WATERLOO – After a 45-year career, Dale Monroe is retiring next spring from his position leading Cedar Valley Catholic Schools.
The Board of Education started a nationwide search for a new chief administrator following Monroe’s recent announcement. The 66-year-old will have been at the helm of the preschool through 12th-grade system for five years when he leaves June 30.
During that time, Monroe has been focused on the changes needed for continued improvement of the system’s five schools, all located in Waterloo.
WATERLOO — Enrollment is down overall at the Cedar Valley’s parochial schools, but students …
“I’m really excited about our staff’s ability to accept change as something we ought to do for our kids,” he said. “I’m particularly proud of the staff and administration’s ability to think system-wide and to develop processes that help us improve daily.”
When he arrived, it was a year after grades six through eight had consolidated into Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School in a new building next to Columbus High School. Before that, middle school students had attended three grade schools that are each connected to a church.
Recently, a finance committee task force released a report that recommended exploring a similar grade level reorganization at the elementary schools. That could mean dividing whole grade levels between the buildings or moving all students from the three schools to a single location. Monroe said that issue will be addressed before he leaves the position.
Mark Sinnwell, president of the CVCS board, praised Monroe for his work related to the middle school transition. “It’s been a very important change, trying to create some stability in enrollment,” he said. “And we’ve held steady for the last five years.”
Although kindergarten through 12th-grade enrollment has dropped a little more than 100 students since 2013, when Monroe arrived, consolidating middle school students in one building does help to stabilize class sizes that can vary more when they’re split into three locations. According to first-day numbers collected by The Courier, the school system had 906 K-12 students this fall.
Sinnwell also said Monroe has done a good job with the financial aspects of the position while keeping tuition down.
Monroe expressed pride in the staff’s curriculum work, the use of technology in classrooms, and the system-wide involvement with the Blue Zones and Leader in Me initiatives. He also touted the 85-90 percent rate of seniors who typically take the ACT college entrance exam. “We encourage them all to take it,” he said.
Additionally, he noted, for the second year in a row this fall, students from the school system have been recognized during the annual Governor’s Volunteer Awards ceremony at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the University of Northern Iowa campus. The students are “going out in the community and using what they’ve learned” through service learning projects done at school, said Monroe.
He gave a nod to growing diversity among students in the system’s schools, as well. “I’m quite proud of the relationships we’ve established with the Hispanic population and the Burmese population.”
During Monroe’s tenure, officials have worked to get students and parents more involved in leadership and decision-making at the schools. That includes involvement in the hiring process for principals. “Just opening up the system” has been important, he said, “because it was a pretty closed shop when I came here.”
Monroe started his career teaching in the Fort Dodge Catholic schools and the public schools in Sioux City, where he grew up. He was an administrator for 21 with the Linn-Mar Community Schools in Marion. He and his wife, Jean, still live in that community.
After working in the private sector for four years, Monroe spent two years as an administrator with Waterloo Community Schools and then four years as superintendent of the Anamosa Community Schools. Before coming to CVCS, he was manager of the Iowa New Jobs Training Program at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids for three years.
Retirement has been on Monroe’s mind for some time.
“My wife’s been retired for 3 1/2 years and as she starts thinking about all the things she wants to do and wants me to do with her, it’s getting harder to work,” he said. Along with travel and time with grandchildren, Monroe will be setting aside time for woodworking, reading and outdoor activities like fishing.
As far as finding a replacement, “I believe this board has a clear picture of what they’re looking for,” he said.
Once applications have been received, “We’re hopefully going to interview five or six (candidates) by the first of December,” said Sinnwell. The top two choices would be brought in for interviews with the board and various stakeholder groups such as teachers, administrators and parents.
The board hopes to wrap up interviews by Dec. 10 and make a decision at its Dec. 14 meeting.