New superintendent plans to unite Middleton by listening and learning

Being an educator is in Sherawn Reberry’s blood.

Her parents taught in Twin Falls for more than 35 years, and her childhood is filled with happy memories of helping them set up their classrooms.

Reberry’s aunts and uncles taught. So did her grandparents.

“It felt natural for me to follow in their footsteps,” Reberry said. “I don’t think there was ever a time I didn’t think I would be a teacher.”

Even Reberry’s daughter, Kelsy Skidmore, teaches second grade in Boise, representing a fourth generation of educators in the family.

But after 27 years in education, Reberry took her biggest step yet this summer when she was hired as superintendent of the Middleton School District. It’s her first time as superintendent, and she’s leading a growing — and divided — district located in Canyon County about 25 miles west of Boise.

Middleton has recently experienced its share of growing pains and controversy.

  • Last Halloween, the district made national headlines when teachers appeared in photographs posted to the district’s social media channels dressed in stereotypical Mexican clothing and posing with a depiction of a border wall.
  • Patrons voted down a series of bond issues.
  • Immediate past Superintendent Josh Middleton resigned in June, blaming unnamed officials for a “hostile work environment.”
  • And, last month, three of the district’s school board members survived a recall effort that, despite its failure, reveals the community remains divided.

But instead of looking back, Reberry is looking forward, focused on the future. Being a superintendent had long been a goal of hers, but she hadn’t found the right fit. That began to change this summer when two people reached out to her suggesting she give the Middleton opening a hard look. Reberry considered it but thought she would keep her existing job at Idaho Digital Learning Academy.

It was a third call, this time from a Middleton parent, that changed her mind.

“I thought these three phone calls were the universe telling me something,” she said.

She felt wanted, and she felt like she had what it took to make a difference.

“In doing my research, it felt like Middleton reminded me of growing up in Twin Falls; it just felt like a great fit for me,” Reberry said. “It felt as if the stars aligned. It really felt comfortable when I was out doing the interview process and meet-and-greets with the community. It just felt right.”

Past experience

After graduating Twin Falls High School, Reberry went to Boise State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. She began her career as a paraprofessional, but soon took a job teaching fourth grade in Kimberly, where she fell in love with education.

She started to work on, and then ultimately earned, her master’s degree and a doctoral degree. She accepted a position with the State Department of Education under former Superintendent Marilyn Howard. While she was at the SDE for six years, Reberry was involved in a school technology initiative and then served as a federal programs director.

From there she went to the Caldwell School District, where she worked as a principal, and then at the district office as a federal programs director and director of elementary education.

After Caldwell, she worked with the Idaho Leads Project at Boise State’s Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies.

Most recently, Reberry served as a director for Idaho Digital Learning Academy before taking over as Middleton’s superintendent in August.

High ranking support

Some of Idaho’s top educators offered enthusiastic support for Reberry’s hiring.

Mary Ann Ranells

West Ada Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells, who Reberry described as a mentor, told Idaho Education News “I’d be happy to brag about this amazing young lady.”

Ranells and Reberry both worked under Howard at the SDE, and the two have remained close in the years since.

Ranells said Reberry’s strength as an educator lies in developing the leadership of others. She has a keen understanding of professional learning communities and values a coaching model, instead of a top-down leadership model.

Ranells also said Reberry brings valuable technology experience to the district (both from the SDE and IDLA) and is focused on student instruction.

“Every time I’ve been with or around Sherawn, she is always laser-focused in terms of having an inviting school, a safe place for kids that is vibrant and child-centered,” Ranells said.

Boise Superintendent Coby Dennis said he is excited that both he and Reberry are joining the ranks of first-year superintendents at the same time.

Dennis and Reberry took many courses together for their education specialists program, even serving as research partners on several projects. Throughout the years, they also remained close as the Boise district and IDLA’s leadership teams worked together.

“One thing that has always stood out about Sherawn is her instructional leadership,” Dennis said. “Her ability to identify the needs of kids and help them learn is something I always have been very impressed with.”

Dennis also said colleagues rally around Reberry’s personality and positive attitude.

“She brings people together around common ideas and really does a nice job of building coalitions around student learning,” Dennis said.

Even though they are working in different districts, Dennis said he is thrilled Reberry was hired in Middleton because that means the two can collaborate regularly and share ideas and best practices through regional education conferences.

IDLA Superintendent Cheryl Charlton said Reberry’s passion stood out to her the most.

“One of the things I feel strongly about, as I’ve worked with Sherawn, is she has been such a joy to work with,” Charlton said. “She’s always so positive and the energy she possesses seems to be endless. She always wants to go the extra mile for every project.”

Looking to the future

Reberry’s immediate goals for Middleton are centered on learning and listening. During the first week of classes Aug. 19, Reberry focused on meeting students and staff and visiting each building.

She felt incredibly welcome her first week on the job, and several times mentioned the enthusiasm she saw from fellow educators, the district’s leadership team and the students returning to school.

“I get excited when I see engagement of students, when I see that ‘a-ha’ moment the light bulb goes on,” Reberry said. “And it’s not just the students but teachers too. It’s so fun to see a teacher’s reaction when they realize they’ve made a connection with students.”

Reberry was just starting to review student data when she sat down with Idaho EdNews for this interview. She is encouraged by student achievement levels overall but stopped short of sharing specific achievement goals because she wanted to work closer with Middleton’s leadership team and school board before plowing ahead. She knows there will be plenty of time to focus on student achievement, to review the strategic plan and devise a plan to deal with growth. But, for now, she wanted to focus on building relationships and trust and working collaboratively.

“To me, it’s not just about what I think as superintendent,” Reberry said. “It’s really about the staff as whole and the community as a whole.”

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