Brian Strusz has a few months before he becomes superintendent of the Pleasant Valley Community School District.
But he’s already thinking ahead — just as he has for more than 22 years in the district where he started as a math teacher and coach.
Leading the district, once Superintendent Jim Spelhaug retires June 20, is a humbling opportunity, Strusz said. The school board announced the decision Monday at its regular meeting.
Having Spelhaug on hand is great, he said. “There’s no doubt his No. 1 priority is the kids. That’s what’s been so fun — to watch him and learn from him.”
Spelhaug and prior administrators have put the district where it needs to be for the next 10 years, Strusz said.
“You don’t worry about it. You know they have put us in a great place, and they’re great people to work with," he said.
But the district continues to grow, and that involves change, he said.
When Strusz was the junior high school principal, “We looked at class sizes of 250. Now we’re pushing those sizes of 400 across the board. In only a 16-year span of time, we’ve been growing so quickly.”
With that, he said, “We have been able to maintain the family feel and the belief of the small town where kids are our No. 1 priority.”
Strusz often refers to “the PV team.” By that, he means teachers, administrators, support staff members, parents and students working together.
“My No. 1 priority is to continue to lead by what I believe in, and that is promoting that collaboration among everybody in our district, being out and building relationships with people,” he said.
Strusz understands the district's history and culture, said Chris Cournoyer, school board president. “He knows that we are a high-performing district. He understands, too, that our finish line is not high school graduation anymore. It’s making sure our kids are ready for post-secondary success.”
Cournoyer is proud of the processes and the transparency the board used in the selection process, including 14 public-information meetings with stakeholder groups including parents, the community and students.
“Everybody felt like they had been heard,” she said, with those who couldn’t attend sending emails.
“The input across the board was so consistent and made our path so clear,” she said.
Sometimes the conversations, such as those at the high school, were comical, she said. “One of the students, actually two of them, said ‘Which one is Mr. Strusz? Is he the smiley bald guy?’”
People attended sessions just to support Strusz, she said.
"We didn’t have a single negative comment about him," she said. "The feedback is he is a man of integrity, he is a hard worker, and he has led our school district on many occasions.”
The teachers association said the group feels supported by the administration and school board, and were treated fairly during the negotiation process.
“Brian’s at the table during those negotiations,” Cournoyer said. “For the teachers to say that is really meaningful. I had many teachers contact me in support of Brian.”
Additionally, the board brought in Roark Horn, of the School Administrators of Iowa, to help guide the selection process. “We also spoke to other school districts that recently have gone through the process of hiring a superintendent,” she said.
“I think it is telling of a system where we can hire within because we mentor and we prepare people like Brian to step up into the next position. He is the right leader for our district moving forward," Cournoyer said.
Spelhaug agreed. “The board has followed a good, deliberative process in all of this,” he said.
“I think that we have a history of trying to internally develop talent,” Spelhaug said. “I think that’s served us very well. I’m certain that it will in this case, too.”
Spelhaug, who hired Strusz, said the most compelling evidence that Strusz is the right candidate is his “book of work.”
Beyond that are Strusz’s belief systems and integrity, Spelhaug said. “He knows and believes in the importance of transparency and the work we do in this arena."
“Everything we do is through people,” he continued. “The end result of our work is students leaving us well-prepared to succeed at the next step.”
To make a human enterprise work, relationships matter, Spelhaug said. “We are an intensely human enterprise. Brian embodies that.”