Mike Dalton knows how to negotiate. Just ask retired Maryville City Manager Gary Hensley.
Hensley was one of the speakers at a retirement dinner for Dalton held Feb. 29 at The Barn Event Center in Townsend. More than 80 people were present for the dinner/celebration.
Hensley spoke during the dinner about the many times he would meet with Dalton to discuss the Maryville schools budget. Usually Dalton left with more money for his system than what Hensley initially budgeted. “The staff would question my negotiating ability,” Hensley said as the crowd laughed.
Hensley said that sometimes after Dalton had presented his facts and figures, if it appeared Hensley still wasn’t convinced the system needed more money, Dalton would use a line that often brought a laugh. “You aren’t against the kids are you?” Hensley quoted Dalton as saying. The audience laughed as the former city manager reminisced.
“We’ve been blessed with Mike Dalton’s tenure, no doubt about it,” Hensley said.
Hensley praised Dalton for his manner. “He had a talent for getting things done in a quiet way that was extremely effective,” Hensley said. “He had a quiet way of commanding respect.”
Dalton spoke last and said many don’t realize how much Hensley helped him. Dalton recounted how in the first few years of his administration, the city council at budget time talked about getting out of the school business and shutting down the system.
“Gary made one of the best education speeches I’ve ever heard,” Dalton said. “He said, ‘If you want the community you say you want, you have to have a high quality school system. We never heard anything else about not having a school system. That support made my job that much more pleasant.”
Dalton said he worked closely with the Maryville City Schools Foundation to help the schools with donated funds not provided by through the city budget. He thanked former directors Becky Swann and Sharon Anglim and current director Barbara Jenkins.
Dalton thanked his family and said that while he and his brothers weren’t wealthy growing up in Walland, they had everything they wanted from their family. “I had an opportunity to get an education, and I have a great wife, two great sons, a super daughter-in-law and two wonderful grandchildren,” he said.
Dalton said when he started out he told the school board that usually the central office didn’t have a lot to do with the one-on-one education of students. His work toward site-based management and getting teachers involved with the decision-making process was based on the belief that site-based management was the best for the schools. “I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a tremendous group of principals, and they’ve worked with the teachers,” he said.
Carolyn McAmis said the school system has come a long way since the school board named Dalton director in 1988. “I don’t know what it was like 19 years ago.”
City council vice mayor Tom Taylor talked about the success the system had with Dalton at the helm. “Part of it was that he brought stability to the system. Mike has always been willing to listen, and he’s had a proactive school board,” Taylor said. “He was able to take their ideas and run with them. He always took their ideas and made them work.”
School board member Christi Sayles said the average tenure of a schools director is three to five years but Dalton stayed on almost 20 years. “Mike was the Superglue that made everything stay focused and everyone stay unified,” she said.
School board member Denny Garner said Dalton worked to make the school system the best. “It’s unbelievable how far Mike Dalton has taken Maryville City Schools in the last 19 years, not simply through academics or technology,” he said. “Any way you look at schools, Maryville scores at the top. A lot of this is due to Mike Dalton and his leadership.”
School board member Mark Cate said all someone needed to do to see the effect Dalton had was to look at the system’s accomplishments over the last 20 years. “Changes couldn’t have happened without him,” Cate said.
Cate said Dalton led with his heart. “At the end of the day, that is what made the difference,” he said.
Mayor Joe Swann praised both Dalton and Hensley. “If you look at the services of the city of Maryville and the degree of excellence in the schools, we’ve been blessed to have both of these fellows,” he said.
Sharon Anglim with the Maryville City Schools spoke for the staff at the central office and spoke of how everyone misses him. “We had the pleasure of working with Dr. Dalton on a regular basis,” she said. “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think, ‘What would Dr. Dalton do or say?’ “
Maryville High School coach George Quarles presented Dalton with a football jersey and praised Dalton for always being concerned with academics and athletics. Dalton’s successor and long-time assistant, Stephanie Thompson, said Dalton always stressed the relationships between the teachers and students and working to help the decision-making process stay on that level. “That’s the thing he always impressed on me. What is most important is what happens between the teacher and the child,” she said.
Retired Maryville High School teacher Roger Murphy praised Dalton for working with the teachers’ association. “We came together over very sensitive issues. We didn’t always get what we wanted, but he was willing to work with the teachers organization to help teachers’ needs and make their jobs easier and better,” he said. “I think ultimately he is a Christian gentleman and that guided his every decision and interaction he made.”
Dr. Ken Bell was on the school board that voted Dalton in as schools director. The school board grew and Mike grew in those first few years, he said.
In those early years Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, a year-round school with a different curriculum than the other schools, was opened and site-based management gave teachers more decision-making opportunities, Bell said.
Bell said it wasn’t just funding that made the system what it became. “We saw systems better funded than we were. We found it wasn’t the amount of money you have but how you used it,” Bell said. “Ultimately, Mike took what we had and converted it into a very, very successful school system.”