A Force for Expanding Early Learning

Type: Member Spotlight
Topics: Early Learning, School Administrator Magazine

April 01, 2024


A white blonde woman with blue eyes smiling wearing a blue collared shirt

Summer Schultz’s passion for helping early learners was sparked by the opportunity for a free lunch. At an AASA national conference, she went to a luncheon sponsored by Waterford, a national nonprofit focused on improving opportunities for preK-2nd grade learners.

Schultz found herself seated next to Anne Brown, who was helping to build AASA’s inaugural Superintendents Cohort and Certification in Personalized Learning.

“To this day Anne is one of my very dear friends, but that afternoon she asked, ‘Who is this lady?’ and I told her I was there for the free meal,” Schultz says, laughing. “But then I looked at what they had to present and saw the results they were having. Something just sparked.”

At the time, Schultz was superintendent of the 975-student Dell Rapids School District in South Dakota, where she worked for 11 years before moving last July to become superintendent in Brookings, S.D. Schultz joined the AASA cohort’s advisory team to find strategies to help the youngest students in her district and in the state, which does not provide early learning funding except for special education.

“We see more students coming to our kindergarten classes who are not prepared to be students,” says Schultz, who was the 2022-23 president of the South Dakota Superintendents Association. “It is our job as a learning community, as an education community, to help kids to the starting line at the appropriate time and place.”            Having taught at the elementary and high school levels, she moved into administration as a principal for a year before becoming a principal-superintendent of a small Minnesota district. The mother of four, she takes her role as a caregiver to all of her students seriously.

“Summer is a ferocious learner and cares so much about the students she serves,” says David DeJong, dean of Dakota State University’s College of Education and a professional colleague of Schultz’s for more than a decade. “She leads in a way that puts students first and is considered one of the best superintendents in South Dakota.”

Jeff Traill, Schultz’s neighbor in Dell Rapids and now a school board member there, admires her ability to remain “education based and not for one group of kids over another.”

Traill adds: “Change is not always popular, but she was able to navigate that very well and keep the community informed about what was happening. People had a lot of respect for her because she was always so open.”

Julie Wynja, a former colleague in Dell Rapids who now is special education director for Chester Area School, says Schultz has both “a generous heart and a very thick skin.” Those traits help her strike a difficult balance while still being able, Wynja says, to have “tough conversations and an open-door policy” with students, parents, staff and community members.

In Brookings, Schultz leads a school district that is four times the size of Dell Rapids and is home to South Dakota State University. The district has two new K-3 elementary schools that will open this fall, and space has been set aside in both buildings for early learning opportunities.

“I know I’m blessed because we have more resources than others do,” she says. “Across this state, we have a younger generation of students with high behavioral needs that we’re all struggling to find appropriate settings for, and the lack of placements and the lack of resources is something we all spend a lot of time talking about. But we have to keep talking and pushing. Our kids deserve it.”

Glenn Cook is a freelance education writer in Alexandria, Va.


Glenn Cook

Freelance education writer

Alexandria, Va.

BIO STATS: Summer Schultz

Currently: superintendent, Brookings, S.D.,

Previously: superintendent, Dell Rapids, S.D.,

Age: 48

Greatest influence on career: My father, a school administrator for 30-plus years, always said, “A day at school is better than anyone else’s day at work.”

Best professional day: Being a mom and getting to hug your child on stage at graduation is a pretty great day at work.

Books at bedside: Kids These Days: Game Plan for (Re)Connecting with Those We Teach, Lead, and Love by Jody Carrington; and When You Wonder, You’re Learning by Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski

Biggest blooper: Around 2010, our area had tremendous snow, with winds predicted to blow more than 30 mph. I called an early release to avoid buses being stuck in blizzard-like conditions. Unfortunately, Mother Nature changed plans, and as soon as we reached the release time, the sun came out and the winds turned calm.

Why I’m an AASA member: There is no greater access to resources, research or a community of superintendent peers facing similar challenges. I can confidently say I am a better superintendent because of the individuals I have met through AASA.