CEDAR RAPIDS — Last month, Doug Wheeler received his doctoral degree, turned 40 and “got a really great job.”
As incoming superintendent of the College Community School District, Wheeler will in July start work at the district, which educates some 5,000 students in southern Cedar Rapids and rural Linn County.
“As a lifetime Iowan, it feels very much like ‘Iowa,’” Wheeler said of his new district. “It’s a representation of different people from different backgrounds, and proud. ... The staff here is working so hard for kids, and they have such pride in that work, that it already feels like home. It aligns with my philosophy — let’s work hard in service of students.”
Wheeler said he is dedicated to creating successful conditions for student learning as well as publicly celebrating that work.
“My big passion is telling the story of the district that I’m in,” Wheeler said. “In this position, you get to be involved with the work of a lot of good people, and telling that story is a passion of mine. ... You have to market your district, and tell the story of why people should feel good about sending their children here.”
It’s work he said he’s honed for four years as superintendent of Saydel Community School District near Des Moines.
The College Community School District was “at the top of a very, very short list” that could have taken him away from the Saydel district, he added.
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Saydel School Board Vice President Jenn VanHouten said Wheeler emphasized strong communication of the district’s culture and image.
“To me, that is a great leadership quality. To make sure all the constituents, if you will — staff, students and the community — are involved and are informed,” said VanHouten, who was been on the school board there for three years.
“He’s willing to have tough conversations, but at the same time, he’s very personable and open and inclusive. We’ll miss him,” she said.
His new role at College Community School District is the only job he’s applied for since joining Saydel, Wheeler said.
His predecessor, John Speer, is departing for a role as chief administrator of the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, which supports College Community School District as well as other schools in the region.
Speer is set to begin at the Grant Wood AEA on July 1.
Wheeler said he has experience creating systems of support for all students at Saydel and in previous roles — as principal, instructional vice principal and a teacher at Hoover High School in Des Moines.
He is passionate about bolstering personalized learning systems, he said, noting he was encouraged by College Community ongoing 10-year 10-year effort to enhance personalized learning opportunities for its students.
“We really need to get to what individual students need,” Wheeler said. “However, we’re not always funded in a way that allows us to have those strategies as personalized as we want. We have to get creative to do that, and that’s really exciting to me.”
Wheeler also noted his experience in dropout prevention.
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Although students demographics in College Community are different from his previous districts and few students dropout, Wheeler said, “practices that help kids that are struggling will also help kids that are successful.”
Wheeler’s education philosophy, demeanor and personality made him seem like a good fit for the College Community district, school board president Randy Bauer said.
“Some of the things we do well, he’d continue to lead us in that direction,” Bauer said. “And, he’d look to push the envelope for things we don’t do as well.”
Wheeler said he and his wife, Lisa, plan to move to a home within the district this summer.
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