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For the first time in 10 years, a new face occupied the superintendent’s chair at last week’s Mount Ayr school board meeting.
Jason Shaffer officially began his duties as shared superintendent between the Bedford and Mount Ayr school districts July 1, replacing Joe Drake, who retired June 30.
Shaffer and his family have moved to Mount Ayr over the summer.
His wife Kelly will teach fifth grade in Bedford in the fall. They have four children: Jaylee – a sixth grader, Kellon – a fifth grader, Kynzlee – a second grader, and Jaycee, who will enter pre-kindergarten.
Despite growing up in Nebraska and most recently living in Shenandoah, the Shaffers are no strangers to Ringgold County as Jason’s parents and his family have owned a house at Sun Valley Lake for some time.
Shaffer brings over 20 years of educational experience to his new position.
Since his graduation in 1997 from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, with a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education, Shaffer has earned several advanced degrees including a master’s in instructional technology from Peru State University in 2001, master’s of educational administration (7-12) from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2004, and specialist degree (PK-12) from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2017. He is currently enrolled in the doctoral program at Drake University.]
As a mid-year graduate in 1997, Shaffer began his teaching career as a full-time substitute reading teacher in the Papillion-La Vista School, NE, school district before being hired in the fall by that district as a ninth grade world geography and computers teacher and football, girls/boys basketball, and girls track coach.
From 2007-2011, Shaffer taught at Seward, NE, High School, where his duties included teaching 9-12 computers and serving as assistant principal, activities director, and assistant technology director.
Kelly Shaffer also coached high school basketball and soccer.
From 2009-2013, Shaffer worked for Concordia University in Seward, NE as an adjunct professor for educational administration coursework.
Shaffer entered full-time administration as middle school principal at Blair, NE, in 2011, and the following year he accepted the position of middle school principal at Shenandoah.
While at Shenandoah Middle School, he was named Middle School Principal of the Year by the Iowa Association of Student Councils after being nominated by his Shenandoah Middle School student council members.
“We did a lot of work with our student council,” he said. “We didn’t have one when I first got there… We did a lot of nice fundraising projects and different things around the building, outside and inside.”
In 2018 Shaffer assumed the duties of high school principal, special education director and curriculum coordinator at Shenandoah, where he led initiatives to expand STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and career and technical programs.
Shaffer sees several advantages to the shared superintendent’s position.
“For me it’s the opportunity to learn fast,” he said. “When you have two districts, you’re going to learn really quick how things operate from the superintendent’s point of view… You do look at your other conference schools or schools similar in size to kind of compare programs, compare quality.”
Still, Shaffer understands the pitfalls of comparing the two districts too closely.
“I’ve always felt when you go into a new place, not everybody’s real excited to hear what you did in another place,” he said. “You have to get to know what’s happening in each district and not use, ‘Oh, we’re doing this over there and it works really well.’ I mean, things work differently in different locations.”
Shaffer also noted the financial advantage to both districts due to funding incentives from the State of Iowa for the sharing of personnel.
The biggest challenge will come down to time devoted to both districts.
“It’s a balancing of time,” he said, “and making sure you’re in both and visible in both and active and participating in both – that would be the biggest challenge for sure.”
Shaffer says he doesn’t have any specific plans to change the status quo in Bedford or Mount Ayr.
“I created an entry plan that I’ve put into play,” he said. “Certain things I’ve prioritized are coming in and getting to know the districts, getting to know the folks, getting to know the kids… It’s really good to see how things are currently operating and working and then basically taking that data and figuring out what I can do better and work with the board to make a long range vision.”
Shaffer said he and his family have enjoyed their short time in Mount Ayr, and his children even attended summer school here.
“It’s a little challenging for them right now,” he said. “Not only is it the unknown of meeting kids and new friends but they really haven’t been able to do that as well” due to social distancing.
“We’ve only been here a few weeks,” he said, “but we’ve felt very welcomed. We’re excited to be here.”