Ottawa’s new superintendent of schools talked last week about realizing her lifelong dreams of being an educator.
“I was kid number seven, and I had four siblings who were much older in high school and college,” Stroh said. “When I was a teeny kid about 4 years old, I was amazed that they could read these gigantic books. I thought reading was magical. Of course, they always teased me and said I would never learn how to read.”
But Stroh’s curiosity about reading became a quest for knowledge when she started school as a first-grader in Parker, Ariz., near Lake Havasu City on the Arizona-California border, she said.
“When I was a little kid, there was no kindergarten in Parker, so I started school in the first grade,” Stroh said. “My teacher was Mrs. Smith, and for the rest of my whole life I thought she was the greatest person ever because she taught people how to read. So, from the time I was in first grade I thought, ‘I want to be just like her.’”
When Stroh was in eighth or ninth grade, she served as Mrs. Smith’s classroom aide, she said.
“When I was able to be her aide, I was even more convinced that I wanted to be just like her,” Stroh said. “My first year of teaching, I went back to the school I went to as a child, and Mrs. Smith taught across the quad from me. So, she got to be my mentor three different times.”
Graduating in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood development from Northern Arizona University, Stroh said she spent 16 years as a teacher before her first administrative post with the Wamego school district.
Stroh, 53, has a doctorate of education and a master’s degree in education from Kansas State University. She has 15 years of experience as an administrator.
As assistant superintendent in Hutchinson before coming to Ottawa, Stroh said during her daylong interview April 29 in Ottawa that she helped lead her school district’s conversion to Common Core curriculum last year. Stroh, who also has served as her district’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support coordinator, said her experience implementing Common Core would prove beneficial in helping guide Ottawa’s transition to the new curriculum.
In addition to serving as Hutchinson’s assistant superintendent, Stroh was active in the community and Reno County, serving on the boards of numerous organizations, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Reno County, Reno County Keep Kids Fit Board, Reno County Early Childhood Council, Reno County Social Emotional Excellence for Kids Board and Reno County Head Start Policy Council. She also has served on the McPherson College Advisory Board and has been a United Way community volunteer and a Girl Scout leader.
Stroh has received training from Harvard University’s National Institute for Urban School Leaders, is a member of the Harvard Principal’s Center, as well as a member of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, American Association of School Administrators and International Reading Association.
She has won several awards, including the Alfred P. Wilson Outstanding Future Leader in Education Award from K-State.
Stroh’s three daughters have carried on the teaching tradition in various fields, Stroh said.
“My oldest daughter [Shelley] graduated from [the University of Kansas] and works as a behavior therapist in Kansas City,” Stroh said. “My middle daughter [Liz] just finished her master’s degree at Texas State. She taught college-level courses until this year, and she will now be an athletic trainer and teach career technical education classes at Roosevelt High School in San Antonio.”
Stroh’s youngest daughter, Stephanie, received her first taste of teaching last week.
“Stephanie is a second-grade teacher at Derby. She called me the minute her first day was over and said, ‘This is so much fun, Mom,’” Stroh said. “I asked her if she slept last night, and she said, ‘No, I was too excited.’ And I said, ‘Neither did your kids.’”
All three of her daughters were high school athletes. While Shelley played clarinet in the KU marching band and oboe in the orchestra, Liz and Stephanie went on to play sports in college, too — Liz as a softball player at Bethany College and Stephanie as a volleyball player at McPherson College. It was through her daughters’ athletic experiences that Stroh said she got her first look at Ottawa, which is in the same athletic conference as Bethany and McPherson.
“I’m impressed with the schools and the community,” Stroh said when she interviewed for the superintendent’s position vacated by Dean Katt. “With my teaching and administrative experience, I think I would be a good fit for this position.”
The school board agreed, voting 7-0 in early June to ratify a two-year contract with Stroh. The contract began July 1 and expires June 30, 2015.
Stroh has never thought about doing anything but being an educator, she said.
“I had a high school counselor who said I should become a lawyer. Eww!” Stroh said, laughing. “I’ve never thought about being anything else. Even as a superintendent, a lot of what I do is teaching and learning.
“It is magical to teach kids and see them learn.”