USD 373 has its new superintendent, with the Newton Board of Education announcing the selection of Fred Van Ranken as the next superintendent earlier this week. Van Ranken will take the reins on July 1 after the retirement of superintendent Deb Hamm at the end of the 2019-20 school year.


Van Ranken is currently the superintendent at Twin Valley USD 240. Previously, he was director of student learning at Smoky Valley from 2006 to 2016 and a high school principal at Smoky Valley from 1999 to 2006, as well as spending two years as principal at St. John Junior/Senior High School.


"Fred Van Ranken emerged after the very thorough process as the right candidate to lead our district," USD 373 school board president Matt Treaster said. "The board is excited and ready to work with Fred Van Ranken. Our district will be in good hands."


Van Ranken shares that excitement and is looking forward to becoming a part of the Newton community and taking the opportunities afforded by working in a 5A school district.


"I'm real excited to start on July 1. I look forward to really becoming part of the Newton school community, and the community in general. I've never not lived in the community that I serve from an educational perspective," Van Ranken said. "I've been in 4A schools, 1A schools, 2A schools, 3A schools. I kind of wanted to get into a little bit larger system as a superintendent where you had the ability to have some more support around you."


Additionally, Van Ranken said he was attracted to the strength of the existing programs in USD 373 (CTE at Newton High School, fine arts, etc.) and looked forward to an opportunity to focus more specifically on influencing educational systems.


With the smaller schools he has worked at, Van Ranken has had to do a little bit of everything (overseeing the budget, drafting bus bids, etc.). In conjunction with the variety of programs offered in a larger school district, that size means Van Ranken will be able to play toward his strengths as well — though he noted his overall goals for the schools he works in will never change based on size or location.


"My goals for Newton are no different than any goals that I would have for any educational institution that I influence at any level, whether it's in the classroom, as a principal or as a superintendent. I want to provide the best system centered around each individual kid that we possibly can provide," Van Ranken said. "Student achievement, student performance, student capacity should always be our number one goal and can we do that through building an inclusive school community that really allows for everyone to be able to excel, and that includes our staff."


The Newton Board of Education interviewed four candidates during the week of Feb. 3 for the superintendent position. Each candidate spent a day in Newton, meeting staff members, touring the community and schools and participating in a formal interview.


"We had four outstanding candidates that we had the opportunity to meet and interview," Treaster said. "Each of them did a great job and was very impressive. It made for a very difficult decision that the entire board took very seriously."


The board also asked for a variety of community input during the process, including an online survey and focus groups. The focus groups included teachers and administrators, parents and community members, and Treaster noted their input was important and helpful in the search process.


Prior to working in administration, Van Ranken taught at Sacred Heart Junior/Senior High School in Salina for a year before working in the Solomon school the next eight years — where he also served as head football coach for six of those eight years.


In his administrative roles, Van Ranken noted he still had some time to be in the classroom and affect what goes on at all levels of the school, which drove him to pursue administrative opportunities.


"Each time, even becoming a superintendent, I never had aspirations of climbing up that ladder. That's just not me; I don't need, nor do I care for any recognition. It's about really genuinely impacting the system," Van Ranken said. "I have more than cursory knowledge in all of the systems in education, including curriculum and instruction."


Van Ranken earned degrees from Hutchinson Community College, Kansas State University and received his superintendent license from Friends University when former Newton superintendent John Morton was running the program.


Additionally, Van Ranken has worked with fellow administrators with Newton ties — getting some exposure to the community through those connections.


While there are still four and a half months until Van Ranken officially takes over as superintendent, he is looking forward to this new opportunity with Newton schools and — given the teacher at heart that he is — doing the best to serve its main clientele.


"My philosophy is that we're here for all kids; we're not just here for some of them. We are here to meet the needs of all of our learners and all of our families that are dealing with those learners on a daily basis," Van Ranken said. "That's what gets me up in the morning, that's what gets me motivated to go to work every day is provide the best opportunities possible for kids."