Growing up, science was Matt Adams’ favorite subject.
Now he’s Dr. Matt Adams, Woodward-Granger CSD’s new superintendent. That’s not the title he expected as a pre-med student at Iowa State, but once he switched to studying elementary education, it turned into a “dream job.”
As the Chief Operations Officer for Ankeny Schools, a job he could have “done into retirement,” Adams and everyone that worked with him knew he wanted to be a superintendent for a small school district someday. He even wrote his dissertation at Drake University on superintendent evaluation, learning the ins and outs to the job to learn more about what an SI’s role truly is for a school district.
“I actually evaluated job descriptions across the state of Iowa,” Adams said. “Instruments used to evaluate superintendents across the state of Iowa, and then the goals that superintendents wrote and the district of the size you need to be both a manager and an instructional leader.”
Now he can implement what he learned from his studies that also netted him the AASA Educational Administration Scholarship Award in 2011.
During the hiring process, he submitted an entry plan during his interview that said he was going to listen, learn, and connect to aid the transition process and implement his “student-first” philosophy. He said that’s what he’s been doing since officially starting the job July 1 to get ready for the doors to re-open Aug. 23.
“The mission goes on to say ‘One student at a time,’” Adams said of his student-focused goals. “So it’s very individualized. That means you’re to know your students to a level where you know exactly what it is needed.”
For Adams, he said a goal is that teachers function more as a facilitator than students simply sitting in front of them to absorb lessons. Because of that, Adams said he feels teaching is a “selfless” and one of the hardest jobs to do effectively. But he added that he feels there’s still room to improve despite the obstacles, be it interpersonal or imposed financial state restrictions.
He brings a set of goals to help aid that process. Among the top priorities is to prepare every student for their future beyond high school as stated in his application’s mission statement: “Building futures.”
“We’re talking about the futures of students. We want the students regardless of what they choose to do, ‘building futures’ could mean going to college. It could mean going to trade school. It could mean going to community college, going (into the) military or going straight to the workforce. So how do we help them build a future?”
He said he has already taken steps to start encouraging a new direction by encouraging real world programming and community involvement with local businesses to provide a variety of opportunities to expand students’ ideas, just as he switched his life’s route in college.
“I think there’s going to be an opportunity there that we haven’t tapped into yet. Whether that be loving welding, walking side-by-side with an electrician picking up on that,” Adams said. “I was at the high school the other day and I said, ‘Hire a landscaper and get some kids interested in landscaping to help them and learn some of these things.’ So I think providing those authentic learning experiences, those hands-on kinds of jobs to let them explore [would help].”
Additionally, Adams said he wants to continue to increase the high school graduation rate.
“You look at the research about what happens to young people that graduate high school is scary,” Adams continued. “13 years off your life expectancy by not graduating high school.”
He said the school’s 91 percent graduation rate, while high, rates below the state’s 94 percent average rate. The goal is to not only stay in line with the rest of Iowa, but send everyone away with a diploma.
“I need 100 because that’s somebody’s kid,” Adams said.
To that effect, he also mentioned needing to raise the average ACT score up from the 20-21 range the high school currently sits at. That is also below the state average, making college readiness a top priority that will “ramp up” as he implements his research. Adams added that it is not as simple as introducing new programs or funneling funds to student needs as a superintendent.
“Students don’t care what you know until you know that you care,” Adams said, adding that he’s excited to build those relationships with students and teachers alike to build those futures.