Matthew Wendt says he wasn’t looking for a new job.
He already has a job he loves. For the past five years, he’s served as superintendent of the Ankeny Community School District, the 10th largest district in Iowa. His time there has seen unprecedented growth, both in the size of the district and in the academic achievement of the students.
So when search firm Ray and Associates contacted him, he wasn’t sure that he was interested. The company had been hired by the Oswego School District to find qualified candidates to succeed Superintendent Dan O’Donnell, who .
When they told Wendt about the Oswego district, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of the familiar.
“It sounded like the district I was in,” he said. “Boundary issues, construction, number of high schools, a desire to do better academically.”
When the Oswego School Board Thursday night to sign a three-year contract with Wendt to be the new superintendent, several members said the same thing – his experience in a district much like Oswego’s, but on a smaller scale, makes him a good fit for District 308.
Wendt said he was attracted by the similarities, and by the challenge. From his first meeting with the board, he said, he knew Oswego was the right place for him. And if he had any doubts, simply touring the district and meeting its people dispelled them.
“People here have a lot of pride in their schools,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of support people have.”
Wendt holds a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Arkansas, but he got his start in the classroom, teaching English. His wife of 21 years, Dawn, is also a high school teacher, working with gifted students. (The couple has two children: Ryan, 18, and Rachel, 16.)
So it’s little surprise that his philosophy of education centers on the connection between the teacher and the student. When you “peel back the layers,” he said, that’s where education happens, and everyone else in the district is in a support position.
The focus, he said, is not on boundaries or buildings, although those things can be part of the mix. The focus is on educating every child, he said.
But when it comes to those buildings, Wendt believes it’s important to think creatively. One of the things he was able to do in Ankeny, he said, was develop alternate funding sources for school buildings, instead of relying on property tax. During his time, the district constructed several new buildings, including a second high school.
“Everyone loves schools,” he said. “We know that’s what they want, but the difficulty is paying for it.”
His job as superintendent, he said, will be to find the best way of educating the district's children, and that means bringing everyone together to develop plans and visions. He touted his own successes in Ankeny, against some of the same challenges facing Oswego in the coming years, and said there is “no reason we cannot replicate those successes here.”
“Taxpayers expect us to represent their wishes and desires, listen, and come together to develop plans that represent the best interests of the district,” he said.
If you’d like to meet the new superintendent, the district has arranged a reception for him before the June 11 school board meeting. The reception will be held from 5:30 to 7 at , 1525 Harvey Road.