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Odds and Ends about Curtis Cain, 2022 National Superintendent of the Year Honoree

Curtis Cain, superintendent in Wentzville, Mo., speaks to attendees at the 2022 National Conference on Education after receiving the National Superintendent of the Year Award. Photo by Jimmy Minichello.

His Greatest Influence

Curtis Cain, who is 48, considers mentorship the most profound impact on his 26 years in education.

As he puts it: “We speak to the importance of significant relationships for students and, in numerous ways, this is true for professionals as well. From being a student to my teaching to engaging in my graduate work to my efforts as an administrator, I have been exceedingly fortunate to encounter people who have been willing to pay it forward and invest in me.

“I'm now entering that phase where I am asked to serve as a mentor for leaders. I not only consider it an opportunity, I consider it a moral obligation to do so.”

Like a Brother, But Not Really

Mark Penny, superintendent in the neighboring Lincoln County R-III Schools, has the fondest of feelings toward his fellow superintendent, saying Cain’s best trait is his caring attitude.

“Every time I see him, he asks how my family is doing and I reciprocate the question and the sentiment.  Our families have never met in the eight years he and I have been colleagues in neighboring districts.  But I know about his wife working as an assistant superintendent in Pattonville, his daughter is a freshman at the University of Kentucky and his son is witty and full of charisma. He could probably tell you things about my family as well.

“I love him like a brother and I am very proud he has been named the incoming superintendent at one of the best districts in the state of Missouri, Rockwood. I consider Curtis Cain a lifelong friend! I have already started the website as I joke about being his campaign manager for future offices and titles.”

Milwaukee Sports Hold His Heart

As politic and restrained as Cain is in his professional life, all bets are off when his beloved Milwaukee Bucks or Green Bay Packers are playing a game. Spectactor sports is where Cain can let loose.

“I’m an intense fan,” he says. Of course, it “depends on how they’re doing.” So no one ought to be surprised that Cain offers what he calls “coaching and feedback” as he’s watching.

“I enjoy the fandom,” he admits. “I’m a fanatic and it’s where I go to recharge.”

Learning on the Job Anywhere

Cain absorbs lessons wherever he goes. He has conducted nearly 20 curriculum audits in schools around the country and beyond. He is a certified lead auditor with Curriculum Management Systems Incorporated.

“What you learn with the audit is the context of the organization,” he says. “There are components of really good ideas and excellent practices everywhere …You see people doing similar types of work differently, so there’s an expansion of different slices of school experience.”

Encouraged by what he’s seen in other school systems, Cain has tried to address issues of minority student underrepresentation in selective programs.

“We’re opening the door to as many opportunities and experiences as possible [to address] historic inequities,” says Cain. Whether it’s partnering with Girls Who Code or expanding the kinds of Legos younger students have in their classrooms, “we have to be purposeful about opening more doors to all students.

His Best Day as a Professional

For Cain, that would be June 2, 2020, by his admission.

“On that day, our community passed two ballot initiatives – one of which was a tax levy increase for our district. It was the first time in 16 years our district has passed a levy, and it was a true testament to the community support of our students and our district.”

Formal Education

Cain holds a doctorate degree and an M.S. in educational administration from Iowa State University and a B.S. in social science education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. At Iowa State, he was named a George Washington Carver Doctoral Fellow and awarded the Jordan Larsen Outstanding Dissertation in Educational Administration Award.

Books at Bedside

As of last month, these were the two titles atop his reading pile: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell and Pearls of Wisdom by Barbara Bush

Disney All the Way

With his family, Cain has taken several trips to Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla., and it’s definitely the destination that exerts a powerful attraction for them.

Although his daughter Kailey is now a collegian at University of Kentucky, the prospect of a return trip to Disneyworld and its surrounding attractions still entices her to join him, his wife Tori (who works as director of student services in the Pattonville, Mo., district) and son Kaden, a 4th-grader. A particular favorite is the Pandora thrill ride, as well as Animal Kingdom.

 “It’s all kinds of awesome,” Cain says.

Biggest Blooper

Like many superintendents, Cain considers his biggest flub as a superintendent to be a snow day call. It was a day a few winters ago when he now believes the district should have released students and staff earlier than they did.

“The forecast wasn’t accurate, and the entire region was caught off guard,” Cain says. “Some districts had to keep staff overnight to watch the kids because buses couldn’t reach them. We didn’t fall into that category, but we did have staff struggle to make it home that evening.”

(Compiled by Merri Rosenberg, freelance education writer in Ardsley, N.Y., and Jay P. Goldman, editor of Conference Daily Online.)

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