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New kid on the block

At the start of the 2012 school year former Fairland Superintendent Jerry McConnell came out of retirement to accept a two year contract as the new Chesapeake school superintendent.

Superintendent McConnell now face of district

CHESAPEAKE — Jerry McConnell just moved into his new office two weeks ago and it looks it.

So far the only personal touch at the day-job headquarters for the latest superintendent of Chesapeake schools is a photograph of his new granddaughter taken during a summer vacation at the beach.

Spending more time with his first grandchild and his daughter and son-in-law was one of the reasons McConnell retired from the superintendent’s spot at the Fairland district about a year ago.

That was a job he had held for 25 years. In fact, all of McConnell’s career in education had been spent wearing school-color green ties and yelling out, “Go Dragons” at appropriate times.

But that all changed on Aug. 28, when the Chesapeake Board of Education picked McConnell as the one to lead the district following the sudden resignation of Dr. Scott Howard this summer. He got the call at 8 p.m that night that the job was his.

“I thought I better get my suit out, I’m going to work tomorrow,” McConnell said. “At 8 a.m. the next morning I was here in the office introducing myself to the employees.”

Originally his daughter and her family lived in Dayton, but after they moved back home and the Chesapeake job opened up, McConnell decided the time was right to retire from retirement.

“I was very interested in the position and thought it would be a challenge,” he said “I also know I was trained and had the experience to handle the position.”

But experience aside the man whose face everybody knew in the upper eastern end of the county was basically an unknown commodity a little more downriver. So McConnell remedied that the old-fashioned way

“I’ve been in every building every day since I was hired,” he said. “If we are all in this together and are working as a group for a common goal, they have to have the ability to see you as a team player.”

One of McConnell’s biggest supporters for the new job is school board president Carl Lilly, who met McConnell about 15 years ago when Lilly first served on the Chesapeake board.

“I thought he was a good fit for our school system,” Lilly said. “No 1, he has 25 years of experience. Any superintendent who stays that long must be doing something right. No. 2 he has a great personality and demeanor. He manages by the Teddy Roosevelt style of speak softly and carry a big stick. He is not afraid to make decisions, but is not confrontational.”

McConnell started his career as an elementary teacher at Fairland East after he made a slight career detour. Originally, his game plan was to become a coach and social studies teacher, but a college counselor cautioned that the job market for that combination was slim.

“He told me that the elementary education field was open and open to males,” McConnell said. “I changed my major.”

His first classroom had 34 students in an aging building with no air conditioning, but he calls that time exciting.

“I really enjoyed the idea that there was information they would later need and didn’t know,” he said. “And I had the ability to provide that to them.”

Six years later in 1979 he was named principal of the school. During that time he worked toward his master’s degree in educational administration with the idea of moving up to a leadership role at Fairland.

“I thought it was a possible career move for me,” he said.

By 1986 he was named superintendent.

Working in the administrative trenches, first as superintendent at Symmes Valley and then at Dawson-Bryant, was when Dr. James Payne saw the McConnell style of management. Payne is now the superintendent of the Lawrence Educational Services Center.

“He is the consummate professional,” Payne said. “He is very hands-on in the buildings, talking to the staff. He works through the administrative team concept where everybody is involved. And his results are very evident with Fairland’s academic record.”

From school years 2010-2011 to 2007-2008, Fairland received an excellent rating for the district from the Ohio Department of Education for three of the four years. In 2011, the district met 23 of 26 indicators; 2009, 25 of 26 indicators and 2007, 29 of 30 indicators. In 2008 the district was rated effective with 24 of 30 indicators met.

Team-building is at the core of McConnell’s administrative philosophy because he views educational leadership as fostering the collaboration between teachers and parents.

“I see the role of superintendent as bringing everyone together working for a goal,” he said. “I don’t see myself as a boss unless forced into that position. You treat people the way you want to be treated. My opinion is if you treat people with respect even when they are not doing things as required eventually you will get to that common goal.”

While the end product of a school district is an educated student, which is a hard-to-quantify commodity, running a district is still a business.

“It is a multi-million dollar business with over 100 employees,” he said. “You are being scrutinized and evaluated by the taxpayers who are expecting a good product. For 25 years plus, there has always been underfunding for school districts. I can’t explain it as to the why of the state legislature. The district has had cuts in every area for three years now. We operate without sufficient personnel. There are areas that need to be updated like textbooks and technology. It is no fault to anyone here.”

Taking the Chesapeake job meant a pay cut for McConnell, whose last annual salary at Fairland was $106,000, approximately the same figure the last superintendent made after two years on the job.

The Chesapeake board offered McConnell a two-year contract at $85,000 plus benefits. McConnell is also eligible to collect pension for his years at Fairland.

“I am so appreciative of the board’s confidence that they will have me and the staff members and how they have accepted me,” he said. “My goal is that every student achieves to the greatest of his ability. I am totally student success-oriented.”