Dr. Angela Grunewald is a teacher by nature and at heart. She always knew she wanted to teach children, but she never dreamed about being a school superintendent.
Even when her late husband Jeff Mills, the superintendent of El Reno Public Schools at the time, suggested she complete her administrative degree in case she ever wanted to pursue that route, she was unsure. As a classroom teacher of 14 years, her response was, “I’ll never use that, but, okay, we’ll just see what happens.”
Making history in Edmond
What happened is historic. In June, Grunewald will begin her tenure as the first female superintendent of Edmond Public Schools (EPS), following Dr. Bret Towne’s retirement. She will oversee nearly 25,000 students, 30 campuses, and almost 3,000 employees.
As a native of Woodward, Oklahoma, she recognizes that there are more students enrolled in Edmond schools than the entire population of Woodward. “Edmond schools is a small city,” said Grunewald.
However, her long career of teaching children in different districts and grades, and also serving in various administrative roles, including principal of Charles Haskell Elementary School and Sequoyah Middle School, has given her a wide range of experience. Each role has prepared her to continue serving people, just in a different way.
“I can serve teachers instead of serving students directly, and being the EPS superintendent allows me to serve a wider audience,“ she said. “That’s where my heart has always been—taking care of people and teaching.”
Roles and priorities
Grunewald believes the two biggest roles for her as a superintendent are to set a clear vision for the district and to be the bridge between the schools and community. “I think it’s a superintendent’s role to set the vision of where we are going as a district, and this is who we are,” she said. “Edmond schools would not be what it is without the Edmond community. The superintendent plays a large role in keeping city partnerships going.”
Grunewald’s big vision for EPS includes five priorities, but her biggest one is dignity and belonging. “I want every student and every teacher to be treated with dignity. No matter what happens, no matter what they do, we all deserve to be treated with dignity,” she said. “I want everyone to feel that they belong here, and they feel like they are a part of our family,” she said. “It’s about being treated as a human, and everyone deserves that from their peers and from student-teacher relationships.”
The other four priorities are quality instruction, collaboration, emotional and physical safety, and integrity. She knows from firsthand experience that a superintendent’s job will not be without making difficult choices. “I watched Jeff struggle with heavy decisions, and I saw how much they would weigh him down at times. Some decisions are just hard to make and there’s no easy answer,” Grunewald reflected, “but I watched how he worked through the decision once it was made and how he moved forward. It’s helped me realize there is light at the end of the tunnel during those tough times, and then you get to do something wonderful like hand out diplomas or put medals around state champions. Those make up for the burden that you carry.”
One important decision that EPS will make involves allowing students and teachers back in the classroom five days a week next school year. Currently, they feel confident it will happen, but they will continue to follow CDC guidelines. “What the CDC tells us to do, we will do and if the CDC changes, which they have, then we will adjust,” said Grunewald.
A role model for young girls
Having never imagined being superintendent, it didn’t cross her mind that being the first female in this role was significant. “I thought I was just applying for a job that I thought would be a dream job to have,” said Grunewald. “But, I’ve had so many people come up to me and say what a difference that makes or they never imagined we would have a female superintendent. It is an honor to be the first female.”
Growing up, she never had a female principal, let alone a superintendent. She believes it is important that we make sure our young girls see that they can be in any role they choose to be in, and Grunewald is striving to be the best role model for them.
She is listening to the advice of Dr. Towne and other confidants and living out her favorite quote by Will Rogers, “If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.”
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About Tina Evans
Tina Evans is a leadership coach and consultant. As a certified 5 Voices and 100X Leader guide, Tina is passionate about helping leaders build organizations where everyone is empowered to bring their best and increase overall performance. She is a former senior leader for both local and statewide organizations and owns Tina Evans Coaching, LLC. She holds degrees in psychology and public relations and is certified in nonprofit management.