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Monday, May 2, 2016

Guiding the Alton school district

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sheila Wheeler is superintendent of the Alton School District. Alton is the third largest rural school district in the state, covering 493 square miles. Photo by Jan Thompson
ALTON -- Sheila Wheeler is school superintendent to the third largest rural school district in Missouri -- the Alton School District.

Wheeler was born in Washington state. Her family moved to Oregon County when she was in the sixth grade. "My grandparents lived here and we had been coming to Oregon County for years on vacation," she said. She said Alton School was a little bit larger than the school she attended in Washington.

"I went to a small K-6th school before moving here in the sixth grade. There was only one teacher per grade. I can remember starting school here and the new math standing out in my mind," she said.

Wheeler graduated from Alton High School in 1974 and married Phillip Wheeler. He is a surgical nurse at Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains. The couple have four children, Michael, Melissa and twins, Amy and Amber. They also have a new grandson, Reese. They live just north of Thomasville.

After the couple married, Wheeler was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. When the twins were 19-months old she decided to go back to school and get into teaching. "It just seemed like the natural thing to do. I had always loved working with children. I was a Sunday School teacher and worked with the youth choir at church. When the two older children learned I was going to work they use to tease I was doing it just to get away from the twins," she said.

She received her bachelor's of science in education in 1989; her master's of science in education in 1994; and her specialist in education in 2000, all from Southwest Missouri State University. Other colleges she attended include: Southwest Baptist University at Boliver, Drury College at Springfield, and the University of Missouri at Columbia and Kansas City.

She taught Head Start at Mountain View, Mo., before beginning her teaching career at Alton. Besides that, all of her teaching years and administrative years have been spent in the Alton School District. For five years she taught fifth grade and third grade and Title 1 Language Arts. She was Alton Elementary principal for six years and was hired as superintendent in 2001.

She has several years of teaching and administrative experience behind her.

"Educating students, in some ways, has changed a lot, and some things are still the same. As educators, our job of course is to teach students the skills they need to enter college or the workplace. There are a lot of state and federal mandates that have been implemented that have changed drastically the way we educate and administrate, especially The No Child Left Behind Act," she said.

As superintendent in the Alton School District she serves as the financial officer for the school. The Alton District, being the third largest rural district in the state, covers 493 square miles. The buses in the district cover 1,200 miles a day. "With fuel prices the way they are this hits our district hard. Our buses travel sometimes long distances to pick up our students," she said.

Fuel price increases have not altered the Alton School budget, yet. "Our fuel budget has increased 42 percent from last year. We have not had to cut the staff or supplies. Another thing that is hurting not only our school district but other school districts across the state, is the state in the past use to reimburse us for transportaion as much as 75 percent five or six years ago. Now we receive a 40 percent transportation reimbushment from the state. We, like all other school districts, are hoping that will change," she said.

Wheeler said her other duties include working on the budget for the district and making sure students and staff have the resources they need to do the job of educating students in the district.

Wheeler also works a lot with all the personnel in the district, including the administration, teachers and staff. "It is a huge responsibility to make sure we have the best teachers and staff for the school district," she said.

"Our main goal is to help students achieve their potential. That is the main reason we are here and why the school is here," she said.

Wheeler loves her position as superintendent but misses the hands on working with the students. "Being a superintendent has its stresses, but looking back, being a teacher and being a principal had its stresses also. There are also different rewards for each position," she said.

"Since I began my career in education, the students seem to be pretty much the same. The one thing that I have seen a change in is society. Most students do not come from a background where there is a mom and a dad anymore. Students' needs and desires are basically the same. Their behavior may have changed some, due to the society issue," she said.

The teaching part of education has changed drastically. "When I first started teaching, the Title 1 program only had a few computers that were bought with federal funds. There was one computer in the office and one in a side room to the office. No classrooms had any computers. Our school secretary, Barbara Cotton, didn't even have a computer. Barbara talks about how she use to type school board reports on a typewriter",

Wheeler said.

"Now there are smart boards in most classrooms and 300 computers with the Internet in our school," she said. She said with the computers also comes more data required from the state. "The computers have helped with our record keeping. We can now send our required data to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education directly from our district because of computer networking," Wheeler said.

Technology has been a challenge for the school district. Wheeler said those 300 computers at the school need upgraded at least every three to four years. "I am very thankful for our technology directors, Joe Wheeler at the high school and Holly Reese at the elementary school," she said

It is clear the superintendent is proud of her school district. In the last seven years the district has received the Distinction in Performance Award three of those years and Wheeler said that is quite an accomplishment. "It gets harder as each year goes by. I'm proud of our teachers and students and faculty and staff," she said.

The school recently received a grant from FEMA that will allow the school district to build a storm shelter on school property that can be used not only by the students but also by the community. She said the district has also received a grant of $400,000 to put some new roofs on some of the school buildings. She said she is very thankful for all the grants the school district receives and they are a great help to the district.

Wheeler attends the County Line Church north of Thomasville and enjoys singing in the choir and sometimes doing nursery duty at the church. She also enjoys attending student activities in her school district, spending time with her family and reading.

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