Category Archives: Opinion

Simply Put – May 25, 2016

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  You Can’t Go Home Again is the title of a novel written by Thomas Wolfe. Published in 1940, nearly two years after his death, the book tells the story of a writer who returns home after the successful publication of a book he has written about his friends and the place where he grew up. Upon returning home, he is shocked by the negative reaction he receives from friends and family, who viewed his book as an unfair and distorted description of their lives and the community.
The book serves as a vivid illustration that just as we are changed by events that mold and shape us, so too are the places we call home. The phrase “You can’t go home again” has come to symbolize that, as much as we may want, we cannot relive a life of the past.
Thirty years ago, Neil Mullen made a return to his home town. And the students he has served since in the Union Community School District are better because of it. A 1976 La Porte City High School graduate, Neil attended Wartburg College after graduation. After earning his degree, he then taught Business Education and Physical Education for five years at the North Mahaska School District.
In 1986, he returned home to La Porte City. And for the next 30 years, he proceeded to do a little bit of everything in the world of K-12 education, starting as a Physical Education teacher at La Porte City Elementary School. In 1989, when the communities of La Porte City and Dysart were in the early stages of merging, Neil was hired to succeed George Kelley as Principal of Union High School. He was 31 years old at the time.
Six years later, he subsequently made the transition to Principal at Dysart-Geneseo Elementary School when Joe Coffey retired. In 2005, when the Union Community School Board was looking for a Superintendent, they didn’t have to look far to find someone imminently qualified.
During Neil’s eleven year tenure as Superintendent, the Union Community School District has continued to evolve with the times. The move to more secure school facilities in a post 9/11 world, state-of-art improvements to the athletic and fine arts facilities at Union High School and the successful transition to tuition-free preschool for the district’s four year olds are just a few of the significant changes that have taken place under his leadership.
For someone who wasn’t supposed to go home again, Neil Mullen has spent the last 30 years serving his home town in a variety of roles- teacher, principal and superintendent. Having had the pleasure of working with him for three of those years, it is easy to see why he has been described as an “exceptional education leader.” At meetings, Neil listened carefully, and his words, when spoken, were usually brief and always on point. When it came to debating difficult issues, Neil’s was the voice of common sense that cut through superfluous details to the heart of the matter. And his sense of humor could add a moment of levity at just the right time.
Such was the case several years ago at a home football game on a Friday night. Prior to the start of the varsity game, with many of the elementary and middle school youngsters we were being asked to “supervise” engaged in a variety of activities that could gently be described as horseplay, I was impressed with how calm Neil semed to be, given the amount of activity around us. As I sidled up to him along the fence that surrounded the football field, eager to learn his thoughts on how to bring order to chaos, he shared his inspiration. It came, I was surprised to discover, in the form of lyrics. Quietly, he began to sing, only needing the first line of Carl Douglass’ 1974 hit to make his point: “Everybody was kung fu fighting…”
On July 1, Neil Mullen will pass the torch to his successor, current Union High School Principal, Travis Fleshner, an outstanding educator in his own right. The two have worked closely since Mr. Fleshner arrived at the high school in 2005. While there will no doubt be challenges ahead, patrons of the Union Community School District have every reason to expect their children will continue to be afforded an opportunity to receive an excellent education.
But before the 2015-16 school year comes to a close, there are just a few words that need to be said to the retiring superintendent:
“Thanks for coming home, Neil.”

Practical Money Matters – May 18, 2016

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Practical Money Matters – May 11, 2016

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Simply Put – May 11, 2016

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Practical Money Matters – May 4, 2016

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