New Valley High School Principal David Maxwell: ‘I’m a servant leader’ for students, staff, and families
Whenever David Maxwell has the opportunity to talk about Valley High School, he proudly grins before the conversation begins. You feel his enthusiasm. You sense his commitment.
Maybe it’s due to the thought of the diverse students and families he represents. Or because of the day-to-day interactions he has with staff and community members.
He’s humbled. He’s thankful. And, beginning July 1, Maxwell is prepared to lead Valley as its next principal.
“I’ve often made the analogy that I feel like a captain of the ship: The ship’s in the harbor, and you see this huge open sea in front of you,” Maxwell explained. “You’re about to depart, and you know that some days you’re going to have smooth seas and tailwinds and other days you’re going to have 20-foot gales and huge waves in front of you.
“But it’s going to be an adventure. It’s going to be a voyage.”
Maxwell, who replaces retiring Valley principal Tim Miller, has served as the school’s associate principal since 2005. Before arriving to Valley, Maxwell was the dean of students for three years at Hoover High School in Des Moines.
Maxwell and Miller first worked together in the 1990s at Lincoln High School in Des Moines, where Maxwell was a language arts teacher. Miller was a special education teacher at the time, but later became Lincoln’s athletic director. He also was its head varsity coach for baseball and football.
“I was always impressed, even as a young teacher with David, as to how well he connected with students,” Miller said. “His passion for learning and teaching were very evident, but he was so good at transferring that passion and that love of education to his students. His students always loved being with him and I see that today at Valley High School—that connection he makes with our students.”
When the two found themselves together at West Des Moines Community Schools, their personal and professional bond flourished. Miller was Stilwell Junior High’s principal when Maxwell came to Valley.
“I’ve always considered Tim a mentor as an administrator,” Maxwell said “With his time at Silwell as building principal, I often times called to just get some words of wisdom. And when he joined the administrative team at Valley, I’ve learned so much under his leadership.”
What advice does the outgoing Valley leader have for the incoming?
“I want David to make sure that he thinks about things before he does them, which he will. But I also want him to listen to his heart,” Miller said. “That’s David’s strength: The feelings that he has for Valley High School and the West Des Moines community.”
Maxwell recently has taken a lead role at enhancing Valley’s culture and equity within the school. In 2017, he was recognized as Co-Citizen of the Year by the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce for his efforts around inclusion.
Additionally, Maxwell was named the Mary McLeod Bethune Educator of the Year in 2011.
Maxwell feels that Valley “is making nice strides” in terms of offering a welcoming environment for all students, but says an inclusive school culture needs to always exist. He noted how there are signs at each of the building’s main entrances highlighting the value of students’ voices.
“We want students to know: ‘We need you here. We’re glad you’re here. We hear you. We see you. We acknowledge you,’” Maxwell explained. “Valley is a diverse school. It just takes a moment to stand in the hallways during passing period to witness that—to see the diversity right in front of our eyes.
“We want to make sure that all students feel that this is their school.”
Superintendent Lisa Remy, Ed.D., said Maxwell takes pride in the relationships he has created and sustained with students, families, staff, and community members during his 13 years at Valley. That characteristic is what really made him stand out during the interview process.
“He already has a lot of relationships and he knows a lot about Valley,” Remy said, “but he can focus on the vision and align where we want to go as a district and the work that needs to be done at Valley.”
During his free time, Maxwell enjoys being with his wife and three children. He also plays bass guitar in the band “Faculty Lounge.”
He simply tries to find and capture those moments “where you can relax and not have to think about all of the different pressures going on.”
Yet in his new role, even during the transition period ever since he was recommended to become Valley’s next principal, he’s felt more of that pressure.
But he understands why it’s there and how to combat it.
“I think my 13 years at Valley has created a lot of positive relationships with the staff, with students, and with families,” Maxwell said. “I know the system. I know Valley. I know our district. And I think that piece of it is such a huge hurdle to overcome.”
One thing will remain unchanged, however: “I’m a servant leader,” Maxwell said.
“I’m not here for me. I’m here for the kids and the families, because this is their education,” he explained. “This is the single-most important piece of what’s going to determine their future.
“I want to make sure that they have as much as possible a positive educational experience at Valley High School.”