A collection of short takes about the distinctive characteristics of David Schuler, who was named 2018 National Superintendent of the Year® on Thursday.
Creating an ‘Aha’ Moment
David Schuler is relentless about identifying obstacles that hold students back and systematically mapping out ways to overcome them. But occasionally, solutions come in a flash of insight.
A few years back, District 214 was trying to spur interest in higher education among students whose parents had never gone to college. It began piling freshmen and sophomores onto buses and taking them on college visits. But the visits didn’t seem to make a lasting impression.
Then, after a few parents asked to go on the visits, the district’s education foundation offered to pay for any parents who wanted to go along.
“It was mind-boggling what happened on that first trip,” Schuler says. “You could just see the parents all of a sudden straightening up, their eyes opening wider, and you could just see them getting more positive about their child’s potential experience in higher ed.”
Schuler discovered that the parents had been harboring negative stereotypes about college life. The visits chipped away at those concerns – and changed attitudes.
“That was such a huge ‘aha’ for me,” he says. “I had never even thought about the fact that we needed to be thinking about what was going on in our parents’ minds who hadn’t experienced college before.”
Education: University of Wisconsin – Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, 2004; University of Wisconsin – M.S., Educational Administration, 1998; Carroll University – B.A., History – Secondary Education, 1992
Administrative career: superintendent, High School District 214, Arlington Heights, 2005 to present; superintendent, Stevens Point, Wis., 2002-2005; superintendent, Marshall, Wis., 2000-2002; principal, Marshall, Wis., 1999-2000; student activities and athletics director, Franklin, Wis., 1997-99
Books at bedside: District Leadership That Works by Robert Marzano and Timothy Waters; Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer; Who Do You Think You Are? Three Crucial Conversations for Coaching Teens to College and Career Success by Stephen M. Smith and Shaun Fanning; and Despite the Best Intentions by Amanda E. Lewis and John B. Diamond
Just Say Yes
Schuler tries to embrace outside-the-box suggestions from his staff and teachers. So when world language teacher Lyn Scolaro came back from a visit to Italy and suggested the district look into a partnership with an Italian olive oil manufacturer, he agreed.
“I said, ‘Sure Lyn, go for it,’ not thinking anything was going to come of it.”
While in Italy, Scolaro had spoken to a business manager who wanted to break into the U.S. market but didn’t know how. She got together with teachers and students in some of the district’s career pathways programs – entrepreneurship, logistics, world language, law and equity – and came up with a plan.
“Last year we opened a couple of kiosks selling olive oil,” Schuler says. “If you had told me five years ago we would have had an international partnership, I would have told you you’re absolutely crazy.”
“I don’t say no, usually,” he adds, “and sometimes it works out.”
A Market-Based Solution
One of the recent issues Schuler has encountered is the lack of an efficient method of tracking the community service hours his district – and many others – are offering students.
“I complained about it for a while,” he says, “and one of my buddies said, ‘Well instead of complaining about it, do something about it.’ So I said, ‘All right, let’s try it.’”
In his spare time, Schuler and a small group of friends created a solution – a tech start-up called Transeo that features software that keeps track and verifies all the work and hours students are putting in, allowing access to students, sponsors and educators. The system will be marketed to school districts – excluding his own.
“Once we get it completely set and everybody’s loving it, then I’ll give it to the district for free,” he says.
Greatest Influence on His Career
“I have had many mentors and people of influence, including my mom who was a high school teacher. I also had an incredible teacher colleague, Tony Bralick, who helped me learn the art of teaching. Sarah Jerome, a former superintendent in a neighboring community, has been an incredible role model for me as I transitioned into the superintendency.”
“After spending five years as a superintendent in Wisconsin, I blew it making the decision on my first potential snow day in the Chicago suburbs. The snow was forecast to let up during the morning rush. It didn’t. By the time we realized that, the buses and students were already on their slow, slow trek to school. More than 100 phone calls and 500 emails later from parents, students, and staff, I haven’t made that mistake again.”
Best Professional Day
“Each year’s graduation celebrations are my best professional days. There is nothing better than seeing the smiles and tears on the faces of our students, their parents and grandparents.”
(Paul Riede is a freelance education writer in Syracuse, N.Y. Jay P. Goldman is editor of AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)