he doesn’t mind taking over for a familiar and popular figure such as Rold. Part of the challenge, as he sees it, is to continue the high level of success the district has achieved under Rold.
“That’s one of the things that’s attracted me to come to Lee’s Summit is the work Darwin’s done over the years, the programs that he’s built,” Bechard said. “I feel like I’m walking into such a good situation that all I need to do is to continue to build on them, much as he would’ve done if he stayed on another few years.”
While he hopes to maintain the district’s athletic success, Bechard has his own passions he plans on brining to his new job. One of them is the firm belief that interscholastic athletics need to be kept “pure.” That means keeping the emphasis on building character instead of building championships.
“I love to win, I love the championships,” Bechard said. “But when it gets right down to it, our main purpose is preparing kids for later life building character traits. Keeping that the main focus will be a lot of my mission as I start here. And I think that’s already in place and I just hope to build on that.”
“We need to keep it educational-based and that’s always been my goal first and foremost. Then if championships result out of this and college scholarships, which I hope they do, that’s like icing on the cake.”
Bechard his first priority is getting out and meeting as many people in the district and community that he can. He also has to learn the ways of Missouri high school athletics as he undertakes his first job outside of his native Kansas.
Then comes time for house-hunting. But not right away.
“My wife works in an elementary school in Blue Valley that’s only about a mile from where I live, so I’m going to drive for a while,” Bechard said.