EATON — The Eaton Community Schools Board of Education sought the community’s input on the selection of the district’s next superintendent. On Wednesday, May 16, the community had the opportunity to interview the three finalists for the position. Those finalists were Jeff Parker, Harold Niehaus, and Gregg Goewert.
After the interview, those in attendance were asked to provide their written feedback to the board. While the community was interviewing a candidate, the board was also interviewing candidates in Executive Session. They hope to have a decision by the June board of education meeting, to be held on Monday, June 11 at 6 p.m. at Hollingworth-East Elementary.
All candidates were asked the same questions. Each had an opportunity to talk to those in attendance at the end of his interview.
Niehaus has been a member of the Eaton community for the past 13 or 14 years. He has been in Preble County for the past 30 years. Not only is he currently a teacher through MVCTC and Eaton Middle School for Project Lead the Way, but he is also a parent of a graduating Eaton student. He applied for the job because he plans to live in Eaton for the rest of his life and he saw that he could make a difference.
Goewert is a native to St. Henry, Ohio, but currently works in Switzerland County in Indiana. He was a teacher for eight years before moving on to administration, where he has worked as an assistant principal, athletic director, and now a principal. If he was hired for the superintendent’s job with Eaton Community Schools, it would be his first superintendent position. He has been a principal for 10 years and in education for 25 years.
He noted, he wants to work and move to Eaton, becoming a part of the community.
Parker is currently the superintendent for the National Trail Local School District. He has been working at NT for the past seven years, but has lived in Preble County since 1998. Like Niehaus, he is a parent of an Eaton graduating senior. Prior to the superintendent’s position at National Trail, he worked at Earlham College, at Fairbanks High School, was an assistant principal and principal with Eaton Community Schools, and was a principal at Tri-County North.
The following five questions were asked of the candidates, but they each had the opportunity to answer more than 10 questions. What follows is a sampling of their questions and answers.
How transparent are you willing to be about decisions you make that involve our children?
Niehaus answered, “I’m a transparent guy. Obviously, you elected the board of education. That is your first means of having an influence on the operations of the district. Myself, I am a firm believer in surveys, just to get a temperature of the district and to understand what everybody’s minds are thinking. When I say that, that is not just the general community, but also staff and students.”
Goewert said, “I will be very transparent. I believe that is something people will tell you about me. I believe it is important to work with the board to have various means of communication. Whether that is tweets or newsletters. I think communication is very important. To run an idea by me, I will be open to emails or calls into the office. At the same time, if you are calling just to complain that your kid did not make the basketball team, I will be honest with you and I believe that there is a chain of command to follow. I want to know about any issue, but you should first reach out to the teacher or coach you are having an issue with.”
“I encourage you to talk to people at Eaton, Tri-County North, or National Trail. They will tell you that I have been very transparent about my decisions. There are some things that happen at a small level, but on a larger level I will be visible with my decisions. One of the first things I want to do if I were to get this job is to look for office space in each of the buildings. I won’t be there all the time, but I want to be visible and approachable,” Parker answered.
How do you propose supporting the fine arts, music, theater, and art education in our schools in a community that traditionally supports sports?
“Interesting enough, while I was here the last couple of years, one of our teachers decided she needed to take a break from doing the fall play and musical. My daughter had been in those and I told her I could direct the play. Sure enough, nobody else stepped up to do that and she asked if I could. I’m an Agriculture teacher and was never in theater myself, but I decided to do it and I have directed the fall play the last two years,” Niehaus answered.
Goewert said, “Hopefully, this is not a community that is all about football or basketball. Doing my research, I do not believe it is. I did grow up in a town that was all about football for a long time and I was a baseball player. I think it is important to schedule your time around all the different events. I don’t believe extracurriculars are just about show choir, band, or football, but also about the county fair and community events.”
Parker answered, “We have to continue to support those students who are in the arts. I will add this, I was raised by a single mom and she did a great job raising us, but we did not have to be well-rounded. I was not in band and not a very good artist. I made a decision that I would give my child the opportunity to be well-rounded. I told him in fifth grade he was going to be in band or take guitar lessons.”
If you are the successful candidate, what would be your three priorities for this district?
“Having been in the middle school and talking to kids, the three things that come to light are, one, students don’t really understand how to calculate their own GPA. I think that, by time you’re in middle school, you need to understand what that means,” Niehaus said. “I think it is imperative that we train our kids earlier how to navigate the school education system so they don’t drop out.
“Second is, as I look at students and the quality of work, I am a little disappointed. Spelling and handwriting is atrocious and unacceptable. We have to get back to some of the basics in that area. I really want kids who can present themselves well. The third thing would be, when kids graduate I want every one of them to have their next step calculated. I want every kid who walks across that stage to have their next step in mind.”
Goewert answered, “You have to truly know and own your kids. My three priorities would be the strategic plan, safety, and the third thing is graduation rate and data that we can raise.”
Parker said, “One thing that is a priority is you have to maintain the school funding piece. That is down the road, but everything you want to do, you have to do within that funding piece. Obviously, the topic that has been out there a while is school safety. What are we going to do? What is it that the community wants? I’m in the midst of it at National Trail right now. Ultimately, it is the board of education’s decision.
“We have sought the community’s input to inform the board so they can make that decision. We did an interactive survey and we did let people talk. Where are we? I know it is a hot topic, but we have to figure out what is it that Eaton Community Schools should do that makes us the safest. Another thing, Eaton Community Schools has 125 Open Enrollment students going to other schools and only 25 coming to Eaton Community Schools from other districts. That is money that the school is losing. There is a variety of reasons that children choose open enrollment. One of the things I would want to do is reach out to those families and find out the reasons they’ve chosen open enrollment. A lot are probably not in our control, but what if we find a common thread that we do have control over and we can start bringing those kids back? Number one that is going to help us with ourselves and number two it is going to help us financially.”
What would be your ideas for school safety and how important are the thoughts and ideas of the public to you in your final ideas in the matter?
Niehaus answered, “We are in this together. We all want this district to be safe at all times. We want this community to be safe. With everything we’ve seen, this is a concern we have to address and I am all ears for how to do that. I hope we never have to deal with a situation like that, but the reality is that we might one day. We have to prepare the best we can for that. Building a network of people who are willing to listen, share, and talk to each other is the only concern we can be prepared for an emergency situation.”
“Some people in the community are perhaps safety experts. I think everybody has different inputs and ideas for school safety. Honestly, it only takes a few minutes to speak to the community about this. You can always learn from people,” Goewert said. “I would schedule community meetings to talk about how we will attack safety as a whole and then follow up with that communication publicly. If you would have told me 25 years ago that I may now be expected to, quote, have access to a weapon or carry one and in all likelihood the student is an active shooter and I might have to take them down, that would have blown my mind. It blows my mind, but I will do whatever I have to do to keep my kids safe.”
Parker said, “Is there anything more important than school safety? We have had these discussions at National Trail. I think you have to listen to your staff, kids, and community every day. We have solicited that feedback in the last several months. I will tell you this, it is very important to not have knee jerk reactions, but we have been researching this issue for years. The incident at Parkland happened and that was the catalyst for a lot of people.
“We talked to all the staff and sent out the surveys. We got that feedback and input. About a third of our staff in one form or another was in favor of a Armed Staff Response. There is no magic answer. Our board of education has made the decision that we will take steps towards forming an Armed Staff Response. I was very clear with the board and our staff that it was the board’s decision.”
What ways have you successfully engaged the community?
“I believe in talking to parents and kids to engage them. I also previously mentioned the lunch-and-learn programs and surveys I utilized. Obviously, sports are really popular, but we have to realize people put a lot of time into organizations and activities that are not sports related. I think we need to garner support for all these kids. I have reached out to [The Register-Herald] to make sure those kids are recognized for their achievements,” Niehaus said. “Kids need and want that recognition. So I will reach out in every way I can think of to get that for them.”
Goewert answered, “I started out my first year with a parent advisory group. I had secretaries with 20 people to call. We were able to have 45 different parents at that first meeting. That whole first year we ran around that same rate of attendance. After that first year, when they realize you’re a good person who uses common sense, my numbers of attendance dropped way off.
“In year four, I changed to something I called STEM nights for kids planning to go into the workforce to hear from different employers and careers. Each one told a story about how they got the job they had and important skills. Things like, how to read a tape measure. We put curriculum in place to advance manufacturing classes so kids could learn these skills. It has been good, because 35 percent of our kids go straight into the workforce.”
“We had the very first town hall meeting in Preble County, other than the opioid meeting,” Parker said. “For the past three years we have held a community outreach day. In a partnership between several community organizations and the Driven Foundation, we bring Ohio State Football players into the school to talk to the students and community. What the whole idea is, is to reach out to all facets of our community. The alumni read to our kids and interact with them, finishing the day with a basketball game for all students. Then, we do a barbecue with the community at night. All the proceeds go to the food banks in our school district, Preble County Developmental Disabilities, the Driven Foundation, and our school district. What is more important than the money, is the interaction with the kids.”
Other interview topics covered included visions for the district, lessons learned from failure, communication, gifted programming, leadership style, funding priorities, balancing tax funding, and how long they plan on staying in the position.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH