Smithton District 130’s new leader says he got to where he is today in part because metro-east educators helped him succeed when the loss of his father could have derailed him.
The school board hired Belleville native Ryan Wamser to replace former superintendent Sue Homes, who resigned to take a new job.
Homes is now the Illinois Principals Association’s deputy director for professional development after four years in Smithton District 130.
“I look forward to hearing about the next leg of the school’s journey and am confident Dr. Wamser is the right leader to continue to move the district forward,” Homes wrote in her final newsletter.
Wamser, 35, lives in Belleville with his wife Michelle and their three children: Jamey, 6, Ruthie, 4, and Murray, 9 months. He has been working in education for the last 14 years, most recently as the St. Clair County assistant regional superintendent.
And he comes from a family of teachers: his dad worked at Belle Valley South School for 22 years, and his sister works at O’Fallon Township High School.
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said. “... It’s in our bones in our family.”
Wamser says educators had a big influence on him when his dad, James Wamser, died while coaching a volleyball game in 1994. Belle Valley School’s Wamser Gymnasium was named in his memory.
“Being a 12-year-old kid who loses his dad in a school and loving school, if it weren’t for having a great family but also having that family of teachers and administrators and coaches, I’d have been that 12-year-old kid who took that fork in the road and went down the wrong path,” he said.
Wamser said his goal has been to “give back to all those people and to my community.”
He started his career as a physical education and health teacher at Wolf Branch Middle School in Swansea before moving to Mascoutah High School. Wamser started working in leadership roles from there, first as an assistant principal at Mascoutah High School and then as the superintendent and principal in Oakdale District 1.
Wamser said his time as a superintendent in the small Washington County district was “probably the best year of my career,” but he left for the assistant regional superintendent position so he could return to St. Clair County.
“Our school districts and teachers are why I’m here,” Wamser said. “Being able to work with all of them and work with a lot of them that were impactful on my life at the regional office was something that I really enjoyed.”
Wamser officially started working in Smithton on Aug. 1. Students return to Smithton Elementary School on Wednesday.
Our school districts and teachers are why I’m here.
Ryan Wamser, Smithton District 130 superintendent
Their new superintendent is optimistic as he enters a school year in which the district’s only building is running out of space, and lawmakers are still deciding how much state aid money to send to schools.
Some metro-east schools estimate that they don’t have enough money to complete the school year without general state aid, which is the largest chunk of funding from the state. But Wamser says Smithton has enough money from local property taxes and reserves to continue operating beyond the year.
“The board of education has done a fantastic job of making sure that there are fund balances available when a rainy day came, and it’s pouring right now,” Wamser said.
Schools aren’t getting their money because the Legislature is negotiating an overhaul of the way Illinois funds public education. The Republican governor and Democratic-controlled General Assembly so far can’t agree on how best to do so.
District 130 relies heavily on property taxes, which comprise more than 70 percent of the district’s revenue, according to state data. Money from the state is just 22 percent of Smithton’s budget.
While it has the revenue to continue normal operations, Wamser said the district doesn’t have enough cash to complete a needed expansion of the school building to accommodate its growing enrollment. The school board will have to decide whether to ask residents in a referendum for approval to take on new debt, he said.
In 2002, when it last expanded its building, there were 377 students. Wamser estimates that by the end of the year, there could be 550 students.
“It’s a great problem to have because it means people are moving to Smithton,” he said. “People are coming here not only because it’s a great community, but it has a great school district — and not only the K-8 district but the high school as well.”
Smithton already has two expansion plans drawn up: One that would cost an estimated $1.5 million and another that would cost about $2.7 million.
In the meantime, the district is using a trailer with no running water to house three fifth-grade classrooms and a shared office for a school social worker and psychologist. Students and staff have to walk through a public alleyway that’s blocked off during the school day to go inside the main school building to use the bathroom.
Wamser said class sizes are largely unaffected by the space issue. The smallest classes have 16 students and the largest have 24, according to Wamser.
“Even an influx of 10 eighth-graders wouldn’t affect class sizes,” he said. “Now, overall, it affects space like the cafeteria, gym space, things like that.” He said the district added three tables to the cafeteria to make room for the nearly 200 junior high students.
In the coming year, Smithton, along with Freeburg districts 70 and 77, could be exploring whether consolidation would benefit the schools, students and community.
Wamser said the District 130 school board would likely consider proposals at its next meeting to hire someone to perform a consolidation feasibility study. The meeting is scheduled for Aug. 22. If it’s approved, Wamser said the study would be completed by June 30, 2018.
“They want the facts,” Wamser said of board members. “They want to be able to present everything to the community: 100 percent open and honest. That’s the way the school board and the way I operate.”
- Education: Bachelor’s degree from Milikin University, master’s degree from McKendree University and doctorate from Saint Louis University
- Experience: Two years as Wolf Branch Middle School physical education and health teacher; five years as Mascoutah High School physical education, driver’s education and health teacher; three years as Mascoutah High School assistant principal; one year as Oakdale District 1 superintendent and principal; three years as St. Clair County assistant regional superintendent
- Family: Wife Michelle and three children: Jamey, 6, Ruthie, 4, and Murray, 9 months
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org