Profile

Barbara Grohe

Resolute and Steadfast From an Early Age by JAY P. GOLDMAN


By its nature, the school superintendency always will carry its emotional peaks and valleys--exhilarating one moment, gut-wrenching the next. Rarely, though, are the two extremes separated by just 72 hours.

Yet that’s the way Barbara Grohe spent a recent week. Just three days before she was named the 1998 National Superintendent of the Year during AASA’s national conference in San Diego, she painfully watched the governing board of the Iowa City Community School District carve $700,000 out of next year’s spending plan to close a projected deficit. This signalled the end of the district’s foreign language program for elementary school students, the elimination of a full-time music teacher and a curriculum coordinator and increased fees for driver’s education and for attendance at athletic events.

Neither were the weeks leading up to the spending cuts much joy. At public hearings to wrestle with the pending program reductions, some community residents directed their anger at the superintendent in rather personal attacks that stunned even the board president. But through those storms, Grohe, steadfast in her beliefs, could find a silver lining.

"When people ask me [about the attacks], I’d say, ‘This could be worse. We could be sitting here having to make decisions on cutting programs with no one here because they don’t care,’" she says.

During her eight years as superintendent of the 10,500-student Iowa City district and throughout her three decades in education, Grohe has impressed her colleagues with her persistence, her skillful presentation style, her resolute actions in support of learning.

Even 30 years ago as she was just embarking on her chosen career, Grohe already was a frank, full-speed-ahead advocate for the professional needs of educators. In just her second year as a teacher, she was asked by her fellow faculty members to represent their interests before both the local and statewide teachers' unions to push for planning periods at the elementary level.

"She didn't sit back and be mealy-mouthed. She was very outspoken in a positive way," recalls Bernard Smith, a former colleague at Mount Vernon Elementary School in New Kensington, Pa., where Grohe spent two years teaching 1st grade.

The impression she left on others was long-lasting, and her former colleagues in the western Pennsylvania district remember her admiringly and in surprisingly specific terms.

"She had a way to get things across to people," says Janice Alter, a 5th-grade teacher at Mount Vernon who retired two years ago. "She could easily voice [our concerns] without offending people."

As superintendent in Iowa City, she’s shown a deft hand at crafting meaningful partnerships with outside groups, which she says have grown from two dozen to about 200 over her tenure there. One of the most significant relationships came about when Grohe approached the city’s Chamber of Commerce to assume the lead role for a hefty $500,000 fund-raising campaign to enable the school district to link all its classrooms to the Internet.

"At the time, most business leaders did not know what 'networking' was, but because of her leadership and salesmanship, the entire community made this their cause," says Jerald Palmer, an associate superintendent in Iowa City. "Within months, $500,000 was raised and our school district was among the first to have a schoolwide network."

As the National Superintendent of the Year, Grohe will have plenty of chances to share her perspective with audiences of educators and the news media about the needs of school-age youngsters and how public schools can best respond to those needs. By all accounts, she will excel in that role.

Her Iowa City colleagues marvel at her ability during speaking engagements to recite pithy quotes from her expansive collection of sayings by the famous. "She memorizes many so she can be ready at any occasion," says Ann Feldmann, the district’s director of human resources. Adds Helen Kline, Grohe’s secretary of the last 7½ years: "I haven't typed one word for a speech--and she's given lots of them."

Later this year, Grohe will get to present a $10,000 scholarship, courtesy of ServiceMaster, to a college-bound senior at her high school alma mater.

Jay Goldman is the editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org

BIO STATS: Barbara Grohe Currently: superintendent, Iowa City Community School District Earlier: superintendent, Shorewood, Wis.

Age: 52

Greatest Influence on Career: The network of caring people who have helped me learn and grow, ranging from my family to teachers and religious leaders to professional colleagues and children I’ve taught

Best Professional Day: Tomorrow. I look forward to both the challenges, new people and new learnings that each day promises.

Books at Bedside: Molder of Dreams by Guy Doud and Empires of the Mind by Denis Waitley

Biggest Blooper: Agreeing, as a first-year superintendent, to join the 8th-grade outdoor winter expedition in their learn-to-ski session taught by the teachers’ union president. I quickly became the "crash dummy" as I demonstrated how not to fall!

A Reason Why I'm an AASA Member: The opportunity to influence legislation that will affect children’s lives nationwide in company with some of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve met.