'This is it' : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|'This is it'|
|New superintendent says he wanted to work for school district after first visit|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
The new Oswego School District Superintendent, Dr. Matthew A. Wendt, said it took only one meeting with the school district board to convince him he wanted to work for the district.
The board voted last Thursday evening to hire the 44 year-old Wendt.
"After my first meeting with the board, when I got to my car, I called my wife and told her, 'This is it,'" Wendt said.
For the past five years Wendt has worked as superintendent for the Ankeny Community School District located in Polk County, Iowa, six miles from Des Moines, the state capitol. His last day on the job in Iowa will be June 30 and he will begin work in Oswego July 1.
Wendt will replace Dr. Dan O'Donnell who announced in February that he would leave the district when his current three-year contract expires June 30.
The board's vote to hire Wendt was 5-0.
A sixth board member, Brent Lightfoot, was absent from the meeting but said in a letter read by Board President Bill Walsh that he would have voted to hire Wendt if he had been present.
Walsh said Wendt is a good communicator, very passionate and very energetic.
"We saw that in all the interviews with him and just in talking to him. He's ready to start and we're ready to have him," Walsh said.
The special board meeting was held at Oswego High School before a group of less than a dozen people.
Board member Ali Swanson debated but eventually agreed to vote to hire Wendt. (See related article)
Swanson explained her reluctance was not due to Wendt or his qualifications, but because of concerns over his salary.
As approved by the board, Wendt will receive a base salary of $225,000, but the value of the contract is increased to $236,296 with district-paid contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).
In addition, Wendt will receive a tax-sheltered $11,250 annuity during the first year of the contract. The second year, the annuity will be 7.5 percent of the base salary or $16,875 if the base is the same as for the first year. For the contract's third year, it would be 10 percent of the base salary or $22,500 if the base salary remains unchanged.
Swanson said she believes Wendt's salary should be less due to the district's financial condition.
Current Superintendent Dr. Dan O'Donnell's annual compensation totals $220,750, including TRS contributions. O'Donnell does not receive an annuity.
Earlier this year the board and its search firm, Ray and Associates of Des Moines, had agreed to advertise the salary for the position at $235,000, which Swanson said she also disagreed with.
Walsh said Wendt's salary and benefit package will be an investment for the district.
"At the end of the day it will pay off in the years to come. With the academic improvements, the support that the staff will receive going forward and the support for everybody as we go into common core (curriculum) in two to three years we won't be where we are today-we'll be in a better spot," he said.
Walsh said Wendt and Paul O'Malley, who will take over as assistant superintendent for business and finance for the district on July 1, had both planned to be in attendance when the board held interviews last week for two elementary school principals.
He said Wendt also will be involved in the interviews of replacements for the associate superintendent for administration, and the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
Wendt to also receive
According to a story in the Des Moines Register, when Wendt announced to the Ankeny School District Board last week he was resigning, the board took two actions at a special meeting.
The first was to amend Wendt's contract, which gave him the choice of either adding a year to his contract along with an increased salary of 3.25 percent, or resigning with a transition allowance.
The board voted 4-3 on that amendment. The allowance is equal to one year's salary at the current rate of $176,513, without insurance benefits.
Wendt chose to resign and accept the transition allowance. The board voted 5-2 to accept his resignation, with two members opposed.
"I was fine with Dr. Wendt moving on. I just didn't want to waste taxpayers' money for him to make a career move," one board member said, adding that she also was opposed to giving him a pay raise if he elected to stay with the district
The other board member was opposed to paying Wendt the transition allowance.
"I don't think it's right to use taxpayer money to pay him to quit when that's what he wanted to do," he said.
The Ankeny School District is the 10th largest in Iowa and has 8,963 students, 93 percent of whom are white, and 11 percent that qualify for government subsidized lunches. It has 1,103 employees of which 574 are certified teachers.
In contrast, the Oswego School District has 17,175 students, 63 percent of which are white and has 1,667 employees, 1,005 of whom are members of the Oswego Education Association.
Ankeny's annual enrollment is increasing by an average of 300 students per year. It is the fourth fastest growing district in the state and has eight elementary schools, four middle schools and one high school. The district is set to open a second high school next year.
Oswego has two 21 schools, which include 13 elementary schools, four junior highs, two high schools, a kindergarten center and an early learning center.
Oswego school district covers 68 square miles while Ankeny's district covers 52 square miles.
In addition to the enrollment growth, Wendt's former district is going through some of the same personnel issues as Oswego.
Two of Ankeny's three lead administrators are leaving as of June 30-the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and the chief financial officer.
Oswego's assistant superintendent for administration, assistant superintendent for business and finance and three school principals have resigned effective on June 30. They have accepted positions in other districts and the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning is retiring as of June 30.
Wendt earned his bachelor's of science degree in English from Pittsburg State University in Kansas and his master's of science degree in educational leadership from Kansas State University. He earned his doctorate in educational administration in 2005 at the University of Arkansas.
Wendt and Dawn, his wife of 21 years, have two children-Ryan, 18, and a daughter Rachel, 16.
Wendt said his wife teaches high school students in the gifted and talented program.
"She probably will continue to teach when we move here, but it won't be in the Oswego district," he said.
He said his goal was always to be in education so at age 22 he began as a high school English teacher and coach. His goal later was to move into administration, which he did starting as a principal, assistant superintendent, and since has served as a superintendent in three states-Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.
"I like being a superintendent. I feel like I'm not only still in education, but still in a position to teach."
Wendt said he believes he and his administrative team can learn from each other.
"It's a terrific team effort," he added.
"I did my research and I felt a close alignment with the needs of this district and my experiences and my likes and my wishes," Wendt said, adding, "I enjoy being in a fast growing school district dealing with the challenges from transportation and boundary lines to some of the great rewards we have in the system. We'll be changing boundaries next fall for the third time in five years. It's part of the fabric of a fast growing school system.
"If we keep kids and their education in the forefront with every decision we make, there will be some sacrifices. I may have to move my child. I may not get free bus service. There may be some things we have to do different, but in the long run we're still one school district and we all have a common goal-and that's to be the best school system in the state-if not the country.
"That's my goal-that's why I'm here," Wendt said.
In his research, Wendt said he learned Oswego School District residents have an extensive amount of pride in their community and a high degree of support for the community and support for their schools. And the challenges here attracted him he said, noting that "...you turn challenges into opportunities and opportunities into rewards."
He said his administration will be very visible, ask a lot of questions, collaborate and challenge each other with the board which represents the community.
"I represent the board and together we can be very successful," he said.
Wendt said he believes he and his assistant superintendents should be visible in the district's schools.
"I will be in the schools a lot, but not to micro-manage. I don't believe in it, but I believe in supporting the teaching staff with high expectations and a high degree of accountability," he said.
Wendt said he enjoyed his years of teaching and misses the students and the classroom, so he attends as many school athletic events and other activities as he can.
He coached middle school and high school basketball, football, and track.
"I wasn't very good at it so I went into administration," he said of his coaching career, laughing.
Wendt said he was not looking for another job, but while at an out-of-state conference he mentioned to Gary Ray, head of Oswego's search firm that if the agency ever came up with something he might be interested in, to let him know. Wendt said he wanted a larger district but one with many of the same issues as Ankeny.
When Oswego came up, Ray, whose office is in Des Moines, called Wendt and he applied.
"The first time I met with this board, I felt like there was a connection here. This was the only district I was going to consider. I was either going to be superintendent in Oswego, Illinois or stay in Ankeny, Iowa," he said.