By Jim Nowlan
Incoming Stark 100 School District superintendent Nick Sutton says, “You can have great plans and all the rest, but the most important factor in a school’s success is a positive relationship among the parents, teachers and students.”
Sutton is principal at Lombard Middle School in Galesburg and has prior experience in Canton, Peoria and Galesburg as principal as well as middle school language arts and science teacher.
Sutton has been a straight-A student through undergraduate studies at Western Illinois University as well as for his graduate certificate in educational leadership and his present work toward a doctorate, all at WIU.
The News sat down this past week with Sutton and Superintendent Jerry Klooster, who retires this year. We wanted readers to learn about Nick’s perspectives on what makes for good schools and to seek some lessons learned from veteran school leader Klooster.
In his early 30s, Nick appears to be bursting with energy and enthusiasm, as he sits forward in his chair to take questions.
“I believe the keys to success,” says Sutton, “include a partnership between parents and teachers, and a mindset among the students that we’re all in this together.
“I have lots of expectations for parents—to read to their young children, and to imbue their children with attitude that success in education is important to their success in life.”
As for the challenges he might face at his new school district, Sutton responds that, “I need to know more about the district and all its people before I decide what the challenges might be.”
Sutton does note that he is worried about the nationwide shortage of science and math teachers, and that the state of Illinois was wrong to require that teachers teach until age 67 to receive their full—and recently reduced—pensions.
“I believe my most important job is to put teachers and staff in positions to be successful. People in a school trump all else.”
Sutton says that since the 1970s there has been an explosion of research into best practices in schools and that he plans to take advantage of that research to implement the best practices learned in recent decades.
Sutton says that effective learning is “hands on” today and emphasizes the application of skills learned. For example, instead of explaining what a refrigerator is, as was the approach in the classroom in the past, Sutton wants students to take that refrigerator apart and put it back together.
“I’m excited, thrilled to be coming to Stark County,” he says. “It’s a great responsibility to be trusted with the students and to have a positive impact on their success.
“Education is the most rewarding career there is because you are working with young people.”
Sutton is the father of daughters Addi, 8, and Audrey, 4.
Parents want more communication
The News asked Klooster what counsel he would have for new superintendents, based on his career as a math teacher and then administrator at schools in Odell, Plainfield, Prophetstown, Fulton, and Stark 100.
Klooster’s advice is straightforward and applies not only to school leaders but to readers as well, so we have put the succinct guidance in a box nearby.
As for change in education over his career, Klooster notes that parents today expect more communication from parents and school leaders.
“Many teachers have their own Facebook and other social media accounts by which to keep in touch with parents.
“Parents also want to be respected and appreciated, and they want a rich range of options for their students, whether it be courses online, long distance, dual credit as well as courses offered outside the school day.”
Klooster leaves at the end of the school year with the district’s finances in sound shape, with strong balances in the important funds.
New school leader Sutton appears to be more than eager to get started in his new role.
Welcome to Stark 100, Superintendent Sutton.
Retiring school superintendent Jerry Klooster’s counsel to any new school superintendents:
Always be honest.
Find some fellow superintendent(s) you can call for counsel.
Try not to be the only one to cancel school – or the only one to keep school open.
Tell people up front what you expect of them.
Never promise to do something you may not be able to follow through on.
Don’t be afraid to make changes if that is what’s best for kids.
Keep good notes.
Always try to solve problems at the level of their origin.
Be involved in the community.
Remember that most people are reasonable.
There are lots of people that can identify problems, but only a few that can solve problems. Surround yourself with problem solvers.