Butts enters sixth full year as superintendent

Superintendent has faced many obstacles and successes in his first five years


Michaela Kelley

Dr Jeff Butts is entering his sixth year as Wayne Township superintendent. Butts sat down with co-editor Ryan Eggers over the summer to discuss his thoughts on education.

For Superintendent of Wayne Township Jeff Butts, his role on the top of the pyramid has been many different things over the past few years, but normal isn’t even in his vocabulary. After taking over as superintendent at the start of 2011, Butts has been struck with numerous challenges to overcome, including perhaps his most difficult one at the beginning of his tenure.

He knew this, though. He’d been preparing for this role his entire life. He didn’t just stumble upon the job, he climbed his way up to the top.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a superintendent,” Butts said. “My uncle had been a superintendent for 19 years while I was growing up, so I got to see a little bit of that.”

He knew he wanted the gig. The circumstances surrounding it at the time, not so much.

“We had a pretty big controversy in our school district my first week in, involving the contract of my predecessor,” Butts said,

“That was the first real test of my leadership; the first test of my ability to take a bad situation and work our district and community through it. There were a lot of people who were angry, a lot of people who were frustrated and had lost trust in our school district.”

Without getting into too much detail, it was a poor circumstance that caused a lot of raised emotions within the community. Budgeting and finance, one of the school board’s main responsibilities, is a crucial element of a successful public school system, and when money is being distributed in a way that isn’t beneficial to the schools, people will understandably be upset.

For a first week issue, it was a lot to handle. Directing people that were once his colleagues during Butts’ time as assistant superintendent, he had a lot to prove in dealing with the problem. Butts understood the severity of the situation, however, and says he treated it as such.

“The first thing that we had to do is figure out how we were going to handle this crisis, because for our district and for our community this was a crisis,” Butts said.

“I brought my team together, and I’d say for the next three months or so we’d go around and talk about the circumstance. I testified down at the statehouse, I had the opportunity to speak to every one of our teachers, I spoke to most of our neighborhood associations and community organizations- I had to rebuild trust.

“That took up a great deal of time, but we couldn’t lose sight of the fact that we still had 16,000 children at our schools that really didn’t care. They wanted to learn; they wanted to have the very best teachers, the very best education, and the very best opportunities. So while we were dealing with this as an important issue for the district, we also had to remember that learning goes on, school goes on, and that we need to focus on what’s really important, and that’s the 16,000 students sitting in our classrooms.”

While it took time, that trust eventually came back. In one of Butts’ best moments as superintendent, Wayne Township was able to get the community to go out and vote “Yes” for the property tax referendum in 2015, something that couldn’t be done without the rebuilt reputation and communication from the district and the community.

Among moments like the referendum, the numerous championships and state finalists from athletic and performing arts programs, and the launch of tools like the Wayne Virtual Education Academy, Butts has had a great time as superintendent since his arrival. Entering into his fifth full year in the position, he’s just as thrilled to see his students succeed.

“My favorite thing is being able to get in and see all of the amazing things our students are doing,” Butts said.

“So when I get to go to performances and class presentations that are happening … when I get to go to things like Arts Alive and SWEAT and Top 30 banquets, or a choir concert for our elementary students, or a carnival that one of our students are having- those are the things that I really love about my job.”

It’s been a long five years for Butts, but he wouldn’t trade it for the world. He’s sure to see just as many challenges in his next five, but he’s ready.

Just make sure you don’t bug him about two-hour delays on Twitter.