Glendale — Larry Smalley is off to do some learning of his own.
Smalley, superintendent of the Glendale-River Hills School District for the last 10 years, was recently accepted into an exclusive, invite-only organization called the Suburban School Superintendents. The 100-member group, consisting of superintendents curated from distinguished districts across the nation, meets once each year to discuss the state of education, to share ideas and the decisions that have made their districts successful.
"It's a sharing opportunity, a think tank, where we can talk," Smalley said, "and then go back and try different things."
Representing Wisconsin at the SSS are Sussex Hamilton Superintendent Kathleen Cooke, Pewaukee School District Superintendent JoAnn Sternke, the 2013 Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year according to the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, and retired Whitefish Bay Superintendent Jim Rickabaugh, who was once Smalley's mentor. Cooke and Sternke were the ones who nominated Smalley for induction into the group.
District's come a long way
"This is a compliment, not only to Larry, but also to our school district," School Board President Bob Roska said, adding of the nomination by Cooke and Sternke, "That says a lot about where our district has come and continues to move forward."
Roska lauded Smalley for his ability to build rapport with teachers — a recent third-party staff survey pegs Glendale-River Hills staff morale above average for a Wisconsin public school — and the efforts which have brought financial stability to a district which many thought was in threat of bankruptcy 10 years ago.
"I think he's one of the most outstanding superintendents around," Roska said. "He deserves a lot of credit, as does his entire administration."
Buildings back in shape
"There was talk of bankruptcy. We had buildings that were in disarray," Smalley said of his early days at the district. "Our morale was really low. Fast forward 10 years, we have renovated, beautiful buildings."
Smalley credits the support of the community, which has passed two referendums during his tenure, as well as his administrative team, for the turnaround.
He says his goal is to build on that success with the support of the community and the knowledge gleaned from the SSS meetings, to continue to create an academic environment which supports kids socially, emotionally and physically — all with the goal of instilling maturity in students before they go off to Nicolet High School.
"We want our kids to be real people," Smalley said. "So that they can sit down and look people in the eye and have real conversations with adults."