Local school systems see administrative changes

MARIETTA – The administrative deck has been shuffled significantly for schools in Washington and surrounding counties this year, with a number of familiar faces in new places.

Now, as the new school year gets under way, administrators say they see the changes as more opportunity than obstacle.

“It’s exciting because it’s new people, new successes and new challenges,” said Stephanie Starcher, who officially became superintendent of Fort Frye Local Schools on Aug. 1 after spending 12 years as a principal in the Warren Local school district.

Starcher was one of five Warren administrators to tender their resignations in May. Some district residents expressed concern about the timing, but school board President Sidney Brackenridge and new Superintendent Kyle Newton have pointed out that most of the moves were steps up the career ladder, something that speaks to the quality of work they did in the district.

“Every one of those people that left the district got a promotion,” Newton said.

Some might see Newton’s predecessor, Tom Gibbs, as an exception, since he took an associate superintendent job at Athens City Schools after eight years as superintendent at Warren and one year doing the job for both Warren and Fort Frye. But Gibbs has said previously the move will allow him to work closer to home and do more teaching at Ohio University.

Starcher was one of two Warren principals to make the jump to the superintendency; the other was Warren High School Principal Dan Leffingwell, who took the reins at Noble Local Schools. In both cases, the jobs were offered before the Warren superintendent’s position was officially open.

High school Assistant Principal Dave Hanning became principal at Athens High School, and Barlow-Vincent Assistant Principal Rebecca Johnson is the new principal at Caldwell Elementary School.

Newton came to Warren after three years as superintendent at Crooksville Exempted Village Schools in Perry County. He’s joined as a newcomer in the district by high school Principal Ben Cunningham and Assistant Principal Ryan Lemley and Barlow-Vincent Elementary Principal Robin Carter and Assistant Principal Shane Freshour. He noted other key administrators – director of instruction Angela Dunn, Little Hocking Elementary Principal Brent Taylor and Warren Elementary Principal Tricia Delaney – have only been in the district for a year. That leaves director of special education Andy Brooks as the longest-tenured member of the district leadership team with 29 years in the district.

“He’s kind of the rock,” Newton said.

But Newton came into a similar situation at Crooksville and said that while there will be growing pains, the new administrative team can be successful, in part because they’re all starting fresh together.

“These individuals have brought so much enthusiasm, so (many) fresh ideas, just a different perspective to things,” he said.

Newton said he was pleased when Cunningham told him recently he believed the new administrative team would accomplish great things.

“I’ve been on the job for two weeks,” Cunningham said. “I don’t know if those great things are going to be continuations of the good things they’ve already done here or … new things.”

The newcomers agreed their transition is being made easier by the teachers and staff members who have served in Warren for many years and helped build the district’s positive academic environment and reputation.

“The teachers have been awesome just with helping us to get acclimated to our new positions,” Carter said.

Johnson said she’s received a similar welcome as she moves from Barlow-Vincent to Caldwell Elementary in her first building principal job.

“I’ve had just a stream of people coming in and saying, ‘Hi, what can we do for you?'” she said. Johnson said longtime employees are helping her understand “the culture and the climate and the way things have run before. You don’t want to come in and shake everything up, because they’ve got some great systems set up here.”

Johnson is far from the only new administrator for Caldwell Exempted Village Schools. Superintendent Darren Cook joined the district in May after serving as director of the Swiss Hills Career Center in the Switzerland of Ohio Local school district. There is also a new high school principal and curriculum and special education coordinator.

“It is definitely interesting, and we all are learning … at the same time,” Johnson said.

In addition, Switzerland is searching for a new superintendent after Larry Elliott stepped down recently.

The Belpre City Schools district has also seen more than its usual share of turnover this summer.

Belpre Elementary Principal Bernie Boice became the district’s director of instruction with the retirement of Larry Lorentz. Boice was succeeded by Barlow-Vincent Elementary teacher Joy Edgell.

The district then had two other positions open up later in the summer as Cunningham, who had been assistant principal at Belpre High School and special education director, headed to Warren, and Treasurer Eva Elliott stepped down because she’d recently moved farther from the district.

“It’s an extraordinary year,” Belpre Superintendent Tony Dunn said.

Cunningham’s special education duties will be picked up by school psychologist Jason Haught, while the assistant principal job has been filled by David Mounts, who taught high school math for 12 years in the Mansfield area. Like Edgell, Mounts and Haught will be doing their new jobs for the first time.

“You can look at it as three rookies,” Dunn said. “But I will tell you that each of them has experiences that made them great fits for the positions.”

Veteran schools treasurer Janine Satterfield has been hired as Belpre’s interim treasurer.

Having so many employees move between local districts only strengthens the spirit of cooperation that exists in the area, Starcher said.

“I can’t say enough about the superintendents in Washington County,” she said. “They have just been phenomenally supportive any time I’ve asked for guidance.”

Starcher said she’s already collaborated with Newton on some matters and still keeps in touch with Leffingwell too.

Newton said he’s also been welcomed by administrators at other local school systems and believes all the districts can benefit from working together.

“Each of our districts have local experts, and we all have these wonderful teachers that are doing wonderful things,” he said.