It should come as no surprise that former teachers Brad Pollitt, Steve Triplett, Wade Norton and Jason Curry have been selected for new administrative roles in the Sedalia 200 district — Heber Hunt Elementary Principal Bill Betteridge currently is the district’s only building administrator who didn’t rise from the ranks of one of its classrooms.
The Sedalia district has a history of “growing its own” administrators. Assistant Superintendent Pollitt, who on July 1 will take over as superintendent from the retiring Harriet Wolfe, said cultivating leaders is a common practice in larger districts.
“If you are heading in the right direction, you are looking for people who know the culture of your district, the vision of your district,” he said. “Those come across in the interview process” and that knowledge means those candidates will have a shorter a learning curve.
Wolfe said, “One of the things that is of value to us is having somebody who knows and understands the community of Sedalia, the parents of Sedalia, the students of Sedalia and their needs. That’s a huge, valuable piece for us, and if we can find someone who already has that knowledge, so that piece of the training is already there, and then all we have to do is get them to think administratively, then we feel like that is a win-win.”
Smith-Cotton Junior High is a microcosm of Wolfe’s statement. All three principals in that building — Norton, Curry and Stephanie Jackson — got their start in Sedalia district classrooms.
Curry started out as a high school physical education teacher and soccer coach. He has been an assistant principal at the junior high for four years after being mentored by former S-C High Principal Martin White and his two assistant principals at that time, Kristee Lorenz and Todd Fraley.
“I said I was willing to do what they needed me to do for a role in a leadership capacity,” Curry said. “Mr. White, Dr. Lorenz and Mr. Fraley took me in, let me develop and let me take on some leadership opportunities. I had to prove to myself that I was ready to step into that role.”
White also played a key role in Triplett’s move into administration.
“When I was a teacher and a coach, Mr. White told me he saw me as an administrator — I had never thought about it until he said that,” said Triplett, the current high school principal and soon-to-be assistant superintendent.
Identifying potential administrators and giving them leadership opportunities to test their abilities is a continuous effort.
“We as an administrative team have constant conversations about, ‘Who are your high fliers in your building, what are they doing? What are they doing with kids? What are they doing as teacher leaders?’ ” Wolfe said. “When we identify them, then we always try to give those people encouragement. ... We try to find as many opportunities for leadership as we can to put them in.”
Those opportunities include being peer or committee leaders, leading service learning projects, serving as an instructional coach or interacting with student teachers or area colleges.
“I think that is how you grow leaders, you let them experience those leadership opportunities and rise to those occasions,” Wolfe said. “The more of those you provide for them, the better prepared they will be to rise up through the ranks.”
Norton said he “had no ambitions when I started teaching to be an administrator.”
“I had a really good mentor,” he said. “My first principal was Jinx Moore at Skyline, and she took me under her wing, taught me everything that she knew and I realized, ‘Maybe I do want to be a principal.’ I was at the right place at the right time when she retired, and was able to follow in her footsteps at Skyline.”
He later moved to Heber Hunt Elementary as principal, and two years ago became principal at the junior high. On Monday night, the board endorsed him as Triplett’s replacement at the high school.
Norton attributes the number of internal candidates landing administrative roles to a “strong, informal” mentoring structure within the district.
“Mrs. Moore didn’t have to take me under her wing,” he said. “She gave me the opportunity to shadow her, to watch her. She was the type of administrator who didn’t close the door and keep all those secrets. She showed her leadership skills and that bled out to all her teachers, not just to me.”
Triplett said the current administrative team makes it a point to have conversations with teachers to ask where they see their career path heading and to let them know, “I see potential in you.”
Gavin Miller, assistant principal at the high school, said: “When a teacher has the aspiration of being an administrator, they let people know, and at that point (administrators) start watching to see how they intact with kids, or how they handle an adverse situation with a teacher or a parent.”
Miller, a native of Dexter, will leave the Sedalia district at the end of this school year to become principal of Bernie High School, seven miles south of his hometown. The move is an opportunity “to go back to my home area and be a head principal,” he said. “I’ll be taking what I have learned from this school district. ... Of my 17 years (in education), the six that I have spent here, I have learned everything.”
Wolfe’s pending retirement set off a series of dominoes: Pollitt is moving into her role while Triplett will take on Pollitt’s job. Norton is moving from the junior high to the high school, and Curry is moving up from assistant to head principal at the junior high. When the dust settles, there will be two administrative openings in the district — assistant principal jobs at the high school and junior high.
“We’ll of course interview internal candidates,” Wolfe said, “but it’s possible at this point in time that we’ll have to go outside, and that’s not all bad. It’s nice to have a breath of fresh air, a new perspective. We would hope it would be someone with previous experience in an administrative capacity who could bring something new to us, a new way of doing things that maybe we hadn’t thought of.”
Pollitt believes when a district looks to the outside for administrators or building principals, it is looking for “a change agent.” But with the recent rounds of interviews for district openings, “I feel like in the interviews, if someone had beaten out our internal candidates, they would have gotten the position. We have just had some strong folks come through our ranks.”
There are a number of teachers pursuing master’s degrees in administration, and Norton said those budding leaders can count on him the way he did with Jinx Moore.
“Do you want to job- shadow me, pick my brain? My door’s always going to be open for you,” he said.
Like Norton, Triplett and others, Curry is a Smith-Cotton graduate.
“The fact that I was born and raised in Sedalia — and I would love to spend my career here — is important to me,” Curry said. “But I have to do my part to prepare myself. ... It is on the individuals to do what they need to do to further their education and take advantage of the opportunities available.”
Wolfe believes retaining and nurturing those future leaders creates that “win-win” for the district.
“Whenever we’ve got somebody who is absolutely outstanding, we will do whatever we can, number one, to keep them and, number two, to promote and use those skills district-wide and not just in one little area.”