WATERLOO — Jared Smith, a former East High assistant principal, has been named Waterloo Community Schools’ next superintendent.
His hiring will become official upon approval at the regularly scheduled Feb. 14 Board of Education meeting.
Smith, 39, grew up in Waterloo and has been superintendent since 2018 of the South Tama County Community Schools, which has about 1,500 students. The district’s ethnic and racial diversity is similar to the 10,100-student Waterloo Schools.
“I’m excited to return home one more time to lead your amazing school district,” he said in a video released Monday by Waterloo Schools. “Whether you’re an employee, student, parent or community member please know that I will make the time to listen and to understand your perspective so we can create an amazing learning experience for our children.”
“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Smith to our district community as our next superintendent,” board president Sue Flynn said in a news release. “Dr. Smith has proven himself to be an ambitious and passionate educational leader who focuses on engaging with families, recruiting exceptional teachers and staff, and promoting communities of care for students. He is also a thought leader in the field (of) education, and someone other school leaders look to for guidance and expertise.”
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According to the news release, in South Tama County Schools Smith has focused on creating positive work environments for employees, resulting in increased staff culture and climate scores four years in a row. He has also authored a book, written a number of articles and delivered several presentations on various issues related to educational leadership.
In addition, Smith has helped to make South Tama a top district in the state for community engagement via social media.
“We actually track our metrics,” he told The Courier in an interview last week. In comparison to school systems across the state, “we’re constantly at the top or near the top of all the large districts” when it comes to the number of people viewing its social media posts. “We’re relentless about sharing our story.
“Waterloo does a pretty good job of that,” he added. “That’s definitely something I would continue to monitor and take it up another level if possible.”
“We look forward to seeing the positive impact he will have on the Waterloo Community Schools moving forward,” Flynn said in the news release. “We truly feel like he will be a champion for our district.”
Smith was one of four finalists vying to lead the district. Others included Darren Hanna, superintendent of Emmetsburg Community Schools; Stephanie Jones, Chicago Public Schools’ chief officer in the office of diverse learner supports and services; and Amy Kortemeyer, deputy superintendent of educational services in the Iowa City Community Schools.
Leading similar, but smaller, school district prepared finalist for Waterloo superintendent role
Under Smith’s leadership, South Tama achieved Iowa’s second-best four-year graduation rate for districts with a minority population of 40% or greater, the news release said. The district has also been recognized by several state and national organizations for its innovative education practices and has created eight new staff positions to focus on students’ social-emotional needs in recent years.
In both South Tama and Waterloo, white students are the largest group enrolled but they don’t make up the majority, according to online Iowa Department of Education data.
South Tama, with 53.7% non-white students, had a graduation rate of 90.91% in 2020, 91.5% in 2019 and 95.12% in 2018. Waterloo graduated 85.77% of its seniors in 2020, 82.91% in 2019 and 84.24% in 2018. Students who are not white make up 55.5% of the district’s enrollment.
Smith is a 2000 graduate of Waterloo West High School. He previously served as principal of Muscatine High School after his time at East High School from 2012 to 2016.
He started his career in 2004 as a teacher in Sarasota, Fla., and then went on to teach in the Chicago Public Schools. Smith returned to Iowa in 2008, working as an administrator for Fort Dodge Community Schools.
He holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Iowa State University, a master’s degree in educational leadership from National Louis University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa.
“Having lived in Waterloo for most of my life, I am highly motivated to see our students succeed,” Smith said in the video. “I love when I see Waterloo students thrive in the classroom, on the field, on the stage and in life.”
In comments from his application included in the news release, Smith wrote: “Like many Waterloo students, I didn’t have things easy growing up, and I find great motivation in leading a school system where the main focus is helping students overcome unique challenges. I am also motivated to make the Waterloo Community Schools a wonderful place for employees.
“We have placed a huge emphasis on the culture and climate at South Tama County, and are committed to ensuring our employees enjoy coming to work,” he added. “The idea that I could bring this same energy and enthusiasm around workplace morale to Waterloo is a very exciting idea, and a challenge that gets me up in the morning.”
The board has been working with Grundmeyer Leader Services of Ankeny to conduct the search for the next superintendent. The process has included a community-wide survey, asking district residents to provide their input on the qualities and characteristics they would like to see in the district’s new leader. The search consultants also held focus group meetings as they established desired qualifications for the position.
The board interviewed finalists Thursday following an earlier round of interviews with a larger pool of candidates Jan. 19. After meeting in closed session, the board voted 6-0 with one abstention to extend a contract offer to Smith. Board member Stacie Mills abstained.
In an interview, Flynn said Mills “just needed more time to absorb all of the information” before making a decision.
Although Smith has verbally accepted the new position, he is still “reviewing the terms of the contract,” Flynn said. Smith didn’t return a phone call seeking comment before press time.
The contract is effective July 1, when current Superintendent Jane Lindaman retires. The two leaders may have some opportunities to work together before during a transition to the new superintendent.
“Dr. Lindaman has offered to assist Dr. Smith in any way possible,” said Flynn.