Making an impact through education: Matt Ward
Matt Ward is the superintendent of Augusta USD 402.
His initial connection with Newman University was through his wife, Brooke, an alumna and current director of the sonography program. Ward was a social studies teacher in Shawnee Heights before becoming a building principal and now district superintendent.
When he was looking for a program through which he could complete his district licensure, his familiarity with Newman pulled him in.
“There was a good balance of the more academic side of the process, but also a lot of real-world examples and case studies, conversation and dialogue,” Ward said. “I think what I learned most was from the lens of what other people’s experiences were.”
Now, when Ward talks to other people about Newman’s program, it’s that strength he highlights.
“Professor John Burke’s class was particularly strong in that area,” Ward said. “He was able to give us access to certain experiences local to Kansas, not universal concepts in a textbook.”
Today, in his fourth year as superintendent, Ward reflects on the reason he entered education in the first place: to make an impact.
He originally majored in business in college but shifted to secondary education with a history focus after working as a big box retail store manager.
“It wasn’t so much educating people about the product that I liked, it was just educating people in general and being engaged in that process of teaching and learning,” Ward said.
“I think what I learned most was from the lens of what other people’s experiences were.”
‘A challenging and stimulating environment’: Joan Simoneau
Joan Simoneau spent six years as superintendent in Burrton and is currently finishing her first year as superintendent of Rock Creek Schools in Westmoreland and St. George, Kansas.
“My love for education started with my high school band director, Mr. Koca,” she explained. “His guidance and support helped shape me into the person I am today. I grew up as a military child, which allowed me to experience education in various states in the United States and overseas.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Nebraska, Simoneau began her teaching career in Logan, Kansas.
Later, she moved to a farm in Burrton, Kansas, where she taught music at various schools, including Wichita East, Cheney and Burrton. After completing her master’s degree, Simoneau became a high school principal and then, in 2016, obtained her district-level licensure from Newman.
“As a superintendent, I have faced new challenges, especially in a rapidly growing district,” Simoneau explained. “Managing a budget that is not fully funded until the following year is a significant challenge. Having enough staff, transportation and space in a district with increasing enrollment can also be difficult. However, I have learned something new every day, which is what makes this role so exciting.”
She added that her Newman education shaped her career by giving her the knowledge and skills necessary to become a superintendent.
“Newman provided a challenging and stimulating environment that enabled me to develop a broader understanding of the education field,” Simoneau said. “One professor who played a significant role in my education was Professor Burke. He was an outstanding professor who not only taught me valuable lessons but also provided me with valuable perspective when I needed it. I have benefited greatly from his guidance and support.”
Diving in with district-level licensure: Deena Hilbig
Deena Hilbig is in her second year of being the superintendent at USD 327 Ellsworth/Kanopolis/Genesco.
Hilbig holds a bachelor’s degree from Emporia State University and a master’s degree from Kansas State University, as well as certification in building leadership and administration.
“I was already providing leadership at the elementary level when I began attending Newman University,” she added. “Having been a building principal for 11 years at that point, I wanted to continue to grow as a professional. I had started working with the Kansas Educational Leadership Institute and was working with first- and second-year principals, mentoring them and providing advanced leadership development, and I really enjoyed it. These experiences inspired me to pursue leadership at a more comprehensive level and acquire district-level leadership licensure.”