WATERLOO — When her husband retired earlier this year, Cora Turner knew she was ready to join him.
But after more than two decades with Waterloo Community Schools, she wanted to be there one last time when students returned.
“I chose to stay in the district to get school started,” said Turner, the executive director of student and at-risk services.
Now, as her final day with the district approaches Wednesday, she says the timing is right to leave.
“It’s a time for us to travel, share more time with family,” said Turner. She and her husband, Ron, have three adult sons and four grandchildren. Ron retired in June from his job at the University of Northern Iowa power plant.
Turner may be known by some for her work with the families of students facing the consequences of misbehavior — suspensions, alternate school placements and expulsions.
“I’m involved with some of the life-changing decisions that could affect students,” she said, acknowledging “it was not always fun stuff.”
That’s just been one piece of her career over the years, though. She has overseen registration and enrollment, school resource officers, counselors, athletics and more.
“I’ve worked in a lot of programs across the district that gave me a balance in life,” said Turner. “I lived the job. I met the demands of the job and I felt good about that.”
She added, “One of the things that have stuck with me the most is the different programs of social-emotional leadership” the district uses with students. Her department oversaw implementation of those programs — including Character Counts, the Leader in Me, and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports.
Serving the needs of young people has always been important to Turner. The Waterloo native and East High School graduate started out with the aim of working in the classroom when she enrolled at Wartburg College in Waverly.
“When I first started school at Wartburg, I wanted to get a teaching degree,” said Turner. But influenced by an adviser who had worked with an older sister, she soon made a switch. “I stayed in the teaching program one semester and then went to social work.”
After graduating, she got a job with the Neighborhood Youth Corp in Waterloo and later moved on to a position at John Deere. She was laid off, though, and found her way back to public service when she was hired to work in the human resources department for the city of Waterloo in 1984. She still wanted to work with children, however, and took a job with the school district after 10 years with the city.
She became administrative facilitator of the Education Discipline Center, which started in one room of the former Greenbrier School and grew to fill the entire building. The center had middle and high school programs for students with behavior and attendance issues.
Students were temporarily placed there before being returned to their regular school, much like a similar program now at Expo Alternative Learning Center. Along with Waterloo, it drew students from a number of surrounding school districts as an alternative to suspension or expulsion.
‘That program gave me a heart for working with students and helping them succeed,” said Turner. She left in 1997 for a similar administrative position at Logan Middle School.
During that time, Turner was working on a teaching degree from Upper Iowa University and a master’s degree in school administration from UNI. Upon completing those, she was named Logan’s assistant principal. She moved into her current position — first as coordinator, then director and now executive director — in 2001.
Turner began transitioning out of the job in July when Marla Padget, her successor, moved into the position from East High School, where she had been principal. She believes Padget, also a Waterloo native and East graduate, is a good fit for the department.
“She knows the problems that exist in the community. She has good contacts in the community,” said Turner.
While Turner will no longer be working for Waterloo Schools, she expects to find ways to volunteer within the district. “I just don’t have to be on a schedule to do it,” she said.