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Academic Field of Dreams

Iowa Superintendent Dr. Daniel Cox Creating Pathways of Opportunity

By Dr. Berger

Dr. Daniel Cox is in his 4th year as Superintendent of Iowa’s Charles City Community School District and represents the new approach to school leadership. The old school method of being a peripheral administrator predominantly concerned with keeping the district budget in the black no longer works. The modern superintendent is hands-on and expected to be involved in instruction, curriculum, technology advancement and inter-district partnering.

Iowa’s Charles City Community School District was recently awarded a twenty-five thousand dollar STEM grant from the state and Cox realizes that it represents a starting point to launch more science technology-based programming. It takes more than the initial grant money to fund district improvements and Cox is aware of the importance of creating strong bonds between corporate and other private interests to further funding.

Slow change is sometimes the best approach to convince a district community to accept new ideas. Cox learned from the failed attempts of earlier educators who rushed classroom changes and found the community resenting the decision. Cox has used a slow roll-out of standards-based grading and has seen the community positively embrace the change.

Student empowerment and project-based learning are additional goals set forth by the Charles City Community School District and Dr. Daniel Cox is proud to be chosen to help clear the way.


Dr. Berger: I think it’s really interesting that the role of the superintendent continues to evolve in that some of the skills that might have been required even five or ten years ago seem to be changing in the same ways that we’re looking at our students and our teachers.

How you have seen that evolution? And what is required for your own personal development to serve your community in that same ever-growing fashion?

Dr. Daniel Cox: I’m in my fourth year as superintendent so the changes that have occurred have been in the new mode compared to what they used to be.

It used to be that superintendents ─ as I have watched them as a student and even as a teacher ─ mostly were managing to make sure that the district stayed in the black. They really had no role in instruction and just kept the ship going in the right direction.

Now that’s not the case. Superintendents really are playing a more key role in making sure that instruction is meeting the needs of students and that you’re continuing to evolve, incorporating technology as appropriate, making sure that your district remains viable and competitive in the larger-choice market that now exists. It’s a multi-faceted position. But I really love it.

DB: We’re looking at budgets differently. We’re looking at alternative resources and ways in which to engage the private sector. In your estimation, even in the four years you’ve done it, and even before that, are you seeing a change that we can have productive conversations with corporate America and the private sector to bring in alternative sources of funding to support our schools and our community in ways that didn’t happen when you and I were growing up because we had too much of a division of church and state, if you will, between public and private?

DC: Right.

DB: Are you seeing that? And how do you engage in the local community in progressive discussions?

DC: We were awarded a STEM grant from the State of Iowa a year ago ─ $25,000-dollars which isn’t a lot. But it’s $25,000 dollars more that helped us further implement some STEM programming. That was just the biggest of a series of smaller awards that we’ve gotten.

So we have had to start looking at other ways to bring in finance and resources to the district. The money from the state continues to shrink each year so it is more important than ever now to be seeking out corporate partners and external funding sources.

DB: To that point, I would imagine that your level of discernment in purchasing ─ if we talk about technology ─ has to be that much more informed. These blanket decisions can’t be made anymore because, now, there are technologies that can be personalized to K-8 through the high school level.

How have you ─ as a team ─ looked at that so that you’re on top of what’s available and that you can actually look at it and say, “Okay, this is a good decision” or “Let’s go in a different direction”?

DC: Five years ago, our district was one of the early adopters of the one-to-one initiative in Iowa just at the high school level, and they bought MacBook Pros.

When we looked at renewing last spring, the price between that and a Chromebook was just night and day ─ five Chromebooks to one MacBook. So we had to look at what the best use of our resources is and how we can continue to offer this to our students. But, then, we can’t just have it be at the high school because our middle school