High standards
01 Apr 2022 — Journal Gazette
Editorial Board

The Northwest Allen County Schools board accepted Superintendent Chris Himsel's retirement on Monday, allowing district leaders to begin searching for his replacement. Himsel's last day with NACS will be June 30; until then he will remain on medical leave, which began in early January.

In a letter to district employees, Himsel thanked them for the dedication and talent they bring with them to work each day and reminded staff what they had accomplished during his 12 years with NACS.

"We created a culture of service to and caring for others," Himsel began. He cited the district's Random Acts of Kindness clubs; the Champions Together program that models inclusivity; the Relay For Life cancer-awareness event it has hosted the past five years; and districtwide fundraisers for health and service organizations such as Erin's House for Grieving Children, Community Harvest Food Bank and Riley Hospital for Children.

"We created a culture of achievement," Himsel continued. He noted nearly 80% of NACS graduates earned college credit or a career credential in high school; the district's graduation rate has remained above 95% since 2011; and more than 50% of NACS students have earned honors diplomas since 2017. In 2010, when Himsel joined the district, just 28% of students graduated with an honors diploma.

Additional successes at NACS during Himsel's tenure include:

• Expanding summer school offerings and increasing options for students to earn high school credits while in middle school.

• Establishing before- and after-school tutoring.

• Starting full-day kindergarten.

• Implementing strategies to reduce student anxiety and encouraging them to persevere and overcome adverse childhood experiences.

• Balancing a general fund budget that, in 2010, had a debt of more than $6 million.

"These accomplishments, and many others, benefit each NACS child in some way," Himsel wrote. "Our accomplishments over the past 12 years reveal what can be achieved when nobody cares about who gets the credit while collectively focusing on meeting the needs of children. None of these accomplishments reflect the work of an individual, instead they exemplify the collaborative work of many."

Himsel also wrote a thank-you letter to the NACS board. He cited areas that will demand the board's attention in the near future: planning for enrollment growth, sustaining programs for children, retaining talented employees, and implementing succession plans for key positions held by people at or near retirement age.

The board's first priority will be finding a replacement for the 54-year-old Himsel. In a statement released after Monday's meeting, school board President Ron Felger wished Himsel and his family well.

"We're hopeful that as we return to life before COVID, our NACS community can also come back together and get beyond our differences," Felger said.

Monday was the one-year anniversary of the first NACS school board meeting in which dozens of unmasked people showed up and called on board members to remove the face-coverings mandate in district schools. Protests of COVID-19 protection measures often turned unruly and threatening. People publicly advocated for Himsel's firing, and the superintendent clashed with board members who sympathized with protesters. This was during a period when schools were under state mandate to require masks.

The ugly meetings and cardboard signs saying "Free NACS Fire Himsel" that sprouted across northwest Allen County undoubtedly caused emotional pain for the superintendent and his family. A January report by the American Association of School Administrators found 25% of school superintendents have retired in the past year, compared to the typical turnover rate of between 14% and 16%.

The NACS board mustn't allow the national need for quality superintendents to undermine its work in replacing Himsel, Indiana's 2017 Superintendent of the Year. A search must be launched to find a schools chief with Himsel's skill in anticipating both facility and student needs within a fast-growing school district.

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"High standards" Journal Gazette 01 Apr 2022: A4