Noreen Bush, superintendent of the Cedar Rapids Community School District, died on Sunday. She was 51 years old. Bush was on medical leave and had submitted her resignation to the CRCSD Board of Directors last month, as her health declined due to the cancer she was first diagnosed with two and a half years ago.
“Noreen led the Cedar Rapids Community School District with compassion for every learner and strength in making important decisions,” David Tominsky, president of the board of directors, said on behalf of his colleagues. “She was admirably known for her leadership and hard work, along with her caring smile and laughter that flowed to all who were blessed to know her.”
Bush made history in 2020 as the first woman appointed superintendent of the CRCSD. Her time in office saw many challenges, from the implementation of a new facilities master plan to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and overseeing the district’s recovery from the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho.
“She was an incredible leader during very difficult times,” Kennedy High School posted on its Facebook page following the announcement of Bush’s death.
Noreen Bush grew up in Cedar Rapids, attending CRCSD schools, and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1989. She attended the University of Northern Iowa, and after graduation started her teaching career in Clayton, Missouri.
“Anyone who knows me, knows I serve with a full heart first, and am really passionate about serving children,” Bush said in an August interview for Northwestern College’s podcast “Transforming Education: Leadership Lessons.”
“I was a high school English, Speech and Theater teacher,” she told host Gary Richardason. “I would say my path pretty much navigated through relationships, relationships, relationships. Kids taught me so much. I never thought I’d go into administration . It was kind of taps on the shoulder, and how can I serve kids to a larger degree?”
Even though she’d never expected to go into administration, Bush served as a principal at each level of school – elementary, junior high and high school.
Bush joined CRCSD in 2017 after serving as director of secondary education and innovation in the College Community School District (which includes all schools “Prairie” in Linn, Johnson and Benton counties). She was CRCSD deputy superintendent in 2019, when then-superintendent Brad Buck left to take a job in the Waukee Community School District and she was named interim superintendent.
In February 2020, the district’s board of directors unanimously voted to appoint Bush superintendent.
“Noreen is a visionary, a collaborator, an authentic and dynamic bridge-builder, acts with integrity and fairness, and is deeply invested in the success of all our students,” then- board president Nancy Humbles said at the time. “She is precisely what our students and staff, our district, and our community need in the next Superintendent.”
In addition to being the first woman to be CRCSD superintendent, Bush was also the first superintendent hired from within the district.
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It was after Bush began her tenure as superintendent that she was first diagnosed with cancer. In September, Bush went on medical leave. Later that month, she submitted her resignation to the board of directors, but agreed to stay on until the end of the school year. The district launched a nationwide search for a replacement.
Bush received a Women in School Leadership Award from the American Association of School Administrators in 2021. She was also named 2021-22 Iowa Superintendent of the Year by the School Administrators of Iowa.
In her interview with Richardson, Bush discussed her approach to education during her 29-year-long career.
“Despite all the stress around us, politics, judgment, lack of funding, we have to lean in and look towards our kids, and build a system of hope for them that no matter what, we’re still going to help them flourish, learn and feel loved.”
In his statement on Bush, Tominsky said, “We will miss her caring soul, delightful spirit, and strong dedication to the Cedar Rapids Community School District.”