MARION — When Shannon Bisgard decided to get his superintendent licensure 17 years ago, he had little intention of using it.
Becoming a school district superintendent “was not a bucket list thing for me at all,” Bisgard, 50, said. The former elementary school principal said he started taking superintendent courses to learn more about school management from a districtwide perspective.
“I’m a lifelong learner,” he said.
But when Linn-Mar Community School District’s former superintendent, Quintin Shepherd, announced plans to resign in April, Bisgard — who has worked in the district for 15 years — threw his hat in the ring.
“It’s an honor to be in this position. I’m a longtime Linn-Mar Lion,” he said. “It’s a pretty unique opportunity for me.”
The Linn-Mar school board hired Bisgard as superintendent in May. He has a three-year contract with the district with a first-year salary of $210,000.
As he gets ready for his first school year as superintendent, Bisgard answered a few questions for The Gazette. His interview has been edited for length.
Q: How has your transition into the role been so far?
A: It’s been a unique transition because I’ve been in the district for 15 years or so. It makes a difference when you know people, and you know the district, and you know the community. It makes it a little bit easier to be able to hit the ground running.
Q: When you meet new Linn-Mar parents and students, how do you introduce yourself?
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A: Our three kids have gone through Linn-Mar, we’ve lived in Linn-Mar for 15 years now. Linn-Mar is our home. We’re proud to be a part of our community. There are lots of great people here. We’re really proud to be part of a district with such a strong community.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: I’m all about relationships. Getting to know people is very important to me, and in a big district that can be a challenge. But it’s doable, and people still value that in Iowa, I think, regardless of whether it’s a big or small district. Especially in education, we’re the ultimate people profession.
It’s critical to hire great people, then empower them to take risks and do great things, as long as their interest is to do the best things for our kids.
Q: Where can people expect to find you, in your office or out in Linn-Mar schools?
A: A teacher told me a long time ago, when I was a principal: You’re everywhere. That’s where I hope to be.
Sometimes there are things you have to do in your office, but I love being out in the buildings, at school events and activities. The only way to lead a district is to know a district, and the only way to know a district is to be visible.
Q: What would you say your three main priorities are for Linn-Mar?
A: School safety is vital and critical for us, in this era.
That’s our first priority always, and it’s something we can never rest lightly on. We’ve worked really hard to put some things in place to make sure students are safe and educated, as far as what to do. It’s not even a school safety thing anymore, it’s a life skill our kids have to have — at the movies, at a concert.
• We can still do better to help our kids find the right fit of teaching style.
Our teachers do an excellent job of having high expectations for kids. However, I think sometimes good is the enemy of great — it’s easy to get to the point where that sense of urgency isn’t there. We need to continue to grow, and continue to get better for our kids, all the time.
One example of finding new instructional methods is blended learning courses, where students learn from a teacher and have an online component to use in the classroom, or at home or at a coffee shop. That’s how our kids learn. It’s different from how we did when we were kids.
• The most immediate priority for me: Space is a challenge in a growing district.
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People want to be here and that’s a positive, but it’s a challenge we have to be responsive to. We have a bond issue looming in September, and I’ll spend a lot of time talking about why it’s needed and what’s in the plan.
It’s all about capacity. We have to make sure we have space for our kids to learn in environments that are conducive to our teachers’ best abilities. Right now our primary needs are at the elementary and middle school levels. The bond is the first and biggest block (of funding) for us in a 10-year facilities plan.
Q: What do the next few weeks look like for you? Anything you’re particularly looking forward to?
A: Our new teachers start (Wednesday), and we have 39 new teachers this year. All our staff start (Friday), and then kids are back on the 23rd.
I Iove the first day back for teachers. One thing about education that I love is we have an end of the year and a start of the year, so it’s nice to have that reset. But nothing beats the first day of school with kids.
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