Kyle Koeppen was already familiar with the city of Vinton long before visiting town for his interview. The current Principal at Prairie Point Middle School out of Cedar Rapids was among six semifinalists invited to Vinton for interviews with the Vinton-Shellsburg Board of Education for the Superintendent opening this summer, but the business trip also brought back memories of his childhood.
“My grandpa grew up in Benton County over in Keystone,” Koeppen said. “I remember coming to Vinton for family reunions at the Riverside Park and swimming at the pool. I have always been in touch with the community, growing up in the area. Vinton has a lot of really good things going on.”
The Marion native would later become a finalist and on Friday accepted an offer from the school board to become the next Superintendent of Vinton-Shellsburg beginning on July 1.
“I was really excited to be honest when I got that call,” Koeppen said. “I was with my wife at the time and it was past my oldest son’s bedtime. This really truly is a life changing opportunity for us. I actually went and woke up my oldest son and let them know, right away and he just gave me a big hug and was so excited too.”
Koeppen began his teaching career at Springville CSD in Linn County in 2000, teaching physical education and health at the secondary level. In addition to teaching, Koeppen would coach football, basketball, softball and baseball at various levels, which eventually led him to become Activities Director for several years. Koeppen would serve as Elementary Principal at Springville before moving to the College Community School District as Principal of the largest middle school in Iowa.
“I had been in teacher leadership roles at Springville and through those experiences, the leaders in the district asked me to pursue more,” Koeppen said. “When people say ‘hey, this would be a good idea for you’, take their advice. So I had a lot of good role models and leaders that led me in this direction and supported me through the process. I’m very fortunate for that.”
Koeppen learned through colleagues at Vinton-Shellsburg that Mary Jo Hainstock would retire after 11 years as Superintendent at the end of the 2019-20 school year. According to a press release by the district, there were 27 applicants to begin as six semi-finalists were narrowed down and invited to interview in Vinton.
“They had prepared a set of questions, but honestly it felt more just like a conversation,” Koeppen said. “They have an outstanding school board that is unique in their knowledge about education. I was able to talk through things and have a conversation with them, which really made me feel comfortable and kind of reassured me that yes, this is the right move.”
Three finalists were selected for the final round of interviews, this time with committees formed by faculty and community members. These committees made their recommendations to the school board, who unanimously selected Koeppen to be the district’s new Superintendent.
“I think we’re just trying to get at my philosophy on things and I think they did a great job of asking questions,” Koeppen said. “I’m very much a people/kid-first person and I think that really came out in those interviews. I hire the best person that I know is going to love the kids and then we can teach them to be a great teacher. I want that kindness and caring.”
Next, Koeppen and wife Chelsea will begin looking for places to live in Vinton to raise their four boys-Colt, Cael, Clay, and Cruz-and carefully transition into the new position. This will include the next “three, four months” of meeting with district staff, the school community, the community at large to discuss district goals, initiative, strengths, challenges, areas of improvement and talk with parents, local businesses and the churches.
“My biggest goal is to build as much connection and relationships as possible before July,” Koeppen said. “I want the perspective of all those stakeholder groups and see where they really are and ask three simple questions: What should I know about the Vinton-Shellsburg community? What are the strengths of the school district? What should be sustained with those strengths?”
Koeppen plans to gather this knowledge to develop a strategic plan in the coming months to guide “day-to-day decision making” when he takes over the position at the end of the current fiscal year.
“I think the school is the foundation of a community and I’m excited to be a part of that here with Vinton-Shellsburg,” Koeppen said.
Hainstock will finish the 2019-20 school year with Vinton-Shellsburg before moving into retirement.
“I’m looking forward to working with Mr. Koeppen as he transitions into the district,” Hainstock said. “While I am very proud of the work we’ve accomplished under my tenure, I am confident he will bring fresh eyes, ideas, experience and energy to take the district to the next level. In my initial conversations with Mr. Koeppen, he has conveyed his interest in learning about the district and the people we serve.”
In his free time, Koeppen enjoys reading, Chicago sports such as the Cubs and Bears, home improvement with his wife, and watching his children’s activities most of all.