Niblock remembered fondly by MCSD colleagues

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY Bea Niblock (right), who recently retired from the Marshalltown school board after eight years and previously served as principal at Anson Elementary, is pictured with fellow departing board member Mike Miller (left).

During her final meeting as a school board member on Nov. 15, Bea Niblock was understandably emotional in closing the book on a difficult but rewarding eight-year chapter in her story. The circumstances, however, still didn’t stop her from asking her trademark question — What have we done to improve education for the students of Marshalltown? — and sharing one final inspirational quote on the way out the door.

Niblock, who came to Marshalltown Community School District in 1996 as a building principal at Anson Elementary until her retirement in 2013, has spent most of her 49-year career thinking about how to make education better, and she became an indelible asset to a board faced with some of the most difficult decisions in the history of the MCSD.

After earning a degree at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Niblock took her first teaching post in Preston, not far from her eastern Iowa hometown of Maquoketa. She started in third grade but moved from there into launching a gifted education program shared between Preston and nearby Northeast of Goose Lake.

Quite surprisingly, considering how things ended, Niblock strongly considered changing careers and transitioning into the business world, which would allow her to contribute to education monetarily. She even obtained a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from St. Ambrose University in Davenport but decided to “hedge her bet” and also finish a school administrator certification at Western Illinois University.

A principal position at Chariton was her first taste of the administrative world, and the need to care for her ailing mother brought Niblock back to eastern Iowa, this time as elementary principal in West Liberty. It was this experience, she says, that prepared her for Marshalltown and provided her with her first exposure to serving the needs of a diverse student population.

Tim Holmgren, now the principal at Franklin Elementary School, remembers his first interview with Niblock when he applied for a teaching position with the MCSD. She later served as his mentor when he moved into administration in 2007.

“The moment I met with Bea, you could tell she took hiring seriously. She wanted the best she could get,” Holmgren said.

Ronnie Manis is another teacher Niblock hired, and he ultimately ended up succeeding her as the principal at Anson Elementary. As an educator who came from an almost entirely white school district in Tennessee, Manis praised Niblock for seeing the value in diversity at Marshalltown and sharing that perspective with others.

“It actually really helped prepare me to be a principal because where I’m from, diversity is looked at as a tough thing. They have a tougher time working with it,” Manis said. “Here, it’s not. I considered it a gift to have the diversity we have in school, and Bea was one of the people who really instilled that in me when I was a teacher and later on in our conversations as I was moving toward this job.”

Superintendent Theron Schutte reflected on Niblock’s continued commitment to the district and ability to lead the board through trying times. He then offered the highest praise of her abilities as a board member.

“The students, parents, staff and community of Marshalltown have been blessed to have her dedication and service all of these years. She always kept students first and viewed everything through an equity lens. She has developed a high standard of facilitating high quality board leadership and operations that we’ll strive to continue,” Schutte said. “There is no question that she is one of the best board members I’ve personally had the honor and pleasure of working with during my 17-year superintendent career, having served three different districts and communities.”

After 17 years at Anson, Niblock thought she was really ready to retire and walk away from education once and for all, but once again, something pulled her back into the fold. Friends suggested she run for the school board, and she did it. She won, and for most of her tenure, she served as the board president.

Familiarity with the technical jargon of education budgeting gave Niblock an advantage when she came on to the board, but she also became aware of several key differences between serving as an administrator and a board member.

“The difference that I found was that there’s far more oversight as a board member district wide than I had anticipated,” she said.

Ever the learner, Niblock decided during her first year on the board that she would have lunch with the teachers at each of the district’s buildings on a semi-regular basis — over the initial objections of former Superintendent Marvin Wade. She was the first board member to do it and continued the tradition until her last two years, when her own mobility issues and COVID made it impossible.

During Niblock’s tenure, MCSD staff members, administrators and fellow board members alike praised her willingness to listen and encourage discussion even when her personal feelings were already known.

“In my experience with her as a board member, she’s still the same person. She’s interested in what’s happening with kids,” Holmgren said. “She’s always good for asking a clarifying question or a question to dig deeper.”

Former board member Mike Miller, who also had his final meeting on Nov. 15, admitted he and Niblock were initially somewhat suspicious of each other. As the head of RACOM, he came from the business world, and she had been in education for all of her career. That wariness gradually thawed out and gave way to a wonderful working relationship and friendship.

“What I learned about Bea in that time is that she’s always thoughtful and measured. In terms of the history and knowledge of how the district had done things in the past, she was just the encyclopedia that everybody went to,” Miller said. “Bea gave herself the chance to see my point of view, and I grew to appreciate hers.”

However close she may have come to leaving education behind as a younger woman, Niblock is eternally grateful she stuck it out and continued on a journey that led her to Marshalltown.

“I was disillusioned during the early ’80s, during the farm crisis, with the decline in the numbers of public schools. That was essentially what prompted me to think I should leave education, but I did not,” she said. “I stayed the course.”

Another development she didn’t expect was retiring in Marshalltown: when she came in 1996, she assumed she would make at least one more move in her career. But the “big small town” atmosphere — with the experiences of a larger community and the values of a smaller one — led Niblock to get involved with various groups including United Way and Vision Marshalltown.

The last two years have been difficult at the MCSD for a multitude of reasons, but Niblock credits Schutte’s strong leadership and a board full of members who respect each other even when they disagree with steering a course toward a brighter horizon.

“There were a lot of chances for really polarizing or negative days, and Bea didn’t let that happen. She let people have their opinions,” Miller said.

For the first time since she started her career in 1972, Niblock walked out of her last meeting without a single obligation or task to complete. Manis would like to have her over to Anson and take her on a tour of some of the building improvements she advocated for, so one can only suspect she won’t completely leave education behind her — even this time.

“I have no responsibilities anymore, so the world is open in that regard,” she said.


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or



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