KSDE Weekly

Feature Story

Deputy Commissioner Neuenswander retiring after 40 years of serving students, educators

Deputy Commissioner Dr. Craig Neuenswander has a way of making people feel supported and at ease. Maybe it’s the kindness he shows everyone who crosses his path, his calm demeanor or the knowledge he’s shared with numerous administrators to help solve financial conundrums during his past 11 years at the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE). 

While current and past colleagues alike said they are sad to see Neuenswander retire from his role as deputy commissioner of fiscal and administrative services at KSDE, they also said there is no one more deserving. 

“Craig has given his professional life to helping students get a quality education,” said Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson. “During his time with the agency, he has focused on ensuring adequate and equitable funding for all students. I can’t thank him enough for his work and dedication to the students in Kansas. Job well done, Craig.” 

Neuenswander was born in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. His father taught math and physics, and his mother helped start a preschool. There was no question about what Neuenswander’s future career would be. 

“Teaching is just what I wanted to do,” he said. 

Neuenswander received his bachelor’s degree in secondary education math from The University of Kansas. In true Neuenswander fashion, he joked about how long it took him to graduate. 

“I crammed four years into five and a half,” he said with a smile while sitting in his third-floor office at the Landon State Office Building in the final days before his retirement. 

Neuenswander’s teaching career began in Oklahoma. His first job out of college was as a junior high school math teacher in Dewey, Oklahoma. He served in that role from 1982 to 1985 and then took a job as a high school math teacher in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. While in Oklahoma, Neuenswander earned his master’s in school administration from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. 

Neuenswander and his wife, Iris, welcomed their first child, Jenna, while living and working in Bartlesville. In 1988, the family moved to Kansas so Neuenswander could begin his career as a principal at Riley County High School, Riley Unified School District 278. He also continued his education at Kansas State University in Manhattan. Neuenswander received his doctorate in school administration from K-State. Craig and Iris expanded their family again with the birth of their son, Stephen. 

Sandy Glessner met Neuenswander in 1994 when she became treasurer for the Riley County USD 378 Board of Education, and he was named superintendent. Glessner and Scott Williams, current superintendent at Riley County, surprised Neuenswander at the KSDE offices on Nov. 21.  

Glessner set up a conference call for Nov. 21 with Neuenswander. Neuenswander was given the superintendent’s cell phone number to call. Glessner and Williams made the drive to Topeka and arrived a few minutes before the scheduled call. When Neuenswander called and Williams’ phone started ringing, Glessner and Williams walked into Neuenswander’s office to surprise him. 

“I’m getting too old for this,” Neuenswander joked. 

He was presented a Riley County Family t-shirt and matching hat to wear during his retirement. 

“He is level-headed, articulate and very helpful,” Glessner said. “He was awesome to work for. I hate to see him leave.” 

She’s not the only one. 

Tim Hayden, who is in his first year as superintendent at Renwick USD 267, said that while Neuenswander may not have known him before his work as superintendent, he has always admired and looked up to Neuenswander. 

“This is going to be a big loss for the state of Kansas,” Hayden said. “He’s an amazing leader.” 

There have been a few times when Hayden had questions about the district’s budget, but Neuenswander always reassured him that no problem was too big. 

“He makes you feel like you are going to be OK,” Hayden said. 

In a message written to Neuenswander, Hayden said: “Craig, your spider web of impact reaches far beyond the walls of your office or the KSDE. Your impact has impacted me over the years and has helped me to become a more informed and engaged leader. From my years as a teacher to a principal to a brand new superintendent, you have always treated me with kindness, made me laugh, think and have helped grow me as a leader. I am one of thousands you have impacted in a positive way … We are so lucky to have had you leading the way for our state throughout your career. Thanks for your heart of service and going above and beyond for the kids of Kansas!” 

Sherry Root, a senior administrative specialist for KSDE’s Division of Fiscal and Administrative Services, met Neuenswander more than 12 years ago when he left his post as superintendent of Iola USD 257 and took a job with KSDE as the school finance director. The two have continued to work alongside each other for more than 12 years. 

“Craig is naturally calm, patient and easygoing,” Root said. “He is also incredibly smart and has a great sense of humor. We work well together. It’s been an honor to work with him. I always felt appreciated, valued and trusted. Craig is honest, supportive and kind to everyone he comes in contact with. He is highly respected statewide by superintendents and budget staff who look to him for guidance and reassurance on budget matters. I was fortunate to have been a part of his team for all these years and learn from him.” 

Neuenswander came to KSDE to work with then-Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis. Dennis retired in September 2020 after working for more than 50 years at KSDE. 

So when Dennis retired and Neuenswander was hired to fill the deputy commissioner role, he knew he had big shoes to fill. 

“He is very well known in the field,” Neuenswander said. “Very well respected.” 

The feeling is mutual, said Dennis, who now works part-time as a special assistant at KSDE. He described Neuenswander as honorable and trustworthy. 

“I know his word is good as gold,” Dennis said. “I’m extremely grateful for his service to Kansas and this agency. He is a true public servant, and he is highly regarded across the state. I think he did a whale of a job, and I will miss him.” 

Neuenswander, who will officially retire Jan. 1, 2024, plans to spend time with his children, son-in-law and grandson Emmitt, 4. Other than that, he said he doesn’t have any major plans after his retirement. He will miss his work with the school superintendents and his colleagues at KSDE. 

“We have really good people in the agency,” Neuenswander said. “In part, that’s what makes it easier to walk out the door.” 

Posted: Nov 30, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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