New principal achieves goal: administrator at 30
Justin Wasmuth had wanted to be a teacher since he was in fifth grade at Ingalls Elementary School. His teacher, Mr. Austin, inspired Wasmuth with enthusiasm and commitment.
“He made me excited to go to school,” Wasmuth said. “He cared about every student in class; he made sure his students succeeded. You knew you were learning but it didn’t feel like it.”
Wasmuth is hoping to transfer that same feeling to the students at Marion Elementary School where he will begin his career as principal Aug. 17.
“In the classroom, I can reach 20 kids,” Wasmuth said. “I can reach 200 as an administrator.”
As a high school student, Wasmuth wrote a list of future career goals. His first was to become a teacher. He achieved this after graduating from Bethel College.
He student-taught kindergarten at Hesston Elementary School. Wasmuth then moved on to Prairie Heights Middle School, in the Council Grove school district, where he taught sixth grade. From there, it was on to Manhattan where Wasmuth also taught sixth grade at Amanda Arnold Elementary School. He has eight years total of teaching experience.
Wasmuth’s second goal was to become a school principal when he reached 30 years old. To accomplish this task, Wasmuth threw himself into leadership opportunities in Manhattan. He was the Student Improvement Team Chairman, site council representative, representative for the Parent Teacher Organization, part of the grievance team, and a member of the building construction committee.
“It was great because I got to see the behind the scenes stuff, which you don’t normally get to see, especially in a district as big as Manhattan,” Wasmuth said.
He also coached the middle school boys and girls basketball teams and was an assistant coach for the football team.
With his organizational qualifications gathered, Wasmuth applied for the principal job at MES in March, shortly after turning 30. On April 1, he was offered the position.
“It was a quiet eight days at our house,” Wasmuth said. “I wanted this job pretty bad; we didn’t want to jinx it.”
Part of the reason Wasmuth wanted to become principal at MES is the success of the school. He credits his predecessor, Rod Garman, with turning around the school’s test scores from not making adequate yearly progress before Garman arrived in 2007.
“I’m looking to build on the success the school has had,” Wasmuth said. “There is pressure, but you have to have confidence to do it, for wanting this job.”
The new principal is going to take a cautious approach as an administrator. He said he is not planning anything special for the first day of school, wanting it to be a normal day.
His plan this year is to listen and learn from the teachers who have been in place at MES.
“It’s a surprise when somebody comes in new; it’s an unknown. You’ve got to take time,” Wasmuth said. “I need to know what’s happening at the school.”
Although his wife, Valerie, described Wasmuth as someone who was slow to frustration, having a laid-back personality, he said he will bring passion to the position. While he does not want to institute sweeping changes, he does want to install a cross-class book-reading program as an example of a small addition.
Wasmuth said he does not hold any trepidation about the job; however, he does realize that the school-wide implementation of the multi-tiered system of support may be a trying obstacle. As a former teacher, he said he understands what teachers go through. He is looking to learn more about MTSS and possibly help teachers when he can.
“Will there be problems? Yeah,” Wasmuth said. “With this job, you’re thrown into the fire right away and that’s a good thing.”
Another reason Wasmuth desired the job in Marion was Marion’s potential as a place to raise his family.
He and Valerie both grew up in small towns. Wasmuth is originally from Pierceville, which is now an unincorporated town in Finney County. Valerie is from Alta Vista, a town north of Council Grove.
They met when Wasmuth was teaching in Council Grove; he actually taught Valerie’s sister. He saw her at a Veteran’s Day program and asked her mother for her number. After losing the number for a short time, Wasmuth contacted Valerie and they started dating. A year and half later they were married.
They have two children — Gavin, 5, and Larin, 3. Gavin will start kindergarten this fall and Larin will attend Head Start across the hall at MES. Neither child should expect special treatment on possible trips to the principal’s office.
“He’ll be in double trouble,” Wasmuth said.
The couple said while they enjoyed Manhattan, the town did not fit their style.
“In Manhattan, you always feel like you always have to go do something,” Valerie said. “Here you can just relax and let the kids play.”
Valerie also said the couple has made a lot of odd sort of connections.
Wasmuth knew that his college roommate Casson Scmidt worked for the district, but he did not know that Valerie’s high school classmate Bethany Carlson and his elementary school classmate Leslie Beery live in Marion and have young families.
“Even teachers here — one grand niece went to preschool with my son,” Wasmuth said. “It was shocking to us how many young families there are in town.”
Even though they have only been in town since July 17, the Wasmuths have participated in some family activities this summer. Gavin played on a tee-ball team in Marion to meet friends.
The 5-year-old is quickly beginning to feel at home in Marion.
“He’s been bugging me all week to get a Marion football shirt,” Valerie said.