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Wendt: ‘Still a Lot of Work to Do’ Before Last Day

Jan 28, 2016 02:15PM ● Published by Shannon Antinori

School District 308 Superintendent speaks at the 2015 Convocation Event. (Photo courtesy sd308.org)

While being close to his and his wife’s aging parents was a factor in his decision, Oswego Superintendent Matthew Wendt said he had “multiple reasons” for accepting a job as the new superintendent for an Arkansas school district.

“My parents and 90 percent of my extended family … all live within three hours of Fayetteville,” said Wendt, who was named the new Fayetteville Public Schools superintendent this week. He’s slated to start his new job on July 1.

The soonest Wendt could submit his resignation for approval would be at the Oswego board of education’s Feb. 8 meeting.

Oswego school board president Matt Bauman said the board will then have to decide on whether to hire a search firm to conduct a national search for a new superintendent. Other options would include inviting superintendents from area districts to apply for the job, or considering internal candidates for the job.

“After the 8th, we’ll know more as a board how we want to move forward,” Bauman said.

As for the qualities officials are seeking in a new superintendent, Bauman is hoping for a candidate who is on the same page as the board.

“Just as long as it’s a superintendent who knows the direction of the board and the vision of the board,” Bauman said, adding he hopes the new superintendent will continue the board’s work with the ongoing curriculum review, dual credits and online learning. 

“We want someone who’s cognizant of the culture and climate in Oswego,” he said.

A legacy of changes

The new job will put Wendt near his son, who attends his alma mater, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and a 90-minute drive from his daughter’s university.

Being close to family “is an extremely important part” of the decision, said Wendt. “It’s become even more important as I become older and as everyone else becomes older.”

In a wide-ranging interview Thursday, Wendt reflected on the mark he’s made during his four years in Oswego.

“If there is a legacy, I hope it’s having opened more doors for kids and inviting more opportunity for students as they move through the district,” he said.

During his time here, Oswego schools have seen the expansion of dual credit and AP course offerings, along with a curriculum review and new academic program. Wendt said the district’s transition out of the Kendall County Special Education Cooperative will also be completed before his departure.

As far as his biggest accomplishment, Wendt said, “There have been so many changes since 2012 that I couldn’t put my finger on it.”

Wendt acknowledged that some changes, particularly those affecting special education and the district’s Dual Language program, haven’t always been popular with parents and community members.

“I don’t find very many people who like change,” Wendt said. “The types of changes that have been required in the district have been challenging, they’ve been difficult,” he acknowledged.

“Would I go back and do some things differently? Absolutely I would,” said Wendt. “Great leaders look back and ask the question, how could I have done this better … We’re not always going to agree on everything, but the beautiful thing about District 308 is, it might take us a while to get where we want to be and we might disagree along the way, but what I’ve learned is that when we arrive, it’s always been good for the kids.”

Wendt said the changes have been made under the leadership of the board of education and district administration.

“I’ve not done anything alone,” he said. “My administrative team, the presidents of our unions, I think they would agree, we have a very collaborative district.”

Wendt also said he feels he’s worked well with the board of education.

“I’ve always said, I work for the board of education and the board of education works for the parents and the citizens,” Wendt said.

Wendt said he’s enjoyed working with past and present board members.

“They’re all really good people and they really want to do what’s right,” he said. He also praised his administrative team, saying he’s worked with “tremendous people” in Oswego.

“I’m really proud of the people, but it starts with the kids and the academics,” he said.

Still committed to Oswego

Wendt said his experience in Oswego may have been one of the deciding factors for the Fayetteville school board.

“I laid out in the interview, ‘This is what we’re doing in 308,’” he said.

“The Fayetteville board of education obviously took all of this into consideration and offered me the job ... I think that’s a great compliment to everyone in the district,” Wendt added. “I think that speaks volumes to what we’re doing.”

In a Facebook post, the Fayetteville school board said it unanimously chose Wendt from a pool of 30 candidates to head up the 8,400-student district. Wendt and his wife are scheduled to visit Fayetteville next week, the board said.

Wendt said his departure isn’t indicative of a lack of commitment to Oswego.

“I think a person can be considering his or her future and still remain committed to their current job,” he said. "When a door opens, I believe people should look into it,” Wendt said, adding he didn’t make his decision “in a flippant way.”

Wendt said he’s still committed to Oswego, where he’ll remain until the end of June.

“We have a lot of work do to between now and June 30,” he said. “I’m not leaving for more money, I’m not leaving for a bigger district … This was a strategic decision based on months if not years of consideration.”

Wendt, who was the superintendent of the Ankeny, Iowa, district before coming to Oswego in 2012, looks forward to moving to familiar territory.

“I wouldn’t say that Fayetteville is a home away from home, but it’s felt like a home away from home … I know the community and the culture,” he said. “This is the first superintendent position where I’m actually moving into a community that I’m acquainted with,” Wendt added, joking, “I know how to find Walmart.”

Although the district announced just last week that Gov. Bruce Rauner had appointed Wendt to the State Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities, the superintendent said he will resign from the position.

“This is a disappointment for me,” he said, saying he was first approached for the position in early fall and learned he had been chosen prior to the job opportunity in Arkansas.

“I will step down because I don’t think it’s fair that I sit at the table for such a limited time,” he said. “I was really looking forward to it, and it was an honor to be chosen.”

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