Bob Callaghan has been superintendent of the Newton Community School District for less than a year, and yet it seems as if he has been a part of the community forever.
Callaghan sits on several boards, including the board behind the “Get to Know Newton” campaign. He won the “Thanks with Franks” hot dog eating contest last September, and he often speaks to clubs and organizations. Most importantly, his message of “Kids First” seems to have been universally adopted by parents and district staff alike.
So how does he feel things are going for him just a little past the halfway mark of his first school year in Newton?
“I hope they are going well,” Callaghan said. “I believe the biggest obstacle — with such a large school district — is developing those relationships that are central to my leadership style.”
Callaghan wants to develop relationships with all district staff, as impossible as it may seem. In his office, he has a dry-erase board with the names of every teacher in every building written down. He is known to pop in for visits at the district’s various campuses and offices, and one new thing he has implemented is “S(o)up for Lunch,” during which he has lunch with different groups of employees at school buildings.
He also has some clear-cut personal goals he wants to accomplish this year.
“Developing trust within the teaching staff and within the community and promoting the excellent educational opportunities within the district,” Callaghan said. “With that said, sometimes it’s easier for people to focus on the negatives. There is no perfect organization, whether it’s the school district, the newspaper, the radio station, business and industry in town — nobody’s perfect — and we all strive to be as strong and positive as possible.”
During a work session last year, the school board challenged Callaghan to become “the face” of the district, which is how he became the hot dog eating champion and why he is so active within the community.
“I’m feeling spread pretty thin,” Callaghan said half-jokingly. “We have made a strong effort to be out in the public, meeting with the groups and organizations — Kiwanis clubs, Rotary — becoming part of the Newton Development Corporation, working with the city in branding Newton.
“I’ve met with fraternal organizations, some local coffee clubs, been at a couple of the churches in town, and I’m always available to go out and speak and try to promote the district and (explain) what it is we are doing and be available to answer questions,” he continued. “I’ve had many individuals from the community come in and speak with me, and as much as humanly possible, I’ve been available to people.”
Callaghan said he has an open-door policy and is open to talking to anyone about school-related issues.
Another focus of Callaghan’s is helping the district form a technology committee and a comprehensive tech plan. One key component to this plan, which is still being finalized, is the 1:1 Initiative, which placed iPads into the hands of every high school student at Newton Senior High School and Basics and Beyond Alternative School.
“The 1:1 Initiative, from the student perspective, has been very positive,” Callaghan said. “The students express they love the instantaneous access and the flexibility provided by the (iPads). I believe the biggest challenge, from the school district side, is the large amount of responsibility the school district has had to take in regards to keeping the devices current, active and at the same time, place restrictions on students’ unfiltered access to places.”
“The world is moving toward the electronic age, and based upon that, it’s been a huge success,” he continued.
Callaghan, an Iowa native, and his family moved to Newton after he accepted this position. Prior to this job, he had been the superintendent of the Rogers Independent School District in Rogers, Texas, and had spent the majority of his educational career working in Texas.
It didn’t seem he needed much time to adjust back to Iowa and made some maneuvers that have created an instant impact within the district. Callaghan played a crucial role in the implementation of the three district-wide learning days — 9/11, Veterans Day and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day — the district-wide staff commitment ceremony, where staff vowed to “doing whatever it takes” for kids and of course, popularizing the mantra of “Kids First.”
When the 2013-14 school year comes to a close, Callaghan will have completed his first year in Newton and has already started developing his vision for the 2014-15 school year.
“I’d like the community to feel that we are being good stewards of their tax dollars and that we are providing excellent opportunities for the next generation of adults that we will help develop. (We want) strong citizens, with values and the ability to think creatively,” Callaghan said.
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.