Individual attention key for USD 398 superintendent

Rex Watson
Rex Watson

We need to educate the whole child, and we need to take into consideration their individuality when we do that.?
?Rex Watson, USD 398 superintendent

Click image to enlarge.

At least one thread connects Rex Watson?s vocational commitment as the new superintendent of the Peabody-Burn school district with his otherwise unique avocation of building hot rods.

Watson, whose customizing talents have been featured in hot-rod publications, is convinced that whether it?s kids or cars, individual attention can turn a clunker into a classic.

?I?m a proponent of individualizing,? said Watson, who began his first superintendency July 1.

?The model we currently use in K-12 education is about 150 years old,? said the St. John native. ?It was built about the same time we were doing the Industrial Revolution. It looks, feels and tastes a whole lot like an assembly line.

?That was probably an excellent model 150 years ago, but we?re in the technology age now, and it?s time that we embrace change.

?It?s time where we individualize for students, and we take talents into consideration, we take interests into consideration, we take abilities into consideration and we take disabilities into consideration.?

Watson?s conviction applies to the behavioral development of children as well as their academic development.

?I don?t know if, in 2007-2008, it?s fair to expect all kids to behave in the same time and the same way to meet our cookie-cutter mold,? Watson said. ?We need to educate the whole child, and we need to take into consideration their individuality when we do that.?

Customized career

Watson?s professional path in the education field has hardly followed a
cookie-cutter mold. After completing his own K-12 education in the St.
John school system in 1983, he took a job in construction and operated
a machine shop before going into teaching.

?I always thought I wanted to teach, but I wasn?t sure I wanted to
spend four years (in college) and then be one of those teachers that
really probably shouldn?t have gotten into the profession,? he said.

In 1985, Watson got an opportunity to test the education field when
he accepted an opening in the St. John district as a para-professional
for the industrial arts program.

?I absolutely loved it,? Wat?son said. ?I actually had to leave a
better-paying job to go do that for a few hours a day, but it let me
experience it and find out that?s what I wanted to do.?

He also took advantage of the special education cooperative policy
that promised to pay for college studies for as long as he was a co-op

?I worked for them for two years and took as many college hours as I
could (at Barton County Community College), then transferred to
Sterling College,? he said.

After receiving his teaching degree from Sterling, Watson accepted
an opening in the St. John district as an art teacher. He continued in
that role for the next 10 years.

?I had a great experience with that and enjoyed it, but I had spent
an awful lot of time in that facility (St. John school),? he said. ?It
was time to do something different with my life.?

Routed to administration

Watson took an off-ramp from education when he accepted a job with a
start-up publication in the hot-rod field called Super Rod Magazine.

?I really enjoyed the magazine work,? he said. ?I enjoyed the
writing and photography, but I didn?t care for the travel. I?m not a
big fan of airplanes.?

During the year he was employed by the publication, Watson worked on
a graduate degree in education admini?stration from Fort Hays State,
which he received in 2001.

After receiving the degree, Watson accepted a position as
elementary-school principal at Scott County, which is about 60 miles
east of the Colorado-Kansas border.

He said he enjoyed his six years there, but he and wife Caren, a Great Bend native, missed central Kansas.

?It?s a wonderful community,? Watson said. ?But to go anywhere, you?re going to drive a day to get there and a day to get back.?

They also yearned for a bit more vegetation.

?Having trees and actually being able to grow grass and have it rain periodically is what we?re used to,? he said with a smile.

Attracted to Peabody-Burns

When Watson saw the opening for a superintendent at Peabody-Burns,
he was immediately interested. As a city council member when St. John
was considering joining the Main Street Program, he had visited Peabody
during the mid-1990s.

?I can still remember the friendliness of the people who showed us
around and walked us through the pitfalls of Peabody becoming a Main
Street City,? Watson said. ?We also visited the high school when they
were building it. I was impressed with that.?

Watson said his memories of that visit have been verified since their arrival as residents.

?The people are just very friendly and helpful,? he said. ?There?s
just a comfort level here. I experienced that with the (school) board
when I interviewed. They?re good folks who have the kids? best
interests at heart. They?re common people who have a job to do, and
that appealed to me.?

In pursuit of excellence

Watson hopes to meld his vision for individualized, whole-person education into a unified pursuit of excellence.

?I believe all of our programs need to be programs we?re proud
of?and if they?re not, then we need to adjust what we?re doing so we
can be very proud of them?whether that?s academics or athletics or
extra-curricular,? he said.

?I think the kids deserve the best we?ve got. They don?t deserve a mediocre program or a mediocre facility.

?In everything we do in terms of our endeavor, we?re setting an
example for the kids,? he added. ?It?s not just what they learn in the
classroom; they learn by watching us. That?s why it?s important that
for every endeavor we?re in, we give 100 percent.?

In the driver?s seat

Watson said he is comfortable with most functions associated with
his new role, including budget challenges in the face of declining

He said his primary concern is whether he can meet the expectations of USD 398 patrons.

?You?re a lot of things to a lot of people in this job,? he said.
?It would be nice if you can make everyone happy, but it?s probably not
going to happen.

?I don?t know if I have the ability to solve everyone?s problems
that come down the road,? he added. ?But I enjoy meeting them and
listening to the problems, and if I can help with anything, it?s always
rewarding when you can make a difference.

?Sometimes that occurs.?

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