New superintendent brings varied experiences to College Community

John Speer began job last summer

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Though he’s new to the College Community School District, John Speer is experiencing a little deja vu.

“When you have a base of experience, I think you make better decisions,” said Speer, the district’s new superintendent.

Speer came to the Cedar Rapids-based district from the Ballard Community School District, where he also was a superintendent. While leading that school system, located near Ames, Speer faced the completion of a facilities plan, construction of new buildings and dealing with enrollment growth — two issues College Community is working through.

“Other than the size, they’re very similar,” Speer said, comparing the two districts. “That’s probably why I’m here.”

Before his six years at Ballard, Speer was a superintendent at the Allamakee Community School District in Waukon, which provided a stark contrast to his later career moves.

“It’s truly a rural district,” he said of Allamakee. “Ballard and College Community have a suburban flavor to them.”

Speer began his tenure as College Community’s superintendent on July 1, taking over for departing Superintendent Richard Whitehead. Speer was the school board’s unanimous choice to fill the vacancy.

“We wanted somebody that was an educational leader, that was approachable, not afraid to make changes and at the same time respect our history and our heritage,” said Randy Bauer, president of the district’s school board.

Speer already had “the best 3A job in the state,” he said of his time in Ballard, but the College Community position was one of only three or four that he would’ve uprooted his daughters — Emma, who is in fourth grade and Lainey, a kindergartner — and wife for and time was running out.

The position allows the family, who has relocated to Shueyville, to be closer to relatives. Speer hails from Dunkerton while his wife, Anne, is from Genesee, Ill.

The couple’s daughters both attend Prairie Crest Elementary School, one of the buildings in the College Community district.

Speer pursued the chance to lead what he thought of as a “fantastic” district.

“It was a very forward-thinking district, very financially sound,” he said. “They weren’t afraid to try things that they thought would be successful.”

Speer has spent a lot of time learning about his new district and said his experiences have proven his predictions true.

One tradeoff for Speer, who is a former high school principal, is that being a superintendent has taken him away from frequent contact with students. He’s trying to build bonds, with students and staff, through a goal of visiting every district classroom.

“Every week I try to go to go to a building and wander around,” Speer said. “I think you kind of pick up the tenor of a building by wandering around ... I think people enjoy knowing a little bit about who the superintendent is, even if it’s a five-minute conversation.”

Ying Ying Chen, the district’s executive director of learning service, frequently interacts with Speer. If her testimony is any indication, his strategy is working.

“He is accessible to anyone, not just us. He juggles things quite easily,” she said. “He is very personable and he wants to take in information. He’s a great listener. He does want to get to know everyone.”

Speer’s goals for the district are to guide it through its impending 10-year facilities plan process, complete a staff-wide climate survey and a needs assessment. He’s also aiming to help the district manage its growth and effectively reach its ever-diversifying population, all while being fiscally responsible.

At the heart of it all, though, is Speer’s desire to serve learners.

“We are always going to try to give our kids the best education that we can,” he said. “We want to make every student successful.”

Though Speer said he doesn’t have his eyes set on another new position, he is working to make sure that College Community is a stronger district when he leaves it than it was when he arrived.

“I try to get a little bit better every day,” Speer said.

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