ST. JOSEPH, Mo.
As Robert Newhart leaves the St. Joseph School District after three years as superintendent, he can't help but look back at those first few difficult months on the job.
"We were puttin.g in 16-18 hour days and we were being asked to provide recordds and trying to dig and find out what the true situation is and is happening. It required that kind of diligence," he said.
The district was embroiled in scandal which included a shocking state audit, an FBI investigation and a complete breakdown of administrative oversight. Newhart was in the crosshairs of intense scrutiny as the man the district entrusted with cleaning things up.
"You lay yourself out there in front of people everyday in this chair. From that standpoint, I pride myself as being honest and transparent," he said.
On Thursday, district staff, members of the board of education and others said goodbye to Newhart during a reception at district headquarters. At a board meeting earlier this month, Newhart announced his last day with the district would be May 31.
Newhart was first brought onto the job in 2015 in an interim capacity. The board of education then made him permanent superintendent in 2016.
"Dr. Newhart has really helped us sort through the administrative mess we had at the administrative office. There were a lot of things missing, a lot of records that weren't there," said board member Kappy Hodges.
Newhart says he's proud of the work he's accomplished. However, he adds his one regret is not being able to stabolize the district's finances. He says he's still surprised last fall's school tax levy initiative failed so badly at the polls.
"I don't regret going for broke," he said. "We presented what we believed to have happen. Also, I knew something had to give. We had to make something happen, one way or another."
Doug Van Zyl will become the new superintendent, effective July 1. Van Zyl, currently the superintendent of the school district in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was selected from more than 20 applicants.
"It's now time for the next chapter," said board member Lori Prussman. This chapter is closing and now we go on to the next chapter. I think he (Newhart) has done everything we asked him to do."
And Newhart says he will leave Van Zyl with a good foundation from which to build.
"You look at student success over the last three years, the increased standards, increased ethics requirements, the checks and balances in place, they're in better shape today than when I took over in July of '15," he said.
Newhart said he plans to take a few months off to spend more time with family. He added he has not ruled out reentering the workforce again somewhere.
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