At the age of 10, when most young boys want to be a firefighter, professional athlete, or a race car driver, Nicholas Lenhardt dreamed of being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). “It never left me and I have been drawn to finance ever since,” he says. His clarity around his career’s direction has not wavered over the years, nor has his clarity around the purpose of his work. “Being able to do finance in an organization where I can see the direct impact is extremely rewarding,” he says.
Lenhardt’s approach to his career is deeply connected to his “why.” He began his professional career working in public accounting at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He then served in leadership roles at the American Red Cross and Marsh and McLennan, a global professional services firm. However, Lenhardt was always drawn to public education. “I embrace the concept of lifelong learning,” he says, and had a deep desire to work for an organization where he could see tangible impact on a regular basis.
“Public education has been under attack for a number of years and I was drawn to the prospect of being a part of a team that could help transform the experience,” Lenhardt says. “By transforming, we create opportunities for students and the next generation, which was very enlightening to me.”
Lenhardt has served as controller at Des Moines Independent Community School District in Iowa for the past six years. The largest provider of public education in the state of Iowa, the district serves over 33,000 students in 38 elementary schools, 11 middle schools, 5 high schools, and 10 special schools and programs.
“Diversity is a strength of ours and we are a minority majority district, which creates many wonderful opportunities for our students each day,” Lenhardt says. Demographically, students are 39.2% Caucasian, 26.1% Hispanic, 19.4% African American, 8% Asian, and 6.5% multi-racial. In addition, 20.7% of the students are in the English Language Learning program; 14.5% are in special education; and 73.1% are in the free and reduced-price lunch program.
At Des Moines Independent Community School District, Lenhardt has focused on updating systems and processes and working to ensure the most effective changes are implemented. His team has made many systematic improvements throughout the district to ensure team members focus more time on educating students and less time on back office processes.
“A prime example of this is that we implemented a continuous improvement (LEAN) methodology throughout the district a few years ago,” Lenhardt says. “My team jumped on board right away and has really risen to the challenge to always ask ourselves, ‘Is this the best process that gives us the best outcome for students?’ Along the way we have saved district resources in both time and money that can be reallocated to the classroom.”
Lenhardt credits ASBO International as serving as a connection point to what is happening in the field of education. “Not just from a local level, but a national and global level. It is also not just a financial focus, which is huge in helping us realize the mission of public education.”
Lenhardt’s advice to emerging SBOs is to get involved in ASBO, get involved in the community, and show up as an engaged problem solver. “Don’t become complacent and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there—be vulnerable and take some risks” he says. “We are all on the same journey but there is so much we can learn from each other every day. We are stronger when we learn from each other, and that creates better outcomes for all students.”