How do you profile a man who is still too busy for an interview, despite having less than a month to go on his current job? You go for the next best thing and interview those who were close to him, of course.
Newton Superintendent Steve McDermott is leaving after 11 years. On Thursday, friends, family and colleagues gathered to celebrate his accomplishments, tell stories and wish him luck on his newest endeavor.
“Steve and I started at the same time 11 years ago,” Aurora Heights Principal Carol Farver said. “So I feel like we have been through the same journey. He has always been fair and a good person to work with. I’ve always appreciated the way he communicates with humor and typically a story that goes with it. We will miss him and wish him the best.”
Some of those stories include McDermott’s “famous” farm analogies according to district secretary Katie Bieghler. While Bieghler couldn’t tell one off the top of her head, but she mentioned that McDermott was caring, generous, compassionate, a really easy-going guy and the best person she ever worked for.
Berg Elementary Assistant Principal Todd Schuster also had words he wanted to share about McDermott.
“I have the utmost respect for Steve McDermott, because every decision he makes is what’s best for kids,” Schuster said. “Not necessarily what’s best for everyone else, but what’s best for kids. I have and will always have the upmost respect for him because of that.”
During his tenure with the district, McDermott presided over the school district’s restructuring. That experience should come in handy as his next job, as the Creston Community School District is in the middle of a similar process.
Board member Don Poynter said McDermott’s guidance greatly aided in the decision.
“We were fortunate to have Steve McDermott here,” Poynter said. “His leadership was open, fair and no surprises, especially through the closure of a school. He had done it before and made it as fair and open as possible, more so than was required.”
McDermott also helped launch the day care program at Emerson Hough and played a crucial part in keeping the district up to date with technology by helping provide students, staff and the board with iPads and creating a Twitter account for his position.
Board member Sheri Benson said that she initially met McDermott when he first arrived in town and commented that “I never dreamed that 11 years down the road we would be working together.”
“I’ve appreciated that Steve is a big-picture person,” Woodrow Wilson Elementary principal Nancy Van Wyk said. “He is very in-tune with getting board input, public input, student input, administrative input and he takes it all and considers it when making decisions.”
Elementary Educational Services Director Jim Gilbert noted that McDermott was an art major and that art still played a major role in his life. He said McDermott drew diagrams and murals quite frequently on a white board in his office, so he and Bieghler presented him with a new board as a parting gift.
McDermott kept his art skills polished in others ways as well. He has painted and touched up some of the Cardinal murals around town during past Red Pride Community Service Days, the most notable of which is the mural at Domino’s Pizza.
“Steve is a great leader and a better person. He cares about his people,” Newton Senior High School Principal Bill Peters said.
“He is as real and genuine as the day is long. Very approachable and a very loyal colleague,” Gilbert said.
Other interesting facts about McDermott come from Newton school board member Dennis Combs, who grew up with McDermott. Combs said that he plays a “mean banjo” and was always the “good kid” growing up.
“Steve will try to help you in any way he can,” Berg Middle School Principal Scott Bauer said. “He is a hard worker and very loyal to the district, the kids and his staff.”
State Rep. Dan Kelley also expressed his thoughts on working with McDermott over the years.
“Steve has been great to work with,” Kelley said. “He is very dedicated to making sure our kids get a good education here in Newton. I know he is going back to his home district and I’m sure they are excited to have him there. We’re just thankful for all the great work he did here and I am looking forward to meeting the new superintendent and working with him.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.