The top school superintendent in the country is from right here in Missouri. Dr. Curtis Cain, the superintendent at Wentzville School District near St. Louis, becomes Missouri’s first-ever recipient of the top national award.
The School Superintendents Association hands out the annual award. The applicants were measured against the following criteria: Leadership for Learning, Communication, Professionalism, and Community involvement.
Cain was among four finalists vying for the title. The award was given to Cain during the National Conference on Education hosted by AASA, The National School Superintendents Association, held in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I stood on stage thinking there is not a bad option standing in front of this very large room. And it’s interesting, I actually cover my mouth when I heard my name called to prevent my jaw from actually dropping. I was very surprised and so it’s just a very humbling recognition,” he says. “It’s not about my work but it’s about the work that we’re doing as a district because we’re focused on kids right and it’s been an interesting and very challenging time for, I believe, every educator and every leader in schools at this point in time.”
Cain says his drive to be a superintendent revolves around maximizing the effectiveness the workers have with students.
“There are times a superintendent is the quarterback. There times the superintendent is the wide receiver. There are times the superintendent does the blocking,” says Cain. “Like there are a multitude of roles that you take as superintendent because you want to affect change that is ultimately going to be in the best interest of kids.”
Dr. Cain has served as superintendent of the district since 2013 and is responsible for the educational performance and well-being of more than 17,300 students and 2,600 staff members. The Wentzville School District is the ninth-largest school district in Missouri, and one of the fastest-growing. The system’s statewide assessment performance is in the top 13% of the more than 520 public school districts in Missouri.
Cain says having a north star is essential – and his north star is what happens in the classroom and doing things in the best interest of kids.
“We now have four high schools in our district, but being able to be on stage, and literally shake hands of every senior that crosses that stage – it’s always one of the best days of the school year because it’s the ultimate public celebration, both collectively and individually. It’s almost a handoff in terms of a relay race. In track, right, we’re completing one step, one leg of the race, and they are headed to that next stage. Whether it’s to serve our proud nation in the military, whether it’s to immediately go into the world of work, whether it’s a two-year or four-year set of studies in terms of community or junior college, community college or a college or university campus. They’re headed toward that next stage, and so it’s always such a very, very exciting and energizing time. I don’t care if it’s an 18-year-old, six foot five 250 lb. graduate with a full beard, right? That’s still someone’s baby. And we have 13 years to get this as right as we possibly can on a daily basis. And that work is serious and is very focused. But it’s also work which we can laugh and we can celebrate along the way. And we needed to be doing more of that – taking the work very seriously but also enjoying each and every day that were presented,” says Cain.
He says schools and students have had to stretch themselves over the past two years and they will benefit from the challenges.
“I think that we are able to recenter. We are able to reprioritize in terms of what is absolutely essential. We’re also able to reconnect in terms of with ourselves, in terms of our colleagues, but also with our families as well. And I think that it has really forced us to become a little bit more introspective and really think about what we’re doing and really value what we are ultimately doing,” says Cain.
Missouri has been making itself known on the national stage – we also have the National Principal of the Year – Beth Houf, of Fulton Middle School in central Missouri. She is also the state’s first-ever National Principal of the Year.
“In Wentzville two years ago, we opened a elementary school. This past year, we opened a high school. This upcoming summer, we’re opening a middle school. And we spent a lot of time and focus on the brick and mortar in terms of just construction. And that is important,” he says. “But I think the recognition for both myself and for the National Principal of the Year speaks to what is really important. And that’s, it’s the flesh and blood. It’s people that make all the difference. And there are some fantastic, amazing, highly professional educators that are across the entirety of the state of Missouri. And I think that you can’t get around the people. You can’t get around the people. It’s regardless of the amount of technology that we are ultimately able to embed and integrate in terms of what we do on a daily basis. It will not overrule or supersede the quality of the educator that is in front of our students.”
Here is what he hopes to take away as National Superintendent of the Year:
“I think that educators are in a position where we’re still learners, right? We’re adult learners, but we’re still learners. And if I can sponge, borrow a fantastic idea elsewhere and bring it back to the state of Missouri, I would be happy to do so. I think that it’s a time when we need to be proud. And we need to be loud about what we’re doing for kids, and how we’re trying to support kids through this very unique time. In terms of what we’re working through as a nation, when it comes to pandemic, I think the worst is behind us. I have great confidence that we have brighter days in front of us. And I think that there’s unfinished learning, there’s social emotional needs that we need to address, and then there’s staging students for their future, not our present. All of that is still in front of us. And so, it doesn’t frustrate me. It doesn’t exhaust me. It really energizes me when I think about what’s next,” says Cain.
Cain will take over as superintendent of the Rockwood School District this summer.
To hear the full Show Me Today interview with Dr. Curtis Cain, click below.
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