At Trinity Heights United Methodist Church, many people people in the congregation know Deb Hamm more as Sophie and Lila's grandmother than as Dr. Deborah Hamm, USD 373 superintendent of schools.

She prefers it that way.

As superintendent, she has to supervise roughly 3,700 students and 800 employees. Her job entails a lot of planning and detail, yet she calls herself a "disorganized organized person."

"I know it's an oxymoron. It's something I continually have to work on. That's not natural for me."

Friends who nominated Hamm for 2015 Woman of the Year have written about how she helped build the the Health Science career pathway at Newton High School, but she downplays her role saying she just helped expand an already existing program.

Hamm has also been praised for role as committee chair for the Newton YMCA capital fund drive.

"A small role," she said of her contribution.

Serving on the finance committee at her church? Hamm is just one of many, she said.

"I do my part in making coffee for fellowship time and making cookies," she said.

Hamm began her career in 1989, teaching fourth grade at Santa Fe Middle School. Her role as an administrator started in 1996 when she became assistant principal of Cheney Middle School and later served as principal of a McPherson elementary school. She taught education at Wichita State University and earned her doctorate in education there. A few years later, she got back into administration, serving as assistant school superintendent in Augusta.

In 2012, she returned to Newton as superintendent of schools. It was no coincidence, bringing her career as an educator back to where it started.

"It was definitely intentional," she said, adding that her husband, Joe, is from Newton and they raised their children here.

Hamm credits her parents with instilling in her a love of learning. She grew up in a lower income home in which neither parent had a high school diploma so education was emphasized as a way to a better life. The same year Hamm graduated from high school, her parents earned their GEDs. She talked proudly of how they went on to earn associate's degrees.

She did not pursue an education career until after she had her associate's degree. One day she was talking to a friend who suggested she look into becoming a teacher.

"No, I think it takes a special person to become a teacher and I don't think I'm that kind of person," Hamm answered.

She did, however, sign up for a teacher education class.

"I absolutely fell in love," she said. "I haven't blinked an eye about it since."

She has seen her profession grow more intense over the past 25 years.

"We live in a society that's a lot more challenging than when I started teaching," Hamm said. "Kids come with a lot of needs and teachers have a lot of expectations."

Hamm has used her leadership skills to help educators meet the challenges that come with their professions. She was part of a committee appointed by the Kansas Dept. of Education to establish a mentoring program for new teachers and principals in Kansas.

As a Rotary Club member, Hamm co-sponsors the Interactive Club, the NHS student Rotary club, and she's involved in the club's annual fundraiser to buy dictionaries for all third grade students in Harvey County.

She feels strongly about protecting children on the internet and gave a presentation at her church on the subject.

"If parents aren't paying attention to what their children doing, it opens a world we don't want our children to be open to," she said. 

Hamm is quick to say she only plays a "small role" in these endeavors.

"I do a little bit of other things, but for me it's all about my work and my family."