STEWARD — The Steward School District hired a new superintendent over the summer.
Steven Simpson joined the district after working in the Indian Creek School district for 32 years, most recently as principal of Indian Creek Middle School. A Steward school board member made him aware of the opening.
“I knew of Steward and the very good reputation they had here and found everyone here to be extremely welcoming and accommodating,” Simpson said. “They struck me as a good group of people to work with. I had very deep roots in my other district and was not in a hurry to leave. But I just found the opportunity here so inviting that I became immediately excited about the idea of coming here."
The K-8 school district has an enrollment of 67 students this year. In the smaller district, Simpson plays the role of superintendent and principal. He has to stay in touch with students and curriculum along with the district’s finances and various state mandates.
The district’s short chain of communication makes it “relatively fluid” for things to be able to happen in the office, Simpson said.
“We may be a small school, but there's always a lot to do because the smaller the school, the more hats everybody tends to wear,” Simpson said. “That's why the spirit of teamwork and the culture of working together here, I've been very impressed by that and that's why it's so important. It makes my job a lot easier because of the support and the working together of the faculty."
Simpson described the undertaking of becoming a school superintendent amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He said taking care of and looking after students is his top priority. He said people involved with the district have been accommodating, positive and willing to do whatever it takes to see kids safe in school.
At a July meeting, the Steward School Board agreed to follow whatever health guidance was in place at the time of school starting, Simpson said.
“We have not heard any complaints about masking or anything of that nature,” Simpson said. “Just in general, it seems that while people may not be excited about wearing masks, they know that if that's what we need to do in order to take care of the kids, then that's what they're willing to do."
As for the state’s recent mandate requiring vaccination for school teachers and employees, Simpson said the “vast majority” of Steward staff is already vaccinated and that the mandate was “accommodating” for those that are unvaccinated, giving them time to get vaccinated or be tested weekly if they decide not to get it.
Along with a new superintendent, the district has eight new staff members this year including six teachers, a new head custodian and a head cook. Joe Powell also recently joined the school district as a board member.
Also new at the district are portable air conditioning units. The older part of the building was built in 1962 and the newer addition was built in 1999. Previously, the only air-conditioned areas were the library and first-floor areas such as the office. The classrooms were not.
The school board decided to look into portable units to make classrooms more comfortable and safer for students. Air circulation helps prevent spread of COVID-19. Simpson said the district was made aware of community members that wanted to make donations to support the air conditioning purchase.
The district found it had enough donations to pay for the entire cost of the air conditioning units.
“I think it's heartwarming and in a way, it's overwhelming,” Simpson said. “To see the response of parents and community, I knew Steward had a reputation for that, but now I've seen it firsthand. It just makes me feel very fortunate to be here in a place where parents and the community are so supportive of their small school."
For his approach as Steward’s new superintendent, Simpson said it’s his intention to give students from a rural area a good quality education to compete in the workforce and contribute to the country.
The district has several employees that not only live in Steward, but have long lasting ties to the community, Simpson said.
“When you get that kind of commitment from people, it really helps build a culture of commitment and dedication,” Simpson said. “Truthfully, I get up every morning and say a prayer of thanks that I am coming to a place where I know children and education are highly valued.”