Say it ain’t so

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

What a blow it was to learn last week that Supt. Carl Turner intends to retire in June after seven years of exemplary leadership of the Storm Lake School District. We would like to remind him there is time to reconsider, and that he is relatively young at 60. Everything is heading in the right direction — at least what we can control here in Storm Lake — and Turner has been a big part of that through his hard work and friendly style that gets things done.

No doubt he deserves a break. Turner works seven days a week. He is out every night at school events. During the day he is in the school buildings working with principals, teachers and students. He is difficult to track down because he is often in the school hallways learning things. The one place you seldom would find him: the school lunchroom, as he had his fill of tater tots.

We had grown so used to his style — easy going, honest, candid, never ducking us, absolutely committed to serving children as his only goal — it makes us uncomfortable thinking about the district without him. Big challenges remain, not the least of which is building an early childhood education center. We have made progress every year on test scores, graduation rates, expanding the charter school and building the partnership with Iowa Central Community College. That will continue, no doubt. It was just that we had the feeling that we have been picking up some steam lately.

Teachers and staff trust him. They know he isn’t playing games in contract negotiations. He was as sick as they were when the legislature plundered their bargaining rights. It was a little easier for teachers to take that punch when they knew at least that the boss was on their side. He was a teacher and coach. And a parent. He remembers.

So we will miss Carl Turner. He fixed a lot of things around here. He built trust.

The school board hired him for that reason. We have always been blessed by voters who have elected great board members as we have now. Who better than BVU professor and Board President Peter Steinfeld to lead a search for his replacement, as Steinfeld was in on Turner’s hiring? The standards are pretty simple and clear: Find somebody like Turner.

First, somebody who is absolutely honest, committed to full transparency and who can maintain trust among the board, teachers and staff, and district patrons. That was the very foundation of Turner’s success. No place is it more important than in the administration of our schools.

Second, we need a superintendent who instinctively embraces diversity and who realizes that education is the key to enriching the community. Storm Lake began to lead the nation in educating a diverse population with former Supt. Bill Kruse. Turner built on that legacy. We will continue to be the model other to which other districts aspire. Embracing the approach of preschool through associate’s degree will lead to a stronger local economy fed by an educated workforce that wants to live here for what it offers their children.

Third, we will need something of a hard head for numbers in the job. Turner had it, so did Kruse. K-12 education is going through extraordinarily difficult times with budgets that do not keep pace with inflation. Storm Lake’s financial situation is especially complicated because of its diversity. The school board, remarkably, has been able to keep the property tax rate stable and, in most years, declining. That is a credit to the administration as well. This while building an elementary school and expanding the high school, and dealing with the most diverse student body in Iowa.

It’s a huge job. Turner would tell you it’s a great job. It takes just the right person, and that somebody is not easy to find. Throw in the desire for a person of color who can truly appreciate the immigrant’s life and the challenge grows. The school board is up to it. But we still wish Turner would reconsider. If not, we wish the good doctor all the best in retirement with Cindy right here in The City Beautiful they helped to build.