Renaissance man: Wrede sees student potential
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · November 30, 2012
Jeff Wrede’s journey from Fairfield High School to West Branch started off a bit awkward — he was not the first pick for the job.
But a little less than two weeks into the contract, the original dean of students/activities director backed out, and Wrede, an assistant softball coach, was approached by Superintendent Kevin Hatfield at the softball awards night banquet.
“It put me on the edge for my employment with Fairfield,” he said.
He was the at-risk coordinator, but the school board agreed to let him out of his contract.
When he sat down with this reporter, it was to answer questions about himself and introduce himself a bit more to the community. But as he talked, the interview kept turning more and more to something he calls the Renaissance Program.
As dean, he spends a lot of time handling discipline problems at the high school. But the Renaissance Program aims to make that job easier, if only as a by-product. The main goal is to make sure students are being recognized when they do something right, and to recognize them publicly, rather than only lecture them when they do something wrong.
Wrede clearly gets excited talking about it, because he saw it work in Fairfield.
“This is way more than the honor roll,” he said.
Yes, grades will be recognized at the twice-a-year assembly. Attendance, too. But so will good character, and there is a special award for students who show the most improvement in their grade point average, even if it has not yet reached honor roll status.
“We want kids to understand there are things we (teachers and staff) recognize,” he said. “We need to let the kids know they are being noticed.”
But Wrede wants the students to do more than walk across the stage, or even get a certificate. He has been talking to area businesses about prizes, big and small, both to give out day to day, or at an assembly. It could be a gift card for a free burger, free gas or a Wii.
Yeah, a Wii.
“We want prizes that appeal to kids,” he said.
He also has more practical ways to get students out of the dean’s office, like getting them into a team. Football? Track? Band? Whatever works.
“The more involved you are (in activities) the better you are in academics,” he said.
And, the more parents are involved in their child’s education, the better, he said, so another tool to dealing with behavior problems is Pathways to Success.
“My goal is to make West Branch a school of choice,” he said. “People are gravitating here (because of) athletics. I want them to come for academics, too.”
A few months into the job, he said parents, students and teachers, despite differing personalities, all seem willing to work with him. Even when a student is in trouble.
“I’m human,” he said. “I’ll bet there are very few who are perfect. Are they bad students or is it just a bad decision? Let’s learn and move on. I believe everybody is good — they just need guidance.”
But he may also call parents if the student does something right, he said.
Wrede said he has gotten a lot of help learning the job, especially from high school secretaries Ruth Farmer and Pam Harnack, guidance counselor Amanda Hughes and Principal and fellow Columbus Junction graduate Michelle Lukavsky.
On the activities director side of his job, he has quickly learned the importance of mapping out events two or three years in advance.
“People don’t realize how much there is to do” as an A.D., he said.
Wrede jumped around a bit while pursuing a college degree. He started at Simpson College for a semester, worked for a short time at a hog slaughter operations, then attended University of Northern Iowa for a year. He played baseball for Northeast Missouri State for a semester, then finished up playing baseball at Iowa Wesleyan. After 4 1/2 years, he graduated in 1988.
He’s coached elementary, middle school and high school sports, from football to basketball to track and softball. He was the head football coach at Winfield-Mt. Union from 1999-2000 and twice beat the West Branch Bears.
“We both had good teams,” he said, referring to West Branch Head Coach Butch Pedersen.
Wrede is divorced, lives in North Liberty and has four children. Kylie, 22, is a track athlete and student at the University of Iowa. Brenna, 19, attends Southeastern Community College. Gabrielle, 17, is a senior at Burlington High School and a model who already has a job lined up with Abercrombie & Fitch. Brant, 15, is a sophomore at West Burlington. Wrede said the school district has been helpful in allowing him to attend his children’s events.