Leading the Jaguars

SE Valley M.S., H.S. hire new principals

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Two new principals pose outside the Southeast Valley High School. High School Principal Kerry Ketcham, left, and Middle School Principal Greg Slininger were hired this summer and are working to be ready when school starts Aug. 23.

GOWRIE — Two new principals are taking the reins at Southeast Valley Middle School and High School.

Kerry Ketcham, who will lead the high school, comes with experience working in the largest districts in Iowa, and was previously assistant principal at a West Des Moines high school.

Greg Slininger will move into the Middle School principal’s office after four years in other roles at the school, including teacher leadership coordinator last year.

“Kerry has an abundant amount of experiences, which we are happy to lean on and learn from,” said Superintendent Brian Johnson, “and Greg knows our system, so some of the transition pieces should be smoother.”

Ketcham has been in education for 33 years, and said at every turn he’s seen the importance of teacher leadership and mentors.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Kerry Ketcham does some catching up on instructional videos in his new office at Southeast Valley high school. The new high school principal, Katchem comes to Gowrie from the West Des Moines district. Superintendent Brian Johnson said the school was fortunate to find two good new principals, for the high school and middle school, in spite of hiring late in the year.

At his first teaching job, “I had a great group of teachers as mentors, who brought me along,” Ketcham said. “I knew my content area. I knew how to teach, but my classroom management needed a lot of work. For the first two years that’s what I focused on, and having those mentors there made a big difference for me.”

This was a challenging school, he said — Callanan Middle School in the Des Moines district.

“It’s a very diverse school in Des Moines,” Ketcham said. “It has some of the richest and poorest families in the city.”

Ketcham studied at Iowa State University to become a U.S. history teacher, and eventually transferred to Roosevelt High School in Des Moines to take up his preferred subject. He went on to teach numerous subjects and A.P. history, but he also kept his freshmen classes.

“I really like freshmen. Working with freshmen is really important because you set them up for success or failure based on what you do with them,” he said. “I had a partner in my department who believed the same thing, and the two of us worked to keep the freshmen in our classes rather than give them to the new inexperienced teachers who were coming in.”

Ketcham started mentoring other teachers in 2000, and ended up doing so much of this he decided to get his administrative endorsement. He obtained his masters in administration from the University of Northern Iowa in 2005.

He was dean of students at Hoover High School for a year, then transferred to West Des Moines as assistant principal at Indian Hills Junior High.

He was also activities director there.

“I didn’t have experience as an activities director,” Ketcham said. “Scheduling games, practices, officials, ordering and tracking equipment, all those sorts of things were brand new skills I had to learn. Fortunately my principal had been the previous assistant principal and AD so he was able to coach me through that very well. So again, I was the beneficiary of having a very good mentor.”

Ketcham was also special education director at Indian Hills for four years. That department took a lot of straightening out, he said.

That director position was a bit of a detour; becoming principal at Southeast Valley gets Ketcham back on his intended career path, he said.

“That’s one of the things I’m really excited about is being able to make a difference for all the students who come through here through my leadership. Helping teachers develop their skills, their content knowledge, teaching skills, and relational skills — those are the three legs of the stool that really need to be solid,” he said.

It’s a big change from West Des Moines, with 8,000 to 9,000 students in the district, where the Valley High School has 2,000 students.

“Then coming to Southeast Valley where there are about 350 students, that is a big difference,” said Ketcham. “But I love small communities. I love the feel, I love the pace. I will, at this size of a school, I will be able to know every student by name.

“I think that’s really valuable, that relationship piece.”

Larger schools break the students into groups to emulate that small-school feel, Ketcham said. Here, it happens naturally.

“Even though we’re small, we have enough students that we can offer a pretty wide variety of experiences,” he said. “We’re big enough to get the job done, small enough to know every student.”

He also had a lot of praise for Southeast Valley’s teacher leadership program, which allows teachers who choose to join to develop their leadership skills, work towards goals and work in Professional Leadership Communities in the building.

“Having those teacher leaders is a benefit to all administrators in Iowa,” said Ketcham, citing Iowa Education Director Ryan Wise who said 94 to 96 percent of all administrators in the state say they are better because of the program.

Ketcham graduated from Wasson High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He and his wife were married about a year ago, and recently moved to Goldfield.

“I still haven’t unpacked everything,” he said.

Slininger has been with Southeast Valley for about four years, when Prairie Valley and Southeast Webster Grand started forming one district.

“I’ve always been at the middle school level,” said Slininger. “I’ve taught everything from fifth- to eighth-grade language arts.”

He previously taught at Collins-Maxwell-Baxter, and at Hyatt Middle School in Des Moines.

Slininger grew up in the Council Bluffs area. His wife of 23 years had grown up in Harcourt, and the couple moved there about 13 years ago.

“My kids have grown up in this district,” he said. “I really love the small-town life; I love rural education. I want to see it stay strong.

“I feel real privileged that I was able to get an administration job in the district I care about, and that my kids are involved in.”

Slininger helped write the Teacher Leadership Compensation grant for the school last year, and then was hired for the leadership coordinator position.

He did his undergrad work at Buena Vista University and got his masters in administration at Iowa State University.

“I started that in my first year in this district,” Slininger said. “It was always my plan to move into the principalship, it just happened sooner than I thought it would. That’s not a bad thing. … It was something I definitely looked forward to doing in my near future.”

The district is still split into Prairie Valley elementary and Southeast Webster Grand elementary. In addition to all the other changes students in middle school go through, this is also the first time they become one district.

“This is where we start being that Jaguar nation, is in the middle school,” Slininger said. “Bringing those two together and becoming that Jaguar family is one of my big goals.

“My biggest goal this year is to have a middle school students enjoy coming to.”

The two new principals were hired in June, after previous principals gave notice in May.

“We feel very fortunate with the quality of applicants we got, and the quality of hires we got that late in the game,” Johnson said.

Due to the short time period, the school hired Grundmeyer Leader Search to help with the hiring process. The position was advertised for about three weeks, instead of the usual five or six, and more than 20 people applied for each position, Johnson said.