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New Des Moines superintendent has a history in public and charter schools

Dr. Ian Roberts was chosen to be the next superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, the first person of color to fill that role.
courtesy Des Moines Public Schools
Dr. Ian Roberts was chosen to be the next superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, the first person of color to fill that role.

Iowa’s largest school district has chosen its next superintendent.

Ian Roberts will take over the top job at Des Moines Public Schools. The 52-year-old educator comes from the Millcreek Township School District in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he has been superintendent for nearly three years.

Roberts is also the former superintendent of middle and high schools in St. Louis and was a principal in Baltimore. He has experience as an executive in charter school organizations in multiple states.

The Des Moines school board approved Roberts’ appointment Tuesday after a closed search.

Roberts told reporters his focus will be on the district’s goals to improve outcomes for students.

“I am a champion for teachers. I am committed to coaching and developing leaders,” Roberts said. “But allow me to reiterate more importantly every single child who knocks on our doors, families rest assured, they will receive a quality education that changes their trajectory for success.”

Roberts is the first Black superintendent to lead the district and its nearly 31,000 students. Around two-thirds of the student body is made up of students of color. He is also a former track and field Olympian who competed in the 2000 summer games in Sydney, Australia.

School board chair Teree Caldwell-Johnson said Roberts stood out from other candidates for his work on school improvement and equity in education.

“He is a proven champion for creating equitable opportunities for all students to thrive and is dedicated to ensuring that focus is a central part of his focus here in Des Moines,” Caldwell-Johnson said.

Roberts inherits a district experiencing financial challenges. DMPS cut $12 million from next year’s budget to account for declining enrollment and costs growing faster than state funding. By next fall a new charter school will open in the city and a statewide program providing state funding for families to attend private schools will also go into effect.

Roberts starts on July 1, taking over for interim superintendent Matt Smith, who will return to his prior position as an associate superintendent.

Editor's note: Des Moines Public Schools is an IPR underwriter.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa