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Geneseo's O'Dell works with 'the world's most important resource'
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
Geneseo High School assistant principal Nate O'Dell pauses while working crowd control at a home sophomore football game last fall.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
Geneseo High School assistant principal Nate O'Dell visits with a teacher while working crowd control at a home sophomore football game last Friday evening.
GENESEO – Nathan O'Dell's job is all about people.

As dean of students last school year and assistant principal this year at Geneseo High School, Mr. O'Dell said he has the privilege of teaching, coaching, mentoring, learning and interacting with nearly 900 students, more than 70 staff, coaches, parents and other community members.

"My job is truly people," he said. "When you are working with the world's most important resource -- our children -- everyone is concerned about the end result."

"Every job I have had in my professional career has been a 'dream job,' and this one is no different," he said.

Mr. O'Dell was born in 1979, the son of Rita and Shaun O'Dell, Geneseo. After graduating from Geneseo High School (formerly J.D. Darnall High School) in 1997, he earned an associate's degree in secondary education from Black Hawk College, Moline.

He graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in history and political science education in 2001. From 2001 to 2005 he received an All Social Studies teaching endorsement from the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa. He earned a master's degree in administration from the University of Northern Iowa in 2008.

Even though he had not always considered working in administration, Mr. O'Dell said friends and colleagues had encouraged him to obtain his master's degree.

"That would help me become a better teacher, and give me the options of teaching, becoming a school administrator, college instructor or administrator or work at a district level," he said.

He and his wife, Lindsey, lived in North Liberty, Iowa, from 2002 to 2010. He taught world history, economics and U.S. and Iowa government, coached boys' basketball and girls' tennis and sponsored FCA, Young Republicans and Young Democrats at Cedar Rapids John F. Kennedy High School.

"I began testing the waters for an administration position in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area, or the Quad-Cities," said Mr. O'Dell. "When the position opened up for Geneseo High School dean of students, I was honored to get an interview but realistic that there would be lots of incredible candidates and it would be difficult."

"When I was called for a second interview with Superintendent Scott Kuffel, I started to get the feeling we would be moving 'home.' GHS Principal Mike Haugse offered me the position two days later."

Summer of 2010 brought many changes for the O'Dell couple.

"My wife was eight months' pregnant, we sold our house in North Liberty after only three days on the market, bought a home in Geneseo, moved, started working at the high school in late July and became a father on Aug. 10. I began working with staff at GHS on Aug. 15, with students on Aug. 16."

As he transitioned from dean of students to assistant principal, Mr. O'Dell's role changed from student services, guidance, attendance and director of discipline to a leader of instruction, building operations, technology in the classroom, community involvement, activities and more.

"In Geneseo, the support for schools is phenomenal across the board, from kindergarten through graduation. Students really want to be successful, parents work side-by-side to support the schools as we teach and help students learn every day, and the community expects and supports success in academics, athletics, activities and personal character."

"Tradition is important to Geneseo schools and to the community, but being progressive and out in front of what skills are needed for our students has been the focal point of success," he said.

Hearing the personal stories of pain, tragedy, sorrow and grief from students and parents is the most difficult and challenging part of his role as assistant principal, he said.

"There are plenty of people in Geneseo, let alone in this country and in the world, who are hurting. Homelessness, job loss, divorce, death and illness all come through my door, and although we reach out, and as a team do everything we can to counsel and help rebuild lives, the pain stays. Educators share that pain. It is what we do."

The most enjoyable part of his career, he said, are the people.

"People are intelligent, skilled with their hands, artistic, musical, and talented in athletics and so much more. I get to live my life and do my job with those talents and skills portrayed at their highest quality."

"This job is a constant learning curve. Our district administrative team is always moving forward, by reading new books/literature, attending trainings, bringing in professionals for guidance and direction, and reading up on state and national educational change and breaking down laws or mandates to communicate with all stakeholders. I have found that educational administration is demanding in every way, but the reward of true success has countless possibilities in every life that walks through our doors."

Mr. O'Dell, whose wife gave birth to the couple's second child in January, said his goal is to stay in Geneseo as an assistant principal "for the next few years. I have a lot to learn professionally and personally, and I have the very best direct mentors anyone could ask for. I am 32 years old, so I am fortunate to have a long career ahead in the very best field imaginable."

His "ultimate" goal is to be a building principal at the elementary, middle or high school level.

"My faith, or God's plans, will determine if that is just a dream, or a near reality," he said.





Living the dream

Who: Nathan O'Dell, assistant principal at Geneseo High School

Quote: "When you are working with the world's most important resource -- our children -- everyone is concerned about the end result."


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