Finding the right fit at 257
Cole’s first day was Jan 31. Starting Feb. 6, an ice storm led to cancelation of three days of classes. Then, a water main broke at Jefferson Elementary School.
“It kind of seems like I brought that type of weather with me from Colorado,” he joked, referring to the 13 years he spent working there in turf maintenance.
He’s been back in Kansas for the past four years, though. Plenty of time to have shaken off the wintry weather of the mountains. Cole lived in Highlands Ranch, a suburb on the southern edges of Denver.
Snow isn’t the problem, Cole said. It’s the ice.
“That’s a lot more challenging,” he said. “But I was kind of used to that, coming from Colorado.”
The water main break at Jefferson required Cole to work with city officials and a local plumbing company. He was glad school had been called off; they would have needed to send students home otherwise. Then just a few weeks later, a clogged drain in the science building caused flooding in the cafeteria and nearby classrooms.
Cole said the early challenges have given him a chance to get to know his staff, administrators, city officials and others in a timely manner.
“It was a good learning experience,” he said.
COLE GREW up in Iola and Moran. He graduated from Iola High School, along with his classmate and friend Scott Stanley, who previously served as USD 257 operations director.
After high school, Cole attended Pittsburg State University and Emporia State University. He initially studied electrical engineering, but found he wasn’t as passionate about it as he would be about turf management.
In Colorado, he managed a 32-acre sports complex with various athletic fields and playgrounds
After starting a family, Cole realized he wanted to be back home in Iola. He and wife, Stephanie, wanted to raise their children surrounded by family, the way they’d grown up. They now have a son, Carter, who will be 4 in March; and a daughter, Caroline, age 1.
Upon returning to Iola four years ago, Cole worked as landscape foreman for TLC Garden Center at LaHarpe.
When his longtime friend Stanley left USD 257, he suggested Cole apply for the job.
“He thought it would be a good fit, and I thought so, too,” Cole said.
TAKING on the role of maintenance director felt familiar, but Cole is relatively new to the transportation side of things. His job in Colorado sometimes required him to schedule deliveries, but coordinating bus routes and drivers “is a little different.”
Cole credits “a great staff” who have eased the transition as he learns more about that aspect. He’s spent much of his first couple of months getting to know staff, from teachers to principals to custodians, maintenance crews and bus drivers.
Maintenance, particularly for the district’s older buildings, comes with challenges, but Cole takes it in stride.
“You’re going to have that with any building,” he said of things like plumbing issues.
Each day on the job can bring new, unexpected challenges. The heating, ventilation and cooling system may need work. Maybe it snowed again. Maybe the ice machine in the cafeteria clogged and water flooded the floor.
“I don’t get too stressed out,” Cole said. “I just take everything as it comes and try to figure out the best possible solution.”