IOWA CITY — Superintendent Matt Degner dropped “interim” from his title Tuesday after the school board unanimously voted to award him a three-year contract with the Iowa City Community School District.
“I’m very honored and humbled to have the opportunity to continue to lead the district,” said Degner, who began as interim superintendent July 1, 2020, a two-year contract.
“I’m super appreciative of the school board and community support to move our good work here forward as we start to conclude the pandemic.”
Degner has three priorities he wants to continue as superintendent:
The first is the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion plan, which he called a “north star” for the district.
The plan includes reducing the opportunity gap for students, hiring and retaining teachers and staff of color and reducing disproportionality in discipline.
The second priority is completing the district’s Portrait of a Graduate, which is a vision of what skills and attributes Iowa City students acquire throughout their education.
Finally, Degner wants to continue work on the district’s facility master plans to make sure buildings are equipped for future generations.
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Degner is working for systematic change in the district, most notably through the equity, diversity and inclusion initiative, said school board member Ruthina Malone.
“I’m 100 percent behind having a person of color as our superintendent, but realistically, I see how teachers and principals of color are poorly treated when it comes to leadership,” Malone said.
“It takes a toll on them professionally. If we bring someone in, I fear they’d be gone. It’s hard to be a person of color in this district,” she said.
School board member Charlie Eastham said the district has a “long history” of bringing in superintendents as a result of a national search.
“That has not proven to be a particularly successful model for us. This district has a long history of not teaching students of color very well. Maybe we need to do something different in selecting our superintendent,” Eastham said, in support of Degner.
School board President Shawn Eyestone said he has witnessed “incredible work” from Degner in the last seven months between managing the COVID-19 pandemic and setting intentional equity goals for the district.
Degner’s relationship with the school board is “collaborative,” Eyestone said.
In Degner’s contract, the superintendent’s annual raise will match the average percent raise of what teachers and staff will get in the district.
It’s notable that the superintendent salary won’t be a separate conversation from other staff members in the district, Eyestone said.
The contract is from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2024, with an annual salary of $229,000.
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There’s not a better job interview than serving as interim superintendent during a global pandemic, school board member JP Claussen said.
School board member Janet Godwin said she does not believe the district could find the level of leadership Degner offers in a national search for a superintendent.
“I cannot even imagine the sleepless nights you’ve had since taking on the interim superintendent role, worrying about the health and safety of every soul that passes through your buildings every day,” she said.
While a national search is “compelling,” Godwin said with Degner as superintendent the district can begin to think about the future after COVID-19.
“For me, when I look at what I want the superintendent of the district to do — to be focused, their goals, and what direction they want to move us in — I realized Matt was already doing all of that,” Lisa Williams said.
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