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story.lead_photo.caption Matthew Wendt, new superintendent of Fayetteville Schools, speaks about his plans for his first six months on July 18 in his office in the McClinton Administration Center in Fayetteville. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Matthew Wendt's 11th year as a superintendent falls at the same time he is beginning a new job as the School District's 11th superintendent.

Wendt, who started July 1, intends for this job to be his last as a superintendent.

Past Fayetteville superintendents

• N. P. Gates, 1890-1900

• J.C. Mitchell, 1900-1904

• F.S. Root, 1904-1942

• Virgil Blossom, 1942-1953

• Wayne White, 1953-1969

• Harry Vandergriff, 1969-1982

• Winston Simpson, 1982-1994*

• Bobby C. New, 1996-2009

• Vicki Thomas, 2009-2014

• Paul M. Hewitt, 2014-2016

  • The district has an interim superintendent from 1994 to 1996

Source: Fayetteville School District

"I'm glad I'm only 48," he said. "To put in 25 years as superintendent, I needed to get started."

Wendt is keeping his calender full between school events and meetings with area education leaders. In his brief time with the School District, Wendt knows some of the issues facing Fayetteville schools, but he likely does not yet know all the questions to ask, he said. He doesn't anticipate a need to reform the entire school district, but said he plans on working to identify and close gaps and weaknesses.

One way he is trying to build his school knowledge is by reaching out to past Fayetteville superintendents, including Bobby New, who still lives in Fayetteville. He hopes to thank them and to learn from them about the district's history.

Wendt will begin to discuss his vision for Fayetteville students at the back-to-school convocation for teachers next month. He's interested in a high school system where seniors complete most required coursework by 11th grade so they have more time in their final year for apprenticeships, job shadowing, volunteer work or college-level classes.

"We'll see if anybody falls out of their seat," he said.

The new superintendent also wants to get to know leaders of the private and charter schools in Fayetteville and develop a stronger partnership with the University of Arkansas, a connection started with a meeting this month with Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz.

"I just believe there's something about the university and the location of the public school system that should involve a partnership and a working relationship like none other," Wendt said.

Steinmetz, who became chancellor Jan. 1, and Wendt are weeks away from the first day of school for both of their institutions.

They've pledged to meet often, Steinmetz said. Their first meeting lasted 90 minutes and involved a discussion of their backgrounds and the importance of both organizations in working together, especially given their close proximity. The two likely will meet again in September, he said.

"The geography is really set up for great cooperation," Steinmetz said. "We'll look to the future of exploiting that geography and the closeness of the institution and the programs we can offer for Fayetteville High School students."

Wendt's had a front-row seat through the years to watch the changes in education, starting as a child growing up on a farm in southeast Kansas. His father was a coach and teacher; his mother taught music lessons.

The Aug. 12 convocation for all 1,400 Fayetteville School District employees will give Wendt an opportunity to introduce himself and talk about the changes occurring in education. When Wendt was in school, he remembers learning facts, events and dates, information today's students can find with a simple search search on a smartphone, he said.

Teachers have limited time with their students, so he wants them to think about whether it's more important to teach students the same facts students can find with a smartphone or whether they need thinking skills to discover information, Wendt said.

Wendt began his education career in 1990 as a high school English teacher in Kansas. He's worked in administration for 20 years, including three years as a principal in the Fowler Unified School District where he got his first job as a superintendent.

He spent five years as superintendent of Ankeny Community Schools in Ankeny, Iowa, and came to Fayetteville after four years as superintendent of Community Unit District No. 308 in Oswego, Ill. In between being the Fowler superintendent and the Ankeny superintendent, he spent seven years as an assistant superintendent for the Pittsburg Unified School District in Kansas.

Even though he has previous experience as a superintendent, Wendt is newly licensed in Arkansas. State law requires him to participate in the yearlong Arkansas School Superintendent Mentoring Program. The program reconnected him with Benny Gooden, who resigned this past school year as the Fort Smith superintendent after 30 years with the district. Gooden, who is an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas, was an instructor for Wendt while he worked on his doctorate.

"It's incredible that he would have been a part of my initial coursework," Wendt said. "Here he is as my mentor."

Gooden is glad for Wendt to come to Arkansas, he said.

Successful superintendents need a set of skills to understand the community culture and to handle changes that occur within the local community and in education, Gooden said. They need the ability to hire good people to fill all the roles in a school district.

"He was a very able student," Gooden said. "You would have predicted from the way he performed in the academic setting that he was going to be an excellent superintendent. He's proven that."

Wendt remembers being interested in working for Fayetteville when New left the district in 2009, but he didn't think he was qualified. He was aware of the opening after Vicki Thomas resigned as superintendent in 2014, but Wendt had just started his job as superintendent in Oswego.

When Wendt's immediate predecessor Paul Hewitt, a longtime educator, became superintendent, Wendt began to think about steps to take to be a good candidate when the position opened up again, he said.

"It would have been difficult for me to be convinced to have left my previous position for any other district," Wendt said. "This job in this district in this community was a package I simply could not turn down because I was so interested in it for some time."

Wendt will stay busy in the weeks leading up to the start of school, including a two-day orientation for new teachers last week, a district leadership team retreat this week and a statewide meeting of top school administrators the first week of August. Asbell Elementary, Happy Hollow Elementary and Owl Creek School will begin a new school year Aug. 3, while the rest of the Fayetteville campuses follow on Aug. 15.

"One of our messages is, 'We need to be Fayetteville and not someplace else,'" Wendt said. "A lot of great people before us worked to make sure Fayetteville was a strong and vibrant district."

Wendt's first School Board meeting as superintendent is Thursday. That will follow with a board workshop set for Aug. 6, where Wendt and the board begin to define how they will work together, from planning for meetings to how they will communicate.

"When I was interviewed, I did impress upon them the importance of being on the same page," Wendt said.

The Aug. 6 workshop will provide time to build understanding and to discuss expectations, said Tim Hudson, board president. Wendt will be responsible for leading his team and the staff, with the board there to support his vision and provide encouragement, Hudson said.

Hudson appreciates the time Wendt is taking to gather information and reflect on about issues brought to his attention by school employees and community members.

"He is taking in what he is learning and hearing," Hudson said.

NW News on 07/24/2016

Print Headline: Wendt begins new role as Fayetteville superintendent

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