Jan 31, 2024

North Ottawa County Schools hires USD 305 director of secondary education

Posted Jan 31, 2024 5:28 PM
Curtis Stevens
Curtis Stevens

Salina Post

North Ottawa County Schools is set to have a new superintendent for the 2024-2025 school year. USD 305 Secondary Education Director Curtis Stevens will become superintendent effective July 1.

With nearly a decade of experience working in USD 305 schools, Stevens said working in a district close to his soon to be former employer will have its benefits.

"Minneapolis is a unique community and they have their own identity," Stevens said. "I would never say that Salina has the same identity as Minneapolis or vice versa, but I think that having the opportunity to work with familiar faces and benefit from programming and staff development and mentoring from both school districts, is just going to be really rewarding."

A graduate of Fort Hays State University, Stevens received his seventh-12th grade teaching certificate in 2002. He received his endorsement for English as a second language from Kansas State University in 2005, before attending Emporia State University to receive a master's degree in education administration and leadership. He also has a doctoral degree in educational leadership and administration from Kansas State University.

Approximately 640 students attend North Ottawa County Public Schools, a stark comparison to Salina Public Schools which is the twelfth largest district in Kansas and has an enrollment of approximately 6,953 students in its kindergarten through grade 12 program, according to the school's websites. 

A Kansas native, Stevens grew up in Scott City and attended Scott City High School. His wife is from Spearville, Kansas. He said his experience both attending and working in rural school districts has prepared him for this leadership position.  

"My wife and I have both grew up in western Kansas communities that are rural districts," Stevens said. "Our kids have been in Salina Public Schools since they were in kindergarten. There'll be some changes for them, but I think that every district, whether it's large or whether it's a little bit smaller, they all have their  advantages and North Ottawa County Public Schools certainly has that as well."

Curtis said during his time working at Salina Public Schools he participated in the Kansas Association of School Board's BOLD program.

"I've traveled to Burlington, which they have the nuclear power plant so their tax base looks a lot different out there than it does here. We went out to Goodland, Kansas, and so this program, when it's all done, We will visit about seven different school districts of all sizes," Stevens said. "It really opened my mind... by getting the chance to work in various districts, I think it makes a leader, much more knowledgeable and allows you to grow professionally to navigate and become more resilient in handling such challenges."

Stevens said in the last ten years North Ottawa County Schools have been progressive and proactive in providing new opportunities for students to learn both in and outside the traditional classroom setting. 

"They [North Ottawa County Schools] passed a bond issue and they've got some great programs, like their 'Acorns to Oaks' program where some of the senior citizens of the community come in and read to the kids the kids read to them," Stevens said. 

One unique oportunity at North Ottawa County Schools is helping maintain the chicken house that produces more than 5,000 eggs annually. 

"They don't sell those eggs, they are donated to the Kansas Food Bank," Stevens said. "Their FFA program, is a flagship program for the state and I'm excited to see how how they've been able to grow that."

Stevens said his professional relationships with other local superintendents will help him in this new role. 

"We've been fortunate because there's superintendents that have ties to Salina. Deena Hilbig out in Ellsworth or Pam Irwin with Twin Valley, just to name a few, They've all been in different types of districts and it's just a wonderful group of professionals to collaborate and network with." 

During his interview, Stevens said he made it clear he intends to do a lot of listening. 

"I intend to do a lot of listening in the community, during the interview, I had an opportunity to interact with staff, students, and community members and it's just a great community," Stevens said. 

Outgoing North Ottawa Schools Superintendent, Chris Vignery, said the decision to move from Minneapolis was made to be closer to family. 

"The purpose for us leaving is because we have four kids and two of them are married and we have six grandkids in the Olathe area," Vignery said. "We're empty nesters. So our goal is to get out there near our grandkids."

Vignery, who served as USD 239 superintendent for ten years, told Salina Post he intends to secure a superintendent job near the Olathe Area. 

"I resigned without having a job and the reason I did that is because I was hoping to resign early enough that our board could find a great applicant and I believe they have found that in Dr. Stevens," Vignery said. 

When asked what advice or words of wisdom he could share with Stevens, Vignery said listening is key. 

"That first year is a learning year. You want to make a difference as well, but really get to know the people that you're working with and learn about the system that's already in place first and then decide what needs to be tweaked," Vignery said. "Just gather information and listen. I'm sure he'll stay busy enough."

Stevens will start at North Ottawa Schools in July 2024.