Stephens set to retire from Meskwaki school

MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT – “Dream fulfilled” sums up the feelings of Meskwaki tribal members in a poster on the bulletin board at the west entrance of the Settlement School at rural Tama. That dream was to have their own, modern high school.

Meskwaki Settlement School Superintendent Jerry Stephens played a major role in fulfilling that dream. In 2009, the $25 million state-of-the-art high school addition to the Settlement School opened.

Now Stephens, the superintendent since 2005, has announced his retirement effective Friday. His successor has not yet been named by the Meskwaki School Board.

Stephens, 66, said he has not fully recovered from back surgery performed in September of last year and said his health dictates he retire so he can take the time needed to devote to improving his health.

With a career spanning 44 years in education and 30 of those as an administrator, Stephens admitted to witnessing many advances and said those changes have “been fun.”

“This has been one of the best positions I have had,” Stephens said.

He retired in 2004 as Marshalltown High School principal, a post he had held for 12 years after serving as associate principal there for three years prior.

With his retirement came a simple message from his wife, Laura, “I don’t care what you do. You can sit on the front steps. But you can’t be in the house from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.”

With that in mind and having noticed an advertisement for the position of principal of the Meskwaki Settlement School, Stephens applied for the post. He says he remembers during his interview one of the school board members noting his resume included Kayenta, Ariz., and asking what his connection was there.

Earlier in his career Stephens had served as a consultant to the Navajo Indian Reservation there demonstrating writing curriculum for individual instruction.

He believes that certainly helped cinch the Meskwaki job.

After a year in the principal’s post he was offered the superintendent’s job when it became vacant.

With that, he embarked on the job with a new high school building looming as a big challenge.

The Settlement School had been adding high school grade levels beginning in 2003 with ninth grade, and an additional grade level each year.

Prior to this Meskwaki students either attended South Tama or other area high schools.

Ground was broken for the new school in 2007 and Stephens said he had to really step up. “It damn near drove me crazy, it was such a huge responsibility,” he said.

He especially credits Jim Buffalo along with staff and school board members for all being instrumental in the school construction process.

“The Leo Daley Architectural firm wanted to build a beautiful building,” Stephens said. “This was fine as long as it was functional.”

Stephens said a committee met weekly to go over progress. “We did everything from deciding on light fixtures and carpet to classroom (location).”

He recalled Buffalo “crawling up” up on the structure during winter weather to keep an eye on progress and having to make decisions on whether to temporarily halt work due to inclement conditions.

In the end the goal was achieved and the Meskwaki High School dream indeed became reality.