Thompson settling into new position as R-P superintendent

TCR/KRISTIN BURDEY Rushford-Peterson Superintendent Jon Thompson has begun his rst year with the district. The 2019-2020 school year begins Tuesday, Sept. 3.
By : 
Kristin Burdey

A new face will be greeting students as they enter the Rushford-Peterson School this September: Jon Thompson has arrived in Rushford to assume the position of Superintendent, picking up the baton passed by Chuck Ehler, who retired this year.

Thompson grew up in the Western Iowa townof Storm Lake, the “mostly Norwegian” son of Robert M. and Mickey Thompson. He completed his undergraduate coursework at the University of Northern Iowa-Cedar Falls (UNI) before receiving both a Master’s Degree and a Specialist Degree in school administration at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Education runs in the Thompson family. Both his  brother and a sister-in-law are in the field, and Thompson’s  father served many years in administration, as both a principal and assistant superintendent. “My dad has been my inspiration for most everything in my life,” said Thompson of his 96-year-old father, “from my career choice to the style of father that I became to the way I strive to treat people the way they deserve to be treated. I knew that I wanted to be like him long before I knew that I would follow his career path.”

Career choice was not the only important decision Thompson would make at UNI: he also met a young lady from Waverly, Iowa, named Lynne who was studying social work. She has now been his wife for 32 years.

Thompson began his teaching career at Waukon, Iowa, in the Allamakee County School District. There he taught upper elementary and coached multiple boys and girls sports at both the middle and high school level. “If there was a sport, I coached it and enjoyed it,” Thompson recalls with a smile. He then taught in Hampton, Iowa, for five years before moving on to the Aplington-Parkersburg School District where he worked for 26 years, the last 13 as superintendent.

Once he began in administration it became his focus, although Thompson admits leaving the role of teacher behind was a challenge. “When you’re a kid person, it’s hard to step away from that. You just hope that (as an administrator) you’re able to continue to impact them both on the field and in the classroom.”

Thompson was considering early retirement when he received an e-mail sent to schools far and wide by Superintendent Chuck Ehler. The well-written document extolled the virtues of the Rushford-Peterson School District, painting a picture that Thompson found hard to resist. “I really liked what I saw,” Thompson noted after researching the district. “I knew the qualities of a good school, and I saw those at Rushford-Peterson.” After exploring both the R-P school district and offers at other schools, Thompson made the decision to pursue the position at R-P. “It had to be the right opportunity, and R-P stood out.”

Since July 1, Thompson has been acclimating to the community and learning that the school motto of “Always our Best” is more than just a phrase. “I don’t know if you appreciate what tremendous kids you’ve got here,” Thompson enthused about the students he has met since arriving. “They are friendly, polite, and respectful. The kids have gone out of their way, and I am definitely impressed. Whatever they’ve done so far at R-P has been working.” But Thompson recognizes that not all the credit for his warm reception goes to the school. “Where we hope that the school plays a part, those values are primarily coming from both the homes and the community.”

In addition to the exemplary student behavior witnessed thus far, Thompson has been seeking out the other strengths R-P has to offer. He has been informally surveying board members and staff, asking two questions: “What do we do well here at R-P?” and “What could we do better?”

“Some of the positives are clear-cut, such as the pride you all have in the school and the town. That was a big stand-out right away.” In addition to celebrating the strengths, Thompson uses the conversations to help him set personal goals to strive for as superintendent. “The most important thing for me right now is to be a good listener.”

Thompson brings a wealth of experience and expertise to R-P, his previous district having a comparable population. Another common thread he shares with Rushford residents is that of survivor of natural disaster. In 2008 as Rushford was rebuilding from the flood of 2007, Parkersburg, Iowa, was hit by an EF5 tornado, the highest level of destruction.

The tornado, a mile wide and  with winds over 200 mph, flattened half of the town (including the high school building) over Memorial Day weekend. Forty percent of the district’s kids and staff lost their homes in the span of five minutes. As rebuilding efforts charged forward, Thompson noted, “It kind of takes over your life for a year and a half.”

During this tender time, the school district also experienced the tragic death of a beloved faculty member. “I never want to downplay the importance of that moment in time, because it helped shape who I am today. It was a challenging time. But it would be wrong not to note that we rallied together and grew stronger as a result; we became a better school and a better community.”

On a personal level, the Thompsons have raised four children of their own, all now in their 20s: Alec, who lives in Los Angeles; Katie in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Sam in Portland, Ore.; and Megan in Oklahoma. Thompson has been a semi-bachelor since moving to Rushford, as his wife will remain in Iowa for at least a year to finish out her job. “Having to take care of myself is a new experience,” he joked. “But it is truly hard to be away from your spouse.”

On the bright side, Thompson is able to use this time to devote his full attention to the school. With his extra free time, he also exercises more; the trade-off being that his eating habits aren’t quite as good without Lynne. Other hobbies he enjoys are shooting baskets and playing golf, as well as traveling to visit his kids. He is a fan of the Twins and the Cubs, but declined to share his favorite college and professional teams in the interest of goodwill and harmony. He enjoys cheeseburgers and Diet Pepsi, and his favorite ice cream is vanilla.

“Going into this, I have had a good feeling,” Thompson shared. “After meeting some of the kids, staff, and townspeople, I feel even better about it. I feel fortunate that it all worked out, because I have landed right where I wanted to be. This is the right school for me, and I will always give you my best.”