College Community Schools Superintendent Dr. John Speer has been selected as the next chief administrator at Grant Wood Area Education Agency in Cedar Rapids effective July 1, 2018.
Speer leaves College Community after six years presiding over a district of 950 employees and an enrollment of 6,200 students.
College Community Schools is one of the fastest growing districts in the state. Under Speer’s leadership to address enrollment and student needs, the district created a 10 year facility and 10 year education plan. Speer’s education and experience with the College Community School District has prepared him for his new role. While in that new role, Speer will still be working with the College Community District.
Question and Answer:
Q: Describe your 6 years about Prairie
A: Probably the easiest way to describe it would be busy, uh, you know, it’s a big district and it’s growing obviously. And so, uh, just kind of keeping pace with that growth, whether it be buildings or staffing, um, and all sorts of kind of educational changes that have taken place. It’s just been a, it’s been a busy time, which it, which is a good thing, but very busy. Who or what inspired you to be in a, you know, it’s kind of interesting story. When I first went to college, there are several other things I thought about doing, like being an attorney or maybe doing broadcast journalism and one of my high school teachers was taking an English course, it was young adult literature in the summer after my sophomore year and she said, you know, you should just take this with me. And so I took that course and that sort of what made me decide, hey, I think I really would like being a teacher.
Q: What lead you to be a leader in education?
A: So sort of just by happened really. So it kind of goes back to that, that one course I took that summer. That maybe led me to be a leader. But education’s always been kind of important to me and so I knew I wanted to get my masters. Eventually, as I started teaching, I just started to sort of contemplating, guidance counseling, teacher counselor or administration and I decided to start my administrative degree and you know, I had a couple of principals and other people I worked with who sort of encouraged me to do that. And so once I was done with that it was just kind of a natural thing, at the next step as a principal, you have such a, you can have such a greater impact on me as a teacher. I had like a hundred kids as a principal, I could have 600 and really make a difference, like in a building. That appealed to me quite a bit.
Q: What lead you to Prairie?
A: Two reasons. One is a professionally, it’s a fantastic job. And two, um, I am from Waterloo but my wife’s from the quad cities. So kind of from a location standpoint, it worked really well. And so when those two things sort of lined up, it was something that I couldn’t pass up. Strangely enough, when I was doing my administrative work in college, a friend and I for one of our classes came down and Prairie and we visited Al Rowe who at that time was the curriculum director and they were known to be very progressive and doing really good things and it’d be really neat to work there someday. And so like 24 years later here I am.
Q: What observations have you made from being at Prairie for 6 years?
A: I think what makes college community or prairie or kind of a special place, is it for Iowa, it’s a large district now that wouldn’t necessarily be true like around the country. 6,000 students isn’t necessarily large nationally, but fry while we’re bumped the 13th largest district in the state. But, um, the people really, there’s just something different about the people here in a good way. Um, although we’re a large district, um, you know, a lot of our people kind of look at the campus has made me like the downtown or the meeting place, you know, for things that happen. And so, um, I think there’s a trust level with patrons and parents and students that you don’t always see in larger districts. And so I just think it’s a kind of a down, down to earth mentality or nature that kind of makes our people special.
Q: What has been your greatest successes?
A: Probably two things. In my time here, we’ve created both a 10-year facility plan. So trying to map how do we accommodate the growth of the district from a facility standpoint. And we also created a 10-year educational plan and so we decided if we really want to be personalized learning, if we want each student to be able to reach their potential and do the things that will make them successful, that every student can’t take the exact same path. So I’m at the 10-year education plan is also really exciting. Not all districts would do something like that or, or have the foresight to maybe looking ahead 10 years, so those two things I think really say a lot about the district.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced at CCSD?
A: One of your biggest challenge is really as growth. I mean that really is the overarching challenge of a district like college community and it really in that probably will never stop, um, you know, if you just look at the size of our district and how much of it is just open land, you know, so you know, it just takes, you know, housing development in Ely or Swisher or Fairfax or along the interstate or in Cedar Rapids. I think the continuing challenge of providing enough classrooms and staff for growing population, but also sort of trying to keep some of the things that makes prairie a little bit different. Even though we’re a large district. I mean the larger you get, the harder it is to kind of keep that community feel. And so those, I think those will be the challenges ongoing for a long time.
Q: Do you see addressing the challenges at CCSD a priority for the new superintendent?
A: Oh, without a doubt. I mean anybody who would take this job, they’ll they know just from being in the state that growth is a overarching challenge, you know, I mean, it’s really, it’s a really good challenge. I mean, there are a lot of districts were shrinking and having to lay off staff can’t provide programs for kids. So I think our problems are probably better than most people’s, but still just keeping up and maintaining what you have and growing what the growth is. It can be really difficult at times.
Q: What will your role entail at GWAEA?
A: A lot of the things that I do will be working with area superintendents working on trying to provide educational opportunities for their students within their buildings and for their districts. There’ll be a larger political component to the Grant Wood position with the chief’s position. So I’ll be lobbying in des Moines and in Washington, kind of being an advocate for public education and our students and our staff. Really just about everything about the job as chief is educational, you know, I mean that’s an entire job is to actually trying to meet the needs of all students and families, you know, in the, in the 32 district regions. So it appeals to me in that way. It’s exciting. It’s always exciting. Handled something a little bit different or a little bit of change happen in your life.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: You know, I think I would just reiterate that I’m so happy with like the people that I’ve met and that I’ve been able to work with because it does make Prairie something that you don’t find in a lot of districts of our size and being able to take on a new challenge but still be part of that Prairie family is really a best both worlds. Again, you know, I get to have a new challenge, but yet I still get to work with prairie and be involved with prairie and maybe a different way.