Quiet Advocate

Published 11:38 pm Saturday, November 15, 2008

When asked what the Lawrence County Educational Service Center does for Lawrence County, Superintendent Harold Shafer’s answer was simple.

“It’s what the name says. It’s a service center for schools,” he said.

The office used to be known as the county school board. The name changed in 1995. But the mission remains the same: to aid education by providing supervision, support and specialization to the county’s seven public districts.

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County school boards were established by the Ohio legislature in 1914.

“Originally when this was done, there were a lot of little districts, very small, and the county superintendent was to make sure all of the things that needed to be done were done correctly,” Shafer said. “All of the (financial) reporting is done through the county (office) and then to the state.”

Shafer has been superintendent of the Lawrence County Educational Service Center since 1993 and serves under a five-man board and shepherds a staff of about 30 people.

Board President Roland Hayes said board members work well together and have a good working relationship with Shafer as well.

The ESC handles certification for bus drivers and assists with teacher certification issues. Although each district has its own committee, the county superintendent must still sign off on the paperwork.

All financial reporting from local districts is handled by the county office and then forwarded to the state department of education.


While some duties are outlined by law, county boards have acquired other new duties over the years. The ESC provides services that may be cost-prohibitive to individual districts.

For instance, the county office offers psychology services for special education and the talented and gifted programs in the local districts.

“A lot of times we can do it more cheaply than individual districts because we do it for the whole county and not just one district,” Shafer said.

The county office sponsors annual spelling bees, science fair, quiz bowls and other academic challenges. It also handles fingerprinting and background checks not only to educators but to area health care professionals.

One area in which the ESC has become a leader is curriculum.

“We have people who deal with this every day. They train teachers. They go to meetings teachers can’t attend, get the training and then come back and bring this to the teachers,” Shafer said.

Hayes agreed.

“We’ve worked hard to get the right books and help teachers. You know, if everyone pulls in the same direction and you’ve got a purpose, things will get done,” Hayes said. “And when we hire supervisors we make sure they are well-trained.”

The alternative school at Andis is operated by the ESC. The idea is to provide a place where children who have had disciplinary problems can get prompt attention and correction and be sent back to their home district with a new understanding of what is expected of them.

“Usually one time out there and that’s it,” Hayes said. “We don’t have too many who keep coming back. Aaron Lewis teaches them right from wrong and what they should do and what they shouldn’t do,” Hayes said. “And he has two people out there who work with them.”

Unlike other counties where a student stays at the alternative school for a year or more, Shafer said the focus at the Andis facility is rehabilitation and on returning the students to his or her home district.

The ESC also operates the county’s Virtual Learning Academy that allows at-risk students a chance to complete their education at home but under educational supervision.

The ESC coordinates a health insurance consortium for employees at all local school districts and has since 2003.

“We do that to try and save money,” Shafer said. “You can get insurance for 3,000 people quicker and easier than if you were trying to get it for 50.”

Shafer said one thing he can look back on with pride is the way districts have pulled together, creating a spirit of unity among themselves in an effort to improve education on their own turf as well as throughout the county. There are monthly meetings for superintendents.

“We’re friends, we help each other. In other places, it’s not that way. You go into other counties and the superintendents and the districts don’t get along very well. They fight over issues. We don’t do that. The camaraderie is remarkable,” Shafer said.

Hayes said he hates to see Shafer retire.

“I don’t think he can be replaced,” Hayes said of Shafer.

He believes Dr. James Payne, who will become superintendent next year, will be an asset. Payne was unavailable for comment.

“We will still have the same goals and still work together and Dr. Payne will fit right in,” Hayes said. “ He is highly intelligent and I feel fortunate to have him.”