By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Dr. John Sweet’s career didn’t start in school administration, but he’s glad it’s ending there.
“Nobody aspires to be a superintendent. It just happens,” said Sweet, who will be retiring as Delano Public School District’s superintendent the end of June.
Sweet’s first job title after growing up in South Dakota was “infantryman,” while serving in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.
He was also a student, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology, and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling.
In 1971, Sweet became the k-12 guidance counselor at West Central School District in South Dakota. Little did he know that five years later, his career would swerve in a new direction.
“One August morning, the high school principal called me and said he wanted to take another job, but wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving unless I took his place,” Sweet recalled.
Although he had “no inclination to be a principal at that time,” Sweet saw the need and accepted the offer.
“I was called to the profession that August morning,” he said.
A year later, Sweet moved up to superintendent, and spent the next 11 years leading the district.
“Once I became superintendent, there was nothing I wanted to do different,” he said.
During that time, he also earned a doctorate in educational administration.
“I decided that if I were going to be a superintendent, I wanted to know as much about it as I could,” he said.
In 1988, Sweet entered Douglas School District in South Dakota, helping to build a new middle school and upgrade existing buildings.
Four years later, he moved to Madison Central School District, stating that although he loved his time at Douglas, his mission had been accomplished.
The school district in Madison relied heavily on Sweet’s knowledge of capital projects, as they replaced three elementary buildings.
“That project took 11 years,” Sweet said, adding that the day they broke ground April 7, 2005 was also the day he was offered his current position in Delano.
A lasting influence
Although he’ll soon be leaving, Sweet’s work will continue to impact the district.
Energy-saving measures he instituted, for example, contribute to lower utility costs and better air quality within the buildings.
Sweet also implemented paperless board meetings, resulting in more efficient and transparent agendas.
Efficiency and transparency are a key focus for Sweet, whether it’s promoting a performance pay system for teachers, expanding the use of Delano Cable Channel 12, or implementing wireless networks in all school buildings.
He’ll also be remembered for starting a Veterans Day program at Delano Public Schools, which has been well-received by students and the community.
In all he does, Sweet strives to maintain cost-effective, high-quality education.
“This district is low-spending,” he said. “Our cost is $8,200 per student, which is almost $2,000 under the state average.”
Sweet said that although it will be tough to retire, he is confident in his replacement (current high school principal Matt Schoen) and other leaders at the school.
“I don’t know if you could have a better district,” he said. “We’ve had an excellent school board the whole time I’ve been here.”
According to Sweet, a superintendent needs to be committed to the school district, staff, community, and students.
“They are the face of the school district to the community,” he said.
Even though he’s leaving the school, Sweet plans to continue his community involvement through the Delano American Legion Post 377, Light of Christ Lutheran Church, Delano Lions Club, and the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce.
“I like the people here,” he said. “Delano has been very good.”