“I’m a strong proponent and advocate for public education,” Sullivan said. “If weren’t for public education, I don’t know if I’d be here. Public education is the mechanism that throughout my life has helped to improve a number in our nation. I’ve always viewed public education as the opportunity for everybody to improve and better themselves.
“Public education, we take anybody that walks through the door. We take them all. I think one of the things that I value most is that we provide an opportunity for everybody.”
But behind the suit, tie and stern, business-like demeanor that his employees see from inside the Central Administration Building is a man raised with strong values.
Raised in northwest Oregon, his parents instilled the character traits that Sullivan still carries with him to this day. Both parents often preached the value of higher education.
“My father taught me how to work; there’s no doubt about that. My mother taught me the value of money and taught me about being kind,” Sullivan said. “Growing up in a household of four boys, they would tell us regularly that you would go to college, and we did. My parents being the generation that they were weren’t able to do that.”
Sullivan attended Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., receiving an undergraduate degree in 1978. He would have to wait for a year and move to another state to get his first teaching job.
“At that time, there were a lot of teachers on the market, so I didn’t get a job right out of college as a teacher,” Sullivan said. “That came in April of 1979, when I moved to Montana, and I just never looked back. I’ve been fortunate to be in the five school districts that I’ve served in my career, four in Montana and the one here. I’ve learned something everywhere I’ve went.”
Sullivan spent 30 years in Montana, working as a teacher, principal, activities director and lastly as superintendent of the Sidney School District in Sidney, Mont., for 14 years, before accepting the superintendent position in Dickinson in 2009.
“My wife and I have always enjoyed eastern Montana and western North Dakota,” Sullivan said. “We like the space, we like the culture and we like the people that live in those two areas. Coming to North Dakota provided some personal benefits to us. When we were offered the job and opportunity to come to Dickinson, we were very thankful because we were able to stay in an area that we value.
“Also, a western North Dakota sunrise is second to none.”
Sullivan and his wife raised six children; the oldest is 37 years old and the youngest is 24. The family became familiar with Dickinson thanks to four of the kids participating in youth hockey. He fell in love with the sport watching his children perform on the ice.
“I love hockey. I’ve never been on ice skates in my life, but when we followed our four kids for 17 years playing hockey, you learn the nuances of the game,” Sullivan said, as the smile underneath his thick mustache spreads from ear to ear. “That was the driving force. I didn’t know the rules of hockey until my kids started playing, and for years I would look at the other parents and say ‘What was that? What was that?’ Once you learn all the rules, the nuances to the game and you can understand some of the strategies, that makes it much more exciting. It’s a really exciting sport.”