With 18 years of experience within the Newton Community School District and a strong recommendation from Superintendent Bob Callaghan and staff members from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, Todd Schuster was unanimously selected to become the next principal of the school by the board of education on Monday night.
Schuster, currently the vice principal of Berg Elementary School, beat out two other finalists for the job. Berg Middle School vice principal George Panosh and Stephanie Langstraat, vice principal of Prairie City-Monroe Middle School, were the other finalists.
Schuster is replacing Nancy Van Wyk, who is stepping down after four years at Woodrow.
“Let me tell you about our process. Eight candidates were chosen to interview in front of an eight-team interview committee —five of those committee members represented the Woodrow Wilson staff,” Callaghan said. “Our candidate scored as a top choice from all five staff members.
“Then, each committee member decided on three finalists, and all three finalists were a unanimous choice coming out of the committee. I spent three hours interviewing each of these finalists, and, in addition, I took several hours and talked at length with each candidates’ references.”
A very jubilant Schuster spoke to the board just after his hiring was made official.
“I’m just very, very excited about this opportunity,” Schuster said. “I’ve been in the district the last 18 years, and I just like the vision that we’re going in, and I just love this community and this school district.”
Schuster’s selection wasn’t the only big personnel news delivered at Monday’s meeting.
Basics and Beyond Principal/District Human Resources Associate Director Laura Selover revealed all of the district’s staff movements, with the exception of the certified position reductions, and the hiring of eight new teachers.
“Openings for the (2014-2015) school year have occurred, due to retirements or resignations, and as an administrative team, we’ve worked together — through the budget reduction process, as you guys are aware of — to determine what needs to be filled, what didn’t need to filled and that sort of thing,” Selover said.
“As you look at the list, we have a total of 18 internal movements around the buildings for next school year. So we were able to fill a lot of positions within, and we were able to make some moves that they were excited to do.”
Selover said the district still has three open teaching positions to fill; first- and third-grade teachers for Berg Elementary and a special education position for Basics.
One of the district’s moves involving Berg Middle School continues to be a hot-button issue.
At the May 28 board meeting, BMS instructor Deb Rose questioned the district’s decision to transfer LMC (Library) Director Brenda Hodnett from BMS to a split LMC position at Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson elementary schools.
The move was brought up again Monday, as several board members questioned Selover and Callaghan about it.
“I’m concerned that we are moving a position out of the middle school and into the elementary school for a media specialist,” board member Bill Perrenoud said.
Perrenoud said his concern stemmed from the fact that the district couldn’t find a suitable outside LMC director for the elementary schools and what impact this decision would have on students at the middle school.
“It’s been very difficult, and that’s a shortage area,” Selover said about finding LMC directors.
Chuck Lyons served as a long-term sub for both Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow this year; however, he is not certified for the position. Selover added that finding people who are certified for this position was a statewide issue, and the Iowa Board of Education Examiners had confirmed this.
“You’ve got 450 kids at Thomas Jefferson and approximately 325 or so kids at Woodrow Wilson that have not had the benefits of a certified LMC position, and they actually teach classes in those elementary spots, whereas at the middle school, you still have your teachers that go into the LMC,” Selover said.
After several Thomas Jefferson teachers in attendance complemented Lyons’ performance this year, board member Robyn Friedman asked if the district had considered hiring Lyons if he would become certified. Selover said Lyons had no interest in going for his certification in that field, and several teachers in the audience expressed that it was “dying field.”
The district had posted the LMC opening at the elementary level for more than a year, and Callaghan said there wasn’t a single applicant. He also spoke very highly of Hodnett and expressed that she could be more efficiently utilized at the elementary level.
“I wish that somebody would drop an LMC director down from heaven and that we could place them into our building. But I can just tell you, I’ve listened to the conversations between the principals and Ms. Selover. Rock, hard place,” Callaghan said. “We have an exceptional teacher that we know can meet kids’ needs. It comes down what as a district do we want to do. We have 750 children who are not receiving highly qualified instruction on a weekly basis.”
The personnel moves were approved 5-1, with Perrenoud casting the single dissenting vote.
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.