Leading Learner Newsletter

Fall 2013 Edition

The Educational Leadership Faculty at the University of Northern Iowa develop and nurture reflective Leaders of Learning, Service, and Change who positively impact student achievement and school improvement.

Decker to retire, finds next opportunity in Fiji

Dr. Robert Decker announced he will be retiring from his position as professor in the department of educational leadership this January.

Decker maybe retiring from teaching at UNI, but he plans to continue his ways of teaching in a different, warmer environment.  Decker and his wife found the opportunity to continue their love for teaching and education through an educational area of their church.  After several exchanges of meetings and emails, accepted the roles of educational missionaries; they are expected to be a missionary and adjunct professors in Suva, Fiji through Brigham Young University-Hawaii’s programs. 

Decker says the first weeks of January will be for teacher prepping in Provo, Utah and Auckland, New Zealand. After a week in New Zealand, the Decker’s will be ready to take on their dual roles.  

“Our plans are to come back to the states after Fiji, but we won’t rule out additional missionary experiences,” says Decker.

 Bob has been part of the department since he came aboard in 1984.  In his time at UNI, Decker has seen the program of educational leadership grow before his eyes, beginning with 25 students back when he first started, to over 200 students currently in the superintendent and principalship programs. 

Decker felt most accomplished with the emergence of the doctoral program in the department of educational leadership.

“I consider one of my most memorable moments to be the graduation of our first doctoral students; seeing those students walk across the stage and be hooded is something I am very proud of as a professor in this department,” says Decker.  Decker was one of the founders of the doctoral program for educational leadership at UNI.

Decker has advice to those future faculty members who enter the department of educational leadership: 

“The faculty here can take this job and love it, not shove it, because it is a position that many people aspire to be in, but very few people get to be in.  Having the ability to lead and guide them (new students) into the 21st century is a responsibility and something that should not be taken lightly.”


Dr. Denise Schares joins UNI Educational Leadership department

Dr. Denise Schares has joined the department as an assistant professor for educational leadership this fall.  Schares previously served as superintendent for the Clear Creek Amana Community School District. Schares returns to UNI to take on the role of educating future superintendents and principals.

“When I initially earned my doctorate in curriculum and instruction, I always thought it could lead to teaching in the college environment; it was something I always kept in the back of my mind,” says Schares, who has done some adjunct faculty work in the past.

“Teaching is at the heart of what we do no matter what role we play in education.”

Schares has had experience in several different types of educational settings, including working in the Area Education Agency 267, the Iowa Department of Education, and school districts in Waterloo, Vinton, La Porte City, and Hudson.  Schares brings to the table a variety of leadership experiences from these different educational environments.

“I have worked in different size school districts, which has given me a range of experience that will beneficial to students in the educational leadership programs at UNI,” says Schares.  Schares is looking forward to getting to know students and supporting them on their journey through these programs. 

“I was well supported in my graduate work and I want to pay it forward to those future leaders.”

Schares also dedicates time outside of the classroom for community service, something that has been an important part of her life.

“In my K-12 experiences, I did a lot with service learning and teaching about the importance of contribution,” says Schares.  Schares has recently been approved to volunteer at the VA hospital.

In her life outside of teaching at UNI and volunteering, Schares enjoys spending time with her two children and one granddaughter, and looking forward to another grandchild in March.  Schares also enjoys baking, going for walks, reading, and other simple pleasures life brings. 


Pace set to release new book telling story of principal experiences

Those seeking a unique look into a new principal’s first few months on the job may want to purchase a copy of Dr. Nick Pace’s new book, Reality Calling: The Story of a Principal’s First Semester. The book, which is Pace’s third on the principalship, is being released by Rowman and Littlefield Education on October 17.

The inspiration for this new book came from Pace’s experience with another book used in the past for the principalship program at UNI.

“We have used a really fun book, but it was a little outdated, so I wanted to create something fresh that captures the real-world challenges principals face today,” says Pace. 

Reality Calling focuses on events that happen to mythical principal Joe Gentry and his and two friends in their the first semester as principals.  The story begins in March when the friends send out applications to prospective principalship jobs and continues into the summer after they are hired and into the first semester of the academic year. Throughout, they ask each other for advice through video chats and reflect on lessons learned on the job, as well as in graduate school. 

“In the real world of school leadership, there’s not as much not black and white as some would like to think, and everything we do can have ripple effects,” says Pace.  Pace says case studies and problem-based learning is a popular and effective method, but he hopes his novel will take readers to a much deeper level.

“It is intended to be more than a one shot case because we’re following these new leaders and their experiences over the whole first semester, as well as the second semester in the follow up book. Story telling in a novel setting is a great way to live and breathe the Iowa standards for school leaders,” says Pace, “The book also deals with the principal’s personal and family life, because a lot of us underestimate the impact the job can have on those around us.”

Pace describes the ficitional book as a mixture of experience imagination and plausibility.

Pace opens up to two main goals drove the creation of the book: First, he says new principals must understand there is nothing off the table in terms of what they might face on the job.  The book’s second goal was to reinforce that a lot of things in the job are too big to handle on own and leaders must reach out to peers for support and assistance.

Reality Calling is the first of a two part series. The second book, entitled Seeking Balance: The Story of a Principal’s Second Semester will be released in February.  Together, these two novels reveal Principal Joe Gentry’s entire first year as principal.



Dr. Victoria Robinson becomes new member for the Iowa Commission on Educator Leadership and Compensation

Dr. Victoria Robinson joins 19 other Iowans who will be serving as new members for the state commission.  Robinson will play a key role in implementing a Teacher Leadership and Compensation System, a large part of the new education reform law adopted by the Iowa Legislature. 

The purpose of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System is to help schools increase student achievement with the strengthening of classroom instruction. The system allows effective teachers to pursue leadership opportunities for additional pay, attracts promising new teachers with competitive starting salaries and more support, and fosters greater collaboration for all teachers to learn from each other.

The Commission on Educator Leadership and Compensation consists of stakeholders from all walks of education in the state of Iowa including teachers, education associations, parents and business leaders.  These members were appointed by the Iowa State Education Association, School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Area Education Agencies and the Iowa Department of Education.

“It is an exciting opportunity to work with all of these great people of education from the state of Iowa,” says Robinson.  In her role as commission member, Robinson will work with the other members to evaluate plans submitted by school districts to pursue state funding for a local teacher leadership system, and make recommendations on approval to the Iowa Department of Education.

The Commission’s vision statements is, “Through the development and support of opportunities for teachers in schools and school districts statewide to learn from each other, we will positively impact student achievement, staff moral and school culture by ensuring quality instruction in every classroom.”

Each member will serve a 4-year term on the commission.

Members of the Commission on Educator Leadership and compensation include:

Jeff Anderson, Iowa Association of School Boards President-Elect, Boone

Mike Beranek, Teacher, West Des Moines, 3rd Iowa State Education Association Vice President

Molly Boyle, Teacher, Waukee

Mary Jane Cobb, Iowa State Education Association Executive Director, Des Moines

Tom Downs, Iowa Association of School Boards Executive Director, Des Moines

Kevin Ericson, Teacher-Special Education, Nevada

Ray Feuss, Teacher-Fourth Grade, Cedar Rapids

Patti Fields, Iowa Association of School Boards President and School Board Member, Iowa City

Paul Gausman, Superintendent, Sioux City

Mary Jo Hainstock, Superintendent, Vinton-Shellsburg

Donna Lee Huston, Teacher-Music & Business, Twin Cedars

Todd Louwagie, Teacher-Fifth & Sixth, Algona

Diane Pratt, Teacher, Fort Dodge

Victoria Robinson, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls

Dan Smith, School Administrators of Iowa Executive Director, Clive

Brenda Garcia Van Auken, Parent & State Farm BOEE, Muscatine

Georgia Van Gundy, Principal Financial Group, Des Moines

Paula Vincent, Heartland AEA Administrator, Johnston

Ryan Wise, Iowa Department of Education, Des Moines (Non-voting member)

Dennis Wulf, Superintendent, Norwalk

McNulty performs new research project

Dr. Charles McNulty is conducting research project which focuses on teachers in school districts of the AEA 267, more specifically school districts with Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). 

“My focus is to see how teachers perceive top-down initiatives, teacher empowerment, and the PLC focus on all students. We have to look at some of the assumptions we have about the change process that we have in a 20th century bureaucratic environment and look at what we think is happening versus what is actually happening,” says McNulty.

McNulty, as a school principal, has engaged in PLC practices in the past, which were very successful with regards to student achievement.  He plans to publish his findings in academic journals and present the results to AEA 267 stakeholders.


Gilson and Martin continue on expansion of MAE International Teacher-Leader program

As announced in the last edition of the Leading Learner Newsletter, Dr. Timothy Gilson and Dr. Leigh Martin were putting together the first MAE program for teacher-leaders at international school sites.  The first cohort was to begin in the summer of 2013, but with a lot of work the process accelerated and the first cohort began in the spring of 2013. 

Instead of just one cohort, Gilson and Martin started two cohorts, a site-based cohort at the American School of Bombay in India, and a global cohort which includes students from Egypt, Pakistan, UAE, Italy and Nepal, just to name a few of the countries.  Gilson says there were two key factors in developing this international MAE program for teacher-leaders: the UNI Overseas recruiting fair and the growth of teacher leadership in the United States.  

“The concept of teacher leadership has bloomed in the (United) States, especially on the local level in the Waterloo schools,” says Gilson. 

Gilson and Martin looked to mirror the sequence of classes offered in the States, but replaced some of the courses with more relevant learning opportunities, such as intercultural communication.  Gilson and Martin ended up replacing a number of courses to make the program more directed to those students who were already immersed in a different culture.

“I also give a lot of credit to the UNI Overseas Recruitment Fair and the job that Tracey Godon and her team have done to make that one of the longest running such fairs in the world.  UNI also has a long and proud tradition of placing student teachers in international settings,” says Gilson.

The international MAE teacher-leadership program offers courses during the spring, summer and fall semesters, both online and over Adobe Connect.  Martin visited the American School of Bombay last November to recruit and enroll most of the current cohort.  Gilson will be making a trip to Bombay sometime in November to meet his students face-to-face for the first time. 

As Gilson states, “I want to put a face to the name for my students and promote another site-based cohort for the program. I also need to be able to better understand the culture and the demographics of what these students embrace every day.”

Gilson and Martin are also looking to start two more cohorts: an additional, global international cohort and another on-site cohort at the Korea International School in Seoul, where Martin currently lives and fulfills her UNI student teaching placement responsibilities.

“If the interest and numbers are manageable, we could start in the late spring of 2014,” says Gilson.

Gilson and Martin will keep striving to bring teacher leadership programs to overseas schools.

“These teachers and their administrators want advanced degrees in teacher leadership and respect the work that this university has done with international schools. This is just another way we are trying to meet their needs and broaden UNI’s overseas reputation.”


Else leading Iowa Superintendents Finance and Leadership Consortium into 17th year

Superintendents from around Iowa will have the chance to participate in the annual Iowa Superintendents Finance and Leadership Consortium (IFLC) in Des Moines, December 18-19 and February 12-13.  The Iowa Superintendents Finance and Leadership Consortium is a professional development program for superintendents aspiring superintendents, board secretaries and business managers in Iowa to expand their knowledge base and develop fiscal management and leadership skills.

ISFLC is a partnership between the Institute for Educational Leadership at UNI and the Iowa Association of School Boards. Dave Else and M.J. Dolan created the program in 1997, and Else has directed the professional development program since its inception, and has enjoyed helping the superintendents of Iowa.  The program has served more than 1,425 different school leaders, reaching every school district in the state of Iowa. 

“The primary focus of the ISFLC is fiscal leadership; each year, two or three new tracks are developed in the program,” says Else.

The strength of the ISFLC is the result of extraordinary instructors, which include superintendents, business managers, Department of Management and Iowa Department of Education leaders, attorneys, financial planners, Iowa Association of School Board staff, members of the State Auditor’s Office and AEA administrators. The ensure ISFLC participants can immediately apply knowledge that is current to their career development and integrate it into their everyday duties and responsibilities of their position in the Iowa schools.

The program is open to aspiring superintendents, board secretaries and business managers in Iowa school districts. Superintendents can receive renewal for their licensure or receive graduate college credit at the University of Northern Iowa. School Business Official Authorization renewal credit is also available for selected ISFLC tracks.

In addition to the December and February conferences, ISFLC conducts a New Superintendents’ Conference in September. According to Else, there are 27 superintendents new to the state of Iowa this year, and 25 of those attended the New Superintendents’ Conference, September 25.   

“One of the new things in Iowa is to have a school business official must have authorization by law, which includes board secretaries and business managers,” says Else.

Else estimates the December and February ISFLC conferences will each draw about 200 district-level leaders. For more information, or to register for a conference, visit the ISFLC website: http://www.uni.edu/isflc .


Prepared Panthers: UNI Ed Leadership Graduates Move into New Roles

Colby Miller is the new assistant principal at Iowa City West High School.

Andrew Eley is in his second year as principal at Wilson Middle School in the Cedar Rapids CSD.

Lucas Ptacek is in his second year as assistant principal at Northwest Jr. High in the Iowa City CSD.

St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Waverly welcomes new principal, Stacey Snyder.

Alaina Daters accepted a position as an early childhood literacy consultant at Grant Wood AEA.

Mike Fisher moved from assistant principal to head principal at Hoover Middle School in Waterloo.

Southdale Elementary in Cedar Falls welcomes Andrea Christopher as assistant principal.

JoAnna Letz is the new literacy consultant with the Council Bluffs CSD.

Brian Petullo joined Eric Townsley as new assistant principal at South Tama Middle School in the South Tama CSD.

Jeremy Jones transitioned to new role in the South Tama CSD as assistant principal and athletic director at South Tama High School.

Washington Elementary in Charles City CSD welcomes new principal, Kara Shannon.

Ryan Zurbriggen accepted new position as high school principal at Denver CSD.

Dan Wendler is the new elementary principal at Midland CSD in Wyoming, Iowa.

Blakesburg and Fremont Elementary schools in the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont CSD welcome Robb Beane as new principal.

Kelly Schloss accepted a new position as director of special programs in the Perry CSD.

Heather Nerem moves from elementary principal to director of curriculum and instruction in the Dallas Center-Grimes CSD.

Anel Garza moves from elementary assistant principal in the Perry CSD to become new elementary principal at former school, Woodbury Elementary in the Marshalltown CSD.

Ryan Rydstrom is the new assistant principal at Prairie Point Middle School in the College Community CSD in Cedar Rapids.

Columbus Junction CSD welcomes Jenni Laughlin as the new curriculum director.

Joel Hunzelman is the new dean of students at Oelwein Middle School in the Oelwein CSD.

Lou Henry Elementary in the Waterloo CSD welcomes the new instructional coach, Amy Schmidt.

Nick Proud is the new principal at Garner Elementary in the Iowa City CSD.

John Speer takes the reigns as the new superintendent in the College Community CSD in Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids Prairie High School in the College Community CSD welcomes Erik Anderson as new principal.

Kristian Einsweiler is the new school administrative manager at Lincoln Elementary in the Mason City CSD.

Leisa Breitfelder accepted the a new position as director of student services with the Clear Creek-Amana CSD.

Starmont CSD welcomes Mark Snavely as the new secondary principal.

Kenwood Elementary in the Cedar Rapids CSD welcomes new principal, David Brandon.

Gabe Wylder is the new elementary principal in the Winfield-Mt. Union CSD.

The new director of early childhood and transitions in the Linn Mar CSD is Kristi Hicks.

Dan Cox is the new superintendent in the Charles City CSD.

Sherice Hetrick-Ortmann is the new international baccalaureate coordinator in the Waterloo CSD.

Marshalltown High School in the Marshalltown CSD welcomes the new dean of students, Pam Brewer-Michael.

Terry Bruinsma is the new middle school principal in the Spririt Lake Coummunity School District.

Candace Lynch is the new Johnson Elementary principal in the Cedar Rapids CSD.

Urbandale High School in the Urbandale CSD welcomes the new principal Brian Coppess.