After a nine-year tenure as superintendent of the Glenwood Community School District, Dr. Stan Sibley has retired and turned over the reigns to his successor, Devin Embray.
The changing of the guard took place Thursday, July 1, the first day of the district’s 2010-2011 fiscal year.
“I kind of look at it as a relay race,” Sibley said last week as he reflected on the past nine years. “My teammates are Tom Rubel, Dale Proctor and Devin Embray. Three of us have all had our time with the baton and now it’s Devin’s turn to move the district forward.”
Rubel was the district’s superintendent during the 1990s and Proctor served a year as interim superintendent prior to Sibley’s hire.
Sibley, 65, came to Glenwood after serving as superintendent of the Valley, Neb., public school system. Prior to his time in Valley, he had spent time in the classroom as a teacher and had held other positions in education with the state of Nebraska and Omaha Public Schools. Sibley said he was encouraged to apply for the Glenwood superintendent’s position by a colleague in Wahoo, Neb., Ed Rastowski, who was also a friend and colleague of Rubel’s.
“He kept encouraging me to take a look at it,” Sibley said. “I didn’t know Tom (Rubel) at all, but I knew of the strong reputation he and the district had. Everything I learned about the district, I learned from friends of Tom who were familiar with the district.”
Sibley admits feeling some apprehension initially about pursuing the position in Glenwood because he was aware of division that existed in the Glenwood community as a result of Rubel’s departure (to become a superintendent in Ottumwa) and a strained relationship that existed between some members of the board of education and the district’s administrative team.
“Any concerns I had about it being a turbulent situation were eased when I came to Glenwood for my interview,” Sibley recalled.
Sibley took over as Glenwood’s superintendent on July 1, 2001, and it didn’t take him long to begin identifying areas of priority. Facility needs – particularly at the middle school and high school – would be a priority.
Just months after Sibley’s tenure began in Glenwood, he and other members of the school district leadership team began developing a plan to address the district’s middle school and high school facilities needs. Initial discussions focused on building a new middle school and adding an auditorium and gymnasium to the existing high school. Later, there would be consideration of a cooperative agreement between the district and the Southwest Iowa Community Betterment Association, an organization working for the construction of a YMCA.
Discussions and public forums went on for months, but the school district eventually made the decision to pursue the construction of a new high school. The $19.7 million bond issue passed with flying colors in the winter of 2006 and the new high school opened in August 2009. The move allowed the district to relocate its middle school from the campus of the Glenwood Resource Center to its former high school building, instantly vaulting the district from “worst to first” when it comes to facilities in the Hawkeye 10 Conference, according to Sibley.
The high school actually opened a year later than originally projected. A combination of factors – including weather, contractor management and state regulations – played a role in the delays that eventually became a focal point of discussion in the community.
Sibley pointed out that some unusual restrictions and guidelines, unique to the state of Iowa wouldn’t allow the district to even start the preliminary soil preparation process at the construction site until all designs were in place.
“Almost every other state allows schools to operate like anyone else when it comes to new construction. Here, it’s design, bid and build,” Sibley said. “We couldn’t even bring a shovel on the grounds until the spring of 2007. They (Iowa state legislators) think they can do things better than everyone else, but they set schools up to fail.”
Once construction did begin, weather delays, contractor mismanagement and some spotty workmanship set things back even farther. Sibley said Ted Mintle, the owner’s representative on the project, discovered several construction errors during the construction process that needed to be addressed.
“We could have gotten the job done sooner, but it would not have been of the same quality, had it not been for Ted Mintle,” Sibley said. “Some of the delays were our fault because we made people go back and do it right. I won’t apologize for that.”
Sibley said the first day of the classes in the new high school building, after weeks of anxiety over the delays, was one of the highlights of his career in education.
“Instantly, that first day, you could feel the energy transformed in that building,” he said. “It was a very emotional day for me.”
The new high school building may very well be Sibley’s legacy to the Glenwood community, but he’s also proud of other accomplishments that have transpired over the past nine years, most notably an overall improvement in classroom achievement. Reading skills, in particular, have improved over the past decade, Sibley said, thanks to a variety of initiatives.
“We took a ‘scratch where it itches’ approach,” Sibley said. “We took a look at materials, professional development and assessment. The Guided Reading program in the elementary level is just one example of what came out of this.”
Progress has been made in the area of mathematics as well. Sibley also mentioned a realignment of administrative duties, enhancements in the area of technology, the fact that Glenwood was one of the first district’s in the state to adopt an “anti bullying” program and the accomplishments of the district’s extra curricular programs, particularly in the area of fine arts, as personal points of pride. He believes the new high school gym and auditorium will only help GCHS extra-curricular programs become stronger in years to come.
“What’s the difference between a good school district and a great school district? A great school district has excellent programs across the board,” Sibley said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re certainly on the way.”