Joel Pedersen

OTTUMWA — Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen has been named Iowa Superintendent of the Year by the School Administrators of Iowa.

“I’m just happy for my school district, I’m happy for my kiddos and my community. I think that we’ve done a lot of good things, and I just want people to be proud of the school district they attend,” Pedersen said. “It’s nice to get those awards, but you wouldn’t be able to get those awards without all the people involved.

Every year, SAI selects one from about 250 superintendents across the state to receive the award. Each of the nine Iowa area education agencies put forward one nominee, who is then vetted by a committee headed by the year’s previous winner.

Pedersen, who has been superintendent of Cardinal for the last 10 years, was nominated to represent the Great Prairie AEA.

In order to be considered, a superintendent must have shown “outstanding contributions” to their district. This includes areas such as leadership, district curriculum and the superintendent’s relationship with their students, community and staff.

Each candidate was required to write an essay on how to improve the superintendency. Pedersen wrote his about improving communication and relationships between educators and legislators. The three top picks were then brought before the committee and subjected to an interview.

“What made him stand out amongst all his peers was obviously the work he’s done there at Cardinal,” said Roark Horn, executive director of SAI. “What strikes me personally is his ability to build a community and a culture that’s really focused on students and student learning, and what’s in the best interest of students and teachers.”

“They said Cardinal has a story that needs to be told,” Pedersen said. “I think that’s pretty awesome.”

As part of the award, Pedersen will head up the committee that selects next year’s recipient. It also qualifies him for consideration by the School Superintendent’s Association for the national award. That winner will be announced in February.

Going forward, Pedersen wants to keep doing what Cardinal does best.

“We have a lot of things in place. A lot of good people, and a lot of building capacity,” he said. “We’re ready to take the next leap. We’re going to continue doing relationship work and continue reaching new highs of student achievement.”

Jack Langland can be reached at


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