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Finken shakes off the rust, returns to education

Brady has interim superintendent

After a year away from education, Russ Finken is back in business as Brady’s interim superintendent.

In 2013, when Finken left his position as superintendent of Tri County schools in DeWitt, he wasn’t sure if he would return to his area of expertise.

“I though well this is it for now, because there really weren’t any other jobs that appealed to me nor were there too many jobs out there last year at this time” said Finken. “So I thought well this could be it.”

The 40-year veteran of the school system took a job with Rural/Metro Ambulance, which provides non-emergency rides to appointments or therapy for those unable to drive themselves.

When the Nebraska Association of School Boards called about the open position in Brady, Finken was in San Antonio, TX, watching Nebraska and Creighton play in the NCAA Tournament. Once he returned home, he traveled to Brady and interviewed with the school board.

In the following days, Finken was offered and accepted the position. He officially started July 1.

Even with all of his experience, the Iowa native is still facing a steep learning curve.

“Still, every school does things a little differently,” Finken said. So it’s been a challenge, but the good news is I’ve had a lot of great help.”

With no glaring budget or overcrowding issues facing the district, Finken’s first priority is ensuring a building addition will be complete by the start of school.

The addition consists of an updated science lab and space for a preschool when the time comes to add one.

Finken was pleased to learn that the district retained all its teachers from a year ago.

“I think anytime you have continuity in your staff, it’s going to benefit the kids,” Finken said. “Keeping qualified staff in your community, for rural places, that’s a big one.”

Although he got his start as an elementary teacher in Omaha, most of Finken’s experience came as an administrator in smaller districts.

Besides his time at Tri County, Finken spent much of his career in Glenwood, IA, where his wife, Sybil, still teaches and maintains the family’s permanent home.

Working four hours away from home has been trying, according to Finken, as has the year-long absence from education. To combat the challenges, the longtime educator is driven by the interim label.

“It is motivating. I think it keeps you fresh,” Finken said. “For me, that’s a personal opinion. You come into a new situation. It stimulates you from my perspective. You meet new people. You learn new ways of doing things sometimes.”

For example, Finken is figuring out a new way to handle his computing. Having used a PC for most of his career, the transition to Brady’s Apple computers has added to the learning curve.

Finken believes that embracing new technology is vital to providing a quality education as well.

“When you go back to what challenges you have in lots of small schools—or any school—it’s keeping up with technology. As we all know, it changes so rapidly,” he said.

The father of four also feels that providing current technology to students is paramount in preparing them for college, the workforce or military service.

Finken was encouraged to see that Brady high school students are already equipped with tablets.

But the influx of technology in the classroom is far from the only change Finken has witnessed in his four decades of work in education. He also sees schools providing more for students.

Serving breakfast to some students, increased standardized testing and implementing social programs are things that weren’t around when he started in education. His approach has remained constant.

“You always have to keep the student first and I think even 40 years ago we tried to do that,” Finken said.

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