Most people want to avoid stress, longer working hours and the backlash that comes from making the tough decisions. Todd Schuster is a bit different in the aspect that he is not only looking forward to all of those issues, but he wants “the fingers pointing” at him.
During the June 9 Newton Community School District Board of Education meeting, Todd — formerly the vice-principal at Berg Elementary School — was unanimously selected to replace long-time Woodrow Wilson Elementary School principal Nancy Van Wyk.
He has been preparing for an opportunity like this for quite a while, which is what probably helped him receive the job over the other two finalists — both of whom were “highly qualified” according to Superintendent Bob Callaghan.
His educational career has spanned a total of 23 years, and Todd has spent the last 18 years in the district. He’s served as a fifth-grade teacher, interim principal, activities director, coach and vice-principal to both Berg buildings. All of his stops and titles have lead up to him finally having a school to call his own.
“If you would have told me in ’91, ‘Hey, do you think that someday you would be a principal, I would’ve said, ‘No way.’ But here we are,” Todd said.
Todd grew up in northwestern Iowa and attended schools there from kindergarten all the way up until he graduated from Northwestern College in Orange City. At Northwestern, he completed a double major in education and physical education.
He even spent his first four years teaching in that area of the state, and began his career as a second-grade teacher. Todd said he really never had a plan to become an administrator, but he became one after trying to figure out a way to help guide more students.
“Looking at the big picture, I’m impacting these 20 or 25 kids (in the classroom). How can I impact an even larger number of kids? That’s kind of where that stemmed from. It really wasn’t an easy choice. I love the classroom. Even now, when I have to cover a class for this or that I love it,” Todd said.
To get to that next level, Todd got his master’s degree and later went back to get his educational leadership certification — both from Viterbo University’s West Des Moines Campus — and was done with both of those by 2004.
Shortly after his certification, he got his first taste of being an administrator when he served as the interim-principal of Berg Elementary for a year. This was during the time when the district was still considering closing an elementary building and didn’t want to place a permanent person there until a final decision was made.
“I was fortunate enough to do that,” Todd said. “So, I did that for one year and then they did go from five (elementary schools) to four.”
Current Berg Elementary principal, Jolene Comer, took over for him. After that experience, Todd has steadily remained at the administrative level in Newton. He say’s he been learning more about being a principal by taking note of how all of the various educational leaders he’s worked under operate.
“My number one job has been to try and do the very best I can to impact kids. Number two, is I’d like to be a principal — in Newton, Iowa. Maybe a lot of people do have their dream jobs come true, but (I know) I have.
“I’m just very, very thankful for that. And when I say thankful, I’m just thankful for everybody that’s impacted my life. I’m not going to mention any names, because I’ll forget somebody. There’s just a lot, a lot of people to thank on that journey.”
One person he did want to acknowledge was his wife, Tracy. After all, she’s the reason he moved to Newton in 1991 after spending his entire life working, learning and living in northwestern Iowa.
With the first day of school less than two months away, Todd is still coming to terms with not only the fact he will have his first job in Newton away from the Berg complex but that he will be the one completely in charge.
“Nancy Van Wyk has left Woodrow Wilson in a very, very good spot,” Todd said. “What I want to do is just pick up where she left off, and I want to continue. I just met with her for a couple of hours, and all of the things she has done, and all of the things she has in place, align with my philosophy, my beliefs, and I hope not to mess it up.”
Todd said that he will continue to rely on her as a resource as he enters this new endeavor. He added that taking on this new job has left him both excited and nervous; however, he has one thing he is looking forward to most.
“Mr. Callaghan, at our summer retreat before school started, just gave the analogy of people pointing fingers at other people,” Todd said. “I guess I’ve had that comfort the last four years of pointing the finger at the principal instead of the assistant.
“I’m looking forward to having that all come back to me — good and bad. There’s going to be decisions that people aren’t going to agree with, and I can’t point at anybody because that’s going to come from me. I’m going to have the kids’ interest — all the kids’ interest — in mind when I make decisions and those fingers are going to be pointed at me.”
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.