Ryan Saunders says small-town life is in his DNA.
He grew up on a farm near the western Nebraska town of Chappell.
When he started looking into the open school superintendent job in Springfield Platteview Community Schools, he liked what he found.
“The echoes of Chappell were alive and well suddenly,” he said.
Saunders, 44, will leave his job as a principal in the Millard Public Schools to become the Springfield Platteview superintendent on July 1.
He said the challenge for Springfield Platteview will be maintaining the small-town feel and sense of community while managing the housing and business growth that’s revving up in the largely rural district in Sarpy County.
School board members announced last week their selection of Saunders to replace Superintendent Brett Richards, who is taking a position in the Papillion La Vista Community Schools.
Starting July 1, Richards will take over as associate superintendent for business services in Papillion La Vista.
The current holder of that job, Doug Lewis, is retiring.
Details of Saunders’ contract are not yet available.
Saunders, principal of Black Elk Elementary School, was among four candidates interviewed for the position.
He has spent the past 19 years in Millard Public Schools.
A former kindergarten teacher, he has taught fourth grade and worked on curriculum and in administration.
Saunders said he appreciates the opportunities that Millard gave him.
“It’s been a joy, and saying goodbye to Millard, as an employee, will be difficult,” he said.
Enrollment-wise, his new district is small, with around 1,150 students. But by area, it’s large, encompassing 90 square miles at the southern edge of the Omaha metro area.
The district includes the community of Springfield and many Sanitary and Improvement Districts, acreages and farmland.
Though rural, the district has been forward-thinking, one of the earliest districts in the state to adopt a one-to-one computer policy.
Saunders said he was drawn to the job opportunity as he learned more about the school district and community.
His hometown of Chappell is located west of Lake McConaughy and Ogallala in the Nebraska Panhandle.
“As a kid, you don’t realize how special it is to be in a community like that,” he said. “As an adult, you begin to realize what a gift it was to be surrounded by a community that cares and takes care of their people and takes care of their kids. That’s something that was clear as I learned more about Springfield ... all of that kind of came back to me, and I want to be a part of that.”
Because he’s from western Nebraska, he said, ranch land and farmland “are pretty to me as much as a mountain or an ocean.”
“I own a pair of cowboy boots that have actually seen cows,” he said. “So I feel really good about that.”
While much of the district is rural, parts are rapidly growing with homes and businesses, particularly the industrial strip on Nebraska Highway 50.
Saunders said such growth is exciting, because with it comes possibilities — and challenges.
“How do we stay ahead of that growth, and how do we maintain what makes Springfield Platteview such a great community right now? How do we stay connected to those small-town, small-community values that are so important in that community?”
Saunders said he hopes to explore partnerships with Google, Amazon and Facebook.
“I know those partnerships have already started, but the sky’s the limit on what kind of relationship that we could have for students in that district with those types of businesses and companies just down the road,” he said.
His wife, Abby, is a mental health practitioner in the health-care field.
The couple have a daughter, 16, and son, 15.
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