Quincy School Board picks Indiana educator as superintendent

Quincy schools superintendent Steven Cobb chats with Quincy Federation of Teachers president Valerie Bordenkircher while school board meets in closed session Friday evening at Board of Education headquarters in Quincy. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Feb. 1, 2013 4:56 pm Updated: Nov. 28, 2014 9:18 pm
New Quincy Schools superintendent Steven Cobb, right, chats with School Board president Bill Daniels, left, and board member Tom Dickerson after Cobb was named superintendent Friday at the Quincy Board of Education office. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Quincy School Board has reached into the state of Indiana to select the next superintendent of the Quincy School District.

At a special meeting Friday, the board voted to extend a three-year contract to Steven M. Cobb of Fort Wayne, Ind., to take over the superintendent's post vacated in June by Lonny Lemon, who resigned to take a job in the Chicago area.

Cobb, 60, has been an educator for 36 years. Since 2010 he has been chief academic officer for the Fort Wayne Community Schools — a group of 53 schools serving 32,000 students and staffed with more than 4,000 employees.

Cobb has been a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and chief operations officer before he ascended to his current post three years ago. Coming to Quincy will mark his first assignment as a full-fledged superintendent.

Cobb said he is thrilled to have this opportunity.

"Excitement is an understatement," he said in an interview Friday.

"I've been second-in-command for a number of years, so this will be interesting. It will be fun and challenging, and I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone."

The School Board selected Cobb from the latest field of four candidates identified by the School Exec Connect search firm, which contacted Cobb and encouraged him to submit an application.

Originally, 33 people applied for the superintendent's job after the opening was advertised late last year, but Cobb was not among them. He said he had some other pressing things going on at the time. The board went on to interview five finalists during the first round — and even brought back one candidate for a second interview — but eventually opted to reopen the search.

That's when board members finally met Cobb and were immediately impressed.

"We had a real strong crop of candidates the second time through, and it was pretty apparent that everybody around the table felt he was a cut above," said board member Jeff Mays. "He's articulate and he's got an engaging manner. He interviewed very, very well."

Board member Stephanie Erwin said board members also were impressed with Cobb's academic credentials and wealth of experience at all levels of education as a teacher and administrator.

"He had a lot of good classroom experience, and he was a principal for 20 years before he moved up at Fort Wayne," she said. She noted that some of the schools where he worked seemed to flourish academically under his administrative leadership.

"Our big thing is student achievement and curriculum. That was our main priority," Erwin said. "He had dealt with a lot of those issues, and we felt he had a good handle on that."

Cobb will be paid a salary of $180,000.

Board members voted 6-1 for Cobb's hiring. Melvin "Bud" Niekamp voted against the hiring after explaining that he was voting in opposition to the salary.

"I like him real well. I have to vote no because the salary, I think, is too much," Niekamp said.

Joel Murphy, the districts business manager, will be interim superintendent until Cobb begins.

Murphy is business manager and will maintain oversight of that department as well. Rich Royalty, who previously was business manager for the school district, will serve in that office on an as-needed basis. Both those actions were approved in the special meeting.

Cobb is scheduled to start work July 1, but he's hoping to start earlier if possible.

"I'm going to try to get to Quincy as soon as I can," he said.

Meanwhile, Cobb said he will be communicating with board members and the district's newly named interim superintendent — business manager Joel Murphy — so he can stay abreast of what's going on in local schools and behind the scenes.

"I'll be doing a great deal of reading and a great deal of communicating with the interim superintendent," Cobb said.

Cobb has no experience working in Illinois schools, so he will have to do some research on Illinois education laws and rules.

"I'm also going to be building up those relationships with the (Illinois) Department of Education, but I think the transition will be very smooth," he said.

When asked to describe his educational philosophy and the approach he will take as superintendent, Cobb said: "The first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to listen. I've got to get out and about. I'm one that does a great deal of listening and communicating with people, but I'm also very visible in the community. That's a personal philosophy I've always held."

Cobb said he plans to attend social events and athletic events, and he plans to spend time visiting each school building.

"I want to know how people are teaching, and I want to talk to our administration, work with the teachers union, and get out in the business community. I've always done that. That's the kind of person I am," he said.

"I also have very high expectations. As an educator, I've been in this a long time, and I expect a lot from people because I expect it from myself. Wherever I am, I want us to be the best."

Mays and Erwin said Cobb will play a role in selecting replacements for two assistant superintendents — Patricia Sullivan-Viniard, who is taking a job in the Chicago area, and Christy Dickens, who is retiring.

Mays said Cobb, working jointly with Murphy, also will have a voice in restructuring the district's central office however he sees fit.

"He's going to be able to define the central office structurally and functionally," Mays said.

Mays and Erwin said they are both glad to see someone from outside Illinois, with virtually no local connections, come in to lead the Quincy School District with an untainted, fresh perspective.

"It's a new beginning," Erwin said.

Cobb said he's eager to get to know the community and the school system. He also plans to meet with a real estate agent on Saturday to start looking for a home.

Cobb said he and his wife, Kris — a media teacher at a school in Fort Wayne — became enthralled with Quincy when they traveled here together for Cobb's interview with the School Board in January.

Cobb said they woke up early that day and drove around town. "What a wonderful community — just from the houses, the historical homes, the downtown on the Mississippi River. We just fell in love with it," he said.

The Cobbs have three grown children, all in their 20s. "We're empty-nesters," Cobb said.

Herald-Whig Senior Writer Doug Wilson contributed to this report.




Steven M. Cobb

Quincy's newly named superintendent, Steven M. Cobb of Fort Wayne, Ind., has been involved in education since 1976 when he became a teacher in the Monroe County Community Schools in Bloomington, Ind.

In 1979, Cobb moved to the Maricopa Public Schools in Phoenix, Ariz., and taught there for two years. Then from 1981 to 1987 he was a teacher and assistant principal in the public schools of Newport News, Va.

Cobb then worked a year as an elementary principal at the Freemont, Ind., public schools before he worked from 1988 to 2008 as an elementary and middle school principal in the Southwest Allen County Schools in Fort Wayne.

In 2008, Cobb became assistant superintendent of the Frankfort (Ind.) Community Schools. A year later, he was named chief operations officer at the Fort Wayne Community Schools, and in 2010 was promoted to chief academic officer -- his current position.

Cobb received a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 1976 from Indiana University in Bloomington. In 1981 he received a master's degree in elementary education from Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He later received an education specialist degree in administration leadership from Indiana University.


Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original posting.


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