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Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart to resign this spring

Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart has announced he is resigning at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
Natalie Krebs
Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart has announced he is resigning at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

The superintendent of Iowa’s largest school district says he is stepping down at the end of this school year.

Des Moines Public School District Superintendent Thomas Ahart said he will be resigning his position effective June 30.

His departure comes a year earlier than anticipated.

Last spring, the Des Moines School board voted not to extend his contract past June 2023.

At a press conference on Monday, Ahart said he did not feel like he was forced out of his role.

"Des Moines Public Schools is in a really good place right now considering especially the record low funding that we've had over the last decade," he said. "And so I feel it's a good time for me to take a step away to reevaluate where I want to go with my career and turn the reins over to new leadership."

Ahart's been superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools since 2013. He was appointed to the position after serving as interim superintendent for nearly a year, following the abrupt resignation of former superintendent Nancy Sebring in May 2012.

Prior to that, he was an associate superintendent and principal of Harding Middle School.

Most recently, Ahart led the district of 31,000 students through the COVID-19 pandemic.

At times, he clashed with state leadership on school mask mandates and the state's requirement to offer an in-person learning option as coronavirus infections surged in Polk County.

Des Moines Public Schools started the 2020-2021 school year fully remote, despite a new state law that required schools to offer in-person classes five days a week an as option.

Last May, an Iowa administrative law judge ruled that Ahart violated his ethical duty by denying kids the in-person option.

Ahart's lawyer argued that he was carrying out the school board's orders, according to the Des Moines Register.

The ruling came days after the school board voted not to extend his contract.

"I guess I can say that the last two years, didn't feel like two years. You know, it felt more like, you know, four or five years. I think you ask any educator that they'll tell you," Ahart said.

Dawna Bradley, the chair of the Des Moines School Board, praised Ahart for managing "through some of the district's most challenging times."

"During his 15 years with the district, Dr. Ahart has never shied away from the challenges and opportunities that come with leading Iowa's largest school district," she said. "He has met every challenge while seeking out new opportunities for our students and families. And for this, I simply want to say thank you."

The school board will appoint an interim superintendent for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year in next few weeks, and will conduct a nationwide search for Ahart’s replacement.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter