EACSD Superintendent Dr. Dale Crozier reflects on his career in education following recent retirement

Dr. Dale Crozier ...  Submitted photo.
Dr. Dale Crozier ... Submitted photo.

by Susan Cantine-Maxson

By definition, a superintendent is one who oversees an organization and offers leadership and strategic planning. Since 2001, Dr. Dale Crozier has been that person for MFL/MarMac schools. Ten years later, he also added the task of managing the Eastern Allamakee Community School District, which includes the Lansing and New Albin areas, serving as a shared superintendent for both school districts since 2011 until his recent retirement from that role for both districts at the end of June.

Crozier began his educational career as a tutor at NW Missouri State University and then spent three years teaching in Akron, followed by five years as a principal and superintendent of two Nebraska schools. In 1993 he became superintendent of Midland Community Schools in the small east central Iowa community of Wyoming and he also served as superintendent of Oxford Junction Consolidated Schools in Oxford Junction for eight years. He completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration, a Master of Arts in History and then a Specialist in Education degree and, in 1998, Crozier completed a Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership.

Following his recent retirement, Crozier reflected that his journey into education was mostly accidental. He originally was getting a degree in public administration and was wrestling at Northwest Missouri State. After graduation he had a year of wrestling eligibility, so he pursued an M.A. in History and Philosophy. During that time, he was selected by the university as a tutor, and that’s how he became interested in teaching.

While he was teaching, the superintendent put him in charge of a new state program at the school. Because of the success of that program, the superintendent suggested that Crozier consider becoming a principal. Next, as a grades 7-12 Principal/Activities Director, his superintendent told him to pursue superintendency.

He elaborated, “To some extent, I suppose this is why I believe that there is no concrete map for career planning. I also think that having good mentors and people who believe in you along the way can help a lot, and I have tried to incorporate that into my leadership style. I was able to be part of some great school systems, and I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with many talented people in my career.”

As with many job descriptions, superintendency has evolved throughout Crozier’s years as a district leader. Although the basic elements of leadership have stayed the same, school law has changed significantly. Iowa has had significant changes with reorganization, school safety, collective bargaining, COVID and social media.

“I was in the center of one reorganization (Midland) and in the aftermath of another (MFL/MarMac) - and both had their challenges,” Crozier explained. “In addition, 9/11, Columbine, and Sandy Hook all have changed the landscape of how we view school safety.  Various state legislation in 2017 significantly changed the way collective bargaining is conducted, which is both good and bad. I think that districts which can have trust, transparency and communication do well, and those who don’t suffer.”

“Of course, COVID caused a lot of change for everyone, and re-defined some of our concepts about the education landscape,” Crozier continued. “The increase in social media, and a greater reliance on marketing have changed the social landscape. The political landscape, that often moves like a pendulum through history, has affected how we react in schools. Schools are a microcosm of the greater society at large.”

One of the more difficult challenges of his career was leading the reorganization and blending of the Midland District: “We had to combine school districts, reduce staff, blend staffs, change buildings and the like,” Crozier noted. “In the end, they still have a school district, with a new set of facilities, and they will be strong for a long time.”

Crozier felt that one of the biggest challenges that both MFL/MarMac and Eastern Allamakee shared was declining enrollment.  This decline was not due to people leaving, but rather people not being born. Changes in agriculture and people having fewer children have all weighed in on the rural decline.

He stated, “Declining enrollment leads to unique challenges that we have had to overcome and adjust to.  It appears that we may have recently turned the corner on this as enrollment seems to be stabilizing. However, we must stay vigilant and focused, and continue to know that the small rural school culture provides a unique opportunity that you can’t pattern anyplace else.”

Crozier acknowledged that COVID brought about new challenges which schools adjusted to, but part of that challenge was the mental health landscape.  He added, “We have less discipline issues than we used to, but more mental health issues with students (and sometimes with staff).  We will need to continue to deal with these as we move forward. I think that both COVID and the fast accessibility of social media have led to anxiety in these times, and I think that society is still adjusting to this paradigm shift. I am not saying that it is bad or good, but I am saying that it exists, and we must deal with it in rural schools and not bury our heads to it.”

Crozier also explained that technology has become increasingly important in education. “We use technology all the time. We are 1-1 schools in that all students have computers or have access to computers, all students have email addresses, and we continue to purchase and stay current with the most current technologies.  Technology is basically embedded into everything we do. I think that there will be more of an evolution of social media, and we will need to continue to learn to navigate this. Also, there will be a second paradigm shift with the rise of AI (Artificial Intelligence), and we will need to navigate that as well.”

In describing what the pluses and minuses of his job were, Crozier noted, “I would say that it can be a very difficult position with many dimensions on many different levels. It can also be very rewarding when you know you are making a positive difference. I would remind people that want to lead organizations correctly that the old saying, ‘it’s lonely at the top’, is often true.”

Crozier emphasized that he feels a successful superintendent needs to be involved with the community, as well as the students, staff and parents. He added, “I tried to be visible and common. I have tried to bring in stakeholders whenever possible through school improvement committees, and through events that need community support. Community engagement is a very important key to the positive culture of any school district. We have done everything we can to keep our community involved and engaged. The superintendent needs to empower staff to be on the forefront of pedagogy and educational programs that are current, research-based and show evidence of best-practice. I’ve tried to empower the staff to have this in my schools. Our test scores have been positive. We are still recovering from COVID, but we are recovering well in both districts. Our graduation rates are high, and our culture is positive. Evidently, we must be doing something right. We have families who want to live in NE Iowa. I think that it is possible, with COVID and the current political upheaval in the world, that there could be a rural renaissance, so-to-speak. I think we need to plan for that and be ready.

A superintendent is a job full of decisions. Crozier advised, “Take the time to hire good people. Give them the ability to succeed, let them take some chances, and aspire to a higher level. Do a lot of listening. Don’t hide from hard decisions. Be visible, have genuine concern for people and children.  This is kind of old-school, but I prefer phone calls over emails, and I prefer face-to-face meetings for anything important.”

He concluded, “The most lasting impact of being a superintendent on me has been the times when I directly witnessed students succeeding and going onward in a positive direction with their lives. We have stressed that all students have an equal ability to learn, regardless of any background. Our goal is to worry about learning first, and we expect that all students can learn. I’ve been glad to be part of that process.”

Crozier’s guidance has garnered several honors, such as being nominated as Superintendent of the Year twice through Keystone Area Education Agency (AEA), being awarded the Iowa Fine Arts Administrator of the Year in 2019, being elected as President of AEA I Superintendents and of the Upper Iowa Conference. He was a Charter Board Member of the Iowa Superintendent’s Financial and Leadership Consortium for over 30 years. He also was active in the leadership of several early childhood programs and has served on numerous community boards in McGregor, Monona and Lansing.

Eastern Allamakee will no longer share a superintendent with MFL/MarMac. The district has selected Dr. Sarah Updegraff-Murray as Dr. Crozier’s successor. She has served as principal of Kee High and Middle School since the start of the 2020 school year and will now take on the additional duties of superintendent for the district. Dr. Murray stated, “I am thrilled to be able to continue to serve EACS by adding the superintendent role to my duties. As part of my entrance plan, I hope to grow our goal around being a trauma-informed school that remains high achieving academically.”