CEDAR FALLS — Dan Conrad saw Cedar Falls Community Schools as a stepping stone in his career when he became the district’s director of secondary education 20 years ago.
He had earned a certificate of advanced studies in superintendency while working as a high school principal in Webster City, and had his sights set on the ultimate goal of leading a school district.
“When I moved here to Cedar Falls, I really did not think this would be a long-term stay,” he noted. But Floyd Winter, his retiring predecessor who had spent more than 25 years with the district, offered an insight to the new guy.
“His comment to me was ‘You will retire from this position,’” said Conrad. The 62-year-old will prove Winter’s words to be prophetic when he steps down at the end of the month. He is one of 11 district staff members who have retired this school year or plan to by the end of the month.
It’s not that Conrad immediately embraced the idea of staying in the district for the long term. During the early years he “looked at some other opportunities,” but didn’t find anything that was a “good fit.” By the time their three children were getting to junior high, he and his wife, Connie, decided it wouldn’t be good to put them in another school system.
“Educationally, I couldn’t be happier to stay here and have my kids go through this school system,” he said, noting the youngest is now a sophomore at Wartburg College.
As Conrad leaves, the district’s administration will be realigned so staff responsible for curriculum and academic programs are focused on preschool through 12th grade. Currently, duties are largely divided based on elementary and secondary levels.
“I had kind of thought that 62 would be a good year to retire and, with some of the changes that are taking place in the district, this was the right time to do it,” he said. Also, his daughter, Ally, is on Wartburg’s basketball team and he’ll have more time follow that.
“I’m not thinking that this is my last career,” he added. Conrad said he plans to remain in Cedar Falls and this point and will eventually look for other work options that will give him “a little more flexibility time-wise than I would have in this position.”
The Lake City native earned his teaching degree at Buena Vista University and then served as a graduate assistant at the University of South Dakota, where he got a master’s degree in physical education. In 1980, he was hired for his first high school job as an English teacher and boys swimming coach in Charles City. Conrad was later named the school’s head football coach, a position he held for eight years.
“I really enjoyed teaching and coaching when I was in Charles City,” he noted. Part way through his tenure there, the football team made it to the playoffs for the first time.
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But Conrad had “a lot of respect” for the administrators he worked with and decided becoming a principal would “be a good next move for me.” “It allows you to stay connected with kids and work with teachers in a different light,” he noted. As a result, he earned an administration degree through the University of Northern Iowa.
In 1988, he became a high school associate principal in Webster City. Conrad became interim principal during his second year and then was named the high school principal, a job he held until coming to Cedar Falls.
The biggest career transition for him was the job in Cedar Falls, where his daily work doesn’t involve direct student interactions. “If you think about why I became an educator in the first place, it was because I enjoyed being around kids,” he said.
Yet, overseeing Cedar Falls two junior highs and the high school has been fulfilling work. Over the years, he has dealt with a lot of administrators as well as staffing, curriculum and finances in those buildings. His involvement in those aspects of the schools “has been very rewarding to me,” said Conrad.
He highlighted several important initiatives launched during his tenure: concurrent enrollment for high school students, providing one computer for each student and professional learning communities for school staff.
During Conrad’s second year, 62 students took three different concurrent classes, where they earned Hawkeye Community College credit. Now the high school offers 33 concurrent courses and, in the last two years, more than 80 percent of graduates earned at least one college credit.
The district developed a five-year technology plan in 2012 that has resulted in each seventh- through 12th-grade student having access to a computer device for school. “We’re fast approaching 1-to-1 with all our students,” he noted, as the initiative goes into the elementary schools.
With the three buildings he oversees, said Conrad, “I had an opportunity to facilitate two major renovations and additions to the junior highs, and now I’m focused on the high school.” A bond issue referendum to build a new high school is planned for June 25.
In the last two decades, a team-based philosophy has taken hold in the district that is “one of the reasons we’ve moved toward the professional learning community process” that allows for collaboration time in the school day between teachers and administrators. That reflects a change from Conrad’s early days in education.
“You’ve got to be able to work side-by-side with people to provide the best educational experiences you can,” he said. “You cannot be a single person out there trying to impact kids.”