Stein resigns as GMG superintendent following medical leave

School board hires Gary Sinclair to fill vacancy through June

Green Mountain-Garwin school board president Jill Roberts (center, right) speaks during the board meeting held on Wednesday, Feb. 14 in Garwin at the secondary building. During the meeting, the board accepted now-former superintendent Kym Stein’s resignation and subsequently hired retired superintendent Gary Sinclair to serve as interim through June 30, 2024. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

GARWIN – After two months of uncertainty during which the chief of Central Rivers AEA stepped in to fill the vacancy, Green Mountain-Garwin Community School District Superintendent Kym Stein, who first took medical leave in December, has resigned from the position effective immediately.

During Wednesday’s school board meeting at the secondary building in Garwin, a motion to accept Stein’s resignation was approved.

“Our superintendent has submitted her resignation. We certainly wish our superintendent the very best in her future endeavors and thank her for all the efforts that she has given in her time in our district,” board president Jill Roberts said.

Stein submitted her resignation after taking medical leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to Joel Pedersen, Chief Administrator of Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA), who had been acting as interim superintendent for the district since Jan. 11.

Stein began serving as GMG’s superintendent (0.5FTE) beginning with the 2021-22 school year. While she had experience working as an educator in Iowa for 34 years prior to GMG, she had never held a superintendent position before.

Former GMG superintendent Kym Stein – whose resignation was accepted by the school board on Feb. 14 – pictured in May 2021 after being hired as part-time superintendent for the district to replace Ben Petty who had resigned earlier that spring after serving as a shared superintendent with BCLUW. SUN COURIER FILE PHOTO

Stein was still on the job at GMG in December 2023 but missed the regular board meeting on Dec. 11.

She was again absent from the board meeting held on Jan. 11 and, in her place, Secondary Principal Jaimie Gargas shared during the superintendent report.

Following Gargas’ report in January, the board approved – after waiving the required second reading – altering the district’s ‘Succession of Authority to the Superintendent’ to list the high school (secondary) principal first followed by the elementary principal.

Also during the January meeting, as part of the public forum, Pedersen spoke regarding his 13 years of experience as the former school superintendent at Cardinal Community School District.

According to Pedersen who spoke with the Sun Courier this past Thursday, it was during the Jan. 11 meeting that he officially became the district’s interim superintendent.

GMG Interim Superintendent Gary Sinclair pictured in 2018. PHOTO COURTESY OF IOWA ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS (IASB)

“Jill [Roberts] gave me a call in early January,” Pedersen told the Sun Courier. “We had some discussions on the phone. At that time, I wasn’t preparing for if Kim [Stein] was going to be gone for a little while or not. I just jumped in to try and support the principals and the board. … I dusted off my superintendent notebook.”

Prior to Pedersen officially becoming the district’s interim superintendent – a role for which the district did not pay him – Principal Gargas assumed some leadership responsibilities while Stein was out but his role was limited, Pedersen said.

“He might have been there answering questions, [but] he would not have made decisions as a superintendent even then … He would have been talking to me or the board president. He is a great leader, but he doesn’t have [a superintendent] licensure.”

Pedersen added that while it’s not completely unheard of for a principal to have to step in when a superintendent is absent, it does happen, and having the AEA as a resource during those times can prove invaluable.

“These times of quick change, where principals do step up and it’s tough for them … I was coming in to do what I could … Even before I was officially named, I was certainly talking to the district and supporting them. These are the kinds of things AEAs do that no one realizes. When something happens, we come in and help, no charge whatsoever. Jill [Roberts] and I, we were on the phone a lot … I was supporting the principals.”

Gary Sinclair returns

After accepting and approving Stein’s resignation Wednesday night, the board moved on to the business of hiring an interim superintendent to take Pedersen’s place.

At this point in the meeting, Roberts provided commentary that made it clear Stein has been absent from work since at some point in December.

“I became board president in December two weeks before our superintendent went on medical leave,” Roberts stated. “Our policy stated that the high school principal would become interim superintendent. It became very apparent that our district needed some help, so I contacted a representative, the IASB [Iowa Association of School Boards] Tammi Drawbaugh. She suggested I contact the Central Rivers AEA Chief Administrator Joel Pedersen. He immediately stepped in to help our administrators keep our district functioning.”

Roberts went on to thank Pedersen for his service to the district.

Following her comments, Roberts told the board that Pedersen would like them to consider hiring Gary Sinclair as interim superintendent with his tenure to last through June 30, 2024.

Sinclair’s pay would not exceed $25,000, Roberts explained, and he would work two days per week at minimum for the district.

Sinclair served as both principal and superintendent for GMG between the years of 1983-1998, according to Roberts. Following his tenure at GMG, he went on to serve two more school districts as superintendent including most recently Dallas Center-Grimes from which he retired after a dozen years at the helm.

Roberts said in the years since retiring, Sinclair has made a name for himself as one of the top experts in school finance in the state of Iowa – a sentiment that Pedersen reiterated in his comments to the Sun Courier.

“I think Gary wants to help just because he loves GMG [and] there’s no better person. He’s someone that would have taught me school finance. They could not have had a better situation from my perspective. He’s really going to focus on finance.”

After unanimously approving hiring Sinclair for the remainder of the fiscal year (through June 30), the board briefly addressed the district’s finances.

“I know that there’s been some concern, confusion in the area of our finances,” Roberts said, “We have some major decisions to make in our near future about our finances at GMG.”

Later, in the waning moments of the meeting, as part of the general discussion, Roberts told the board, “Sometime soon we have to negotiate for salaries and we have no clue where we’re at.”

In addition to better understanding the district’s finances, Roberts also said the board needed to begin searching for a permanent superintendent to succeed Sinclair in July.

Shortly thereafter she ended the meeting by stating: “It’s the start of a new era, my friends.”

Sinclair is expected to attend in person the board’s next regular monthly meeting set for Monday, March 4, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in Green Mountain.