Perspectives: Incoming Fort Frye superintendent feels move is a good fit

BEVERLY – In a December interview with The Marietta Times, then-Barlow-Vincent Elementary School Principal Stephanie Starcher acknowledged becoming a superintendent was one of her career goals.

A little more than six months later she got the chance when the Fort Frye Local Board of Education unanimously voted to hire her on a three-year contract with a $92,000-a-year salary.

“I didn’t have a set plan as to when I would be superintendent,” she said this week in her office at Beverly-Center Elementary. “I believe everything happens for a reason, and I was meant to be here.”

Starcher came to Fort Frye after completing her fifth year as principal at Barlow-Vincent and her 12th year overall in the Warren Local district, having served three years as principal of Warren Elementary and four years at Bartlett and Cutler elementaries. Prior to that she taught in the Belpre City school district for four years and for one year with Athens City Schools.

Starcher succeeds Tom Gibbs, who recommended her for the job and served as both superintendent at Fort Frye and Warren last year. Her tenure with the latter district might have led some people to believe she would follow him there instead.

“I just felt like Fort Frye was in a position that matched my leadership skills, the board of education was eager to work with me, and I was ready to make the change from the principalship,” Starcher said.

She officially took over as superintendent on Aug. 1, but she was on the job before then to ensure a smooth transition. She ended up helping to hire a new curriculum director and special education coordinator, Micah Westerman, after Noreen Mullens left the district to become a superintendent in northern Ohio.

“He’s done an excellent job of making the transition,” Starcher said of Westerman. “He has the leadership skills to learn quickly and rally people quickly.”

The rest of the district’s administration team was in place, with veteran principals Susan Rauch at Fort Frye High School and Lee Petty at both Lowell and Salem-Liberty elementaries. Megan Miller is entering her second year as Beverly-Center principal, and longtime district employee Beth Brown is beginning her second year as assistant high school principal.

“That’s a good asset for us because they have institutional knowledge to guide me,” Starcher said. “They have relationships to students, staff, community members.”

The new superintendent has spent the last month meeting with employees and various community groups. She said that while Fort Frye is smaller geographically and in terms of enrollment than Warren, she sees a lot in common between the two.

“I feel that both districts have high expectations for their students, and they want to know the staff is working with the best intentions of the district at heart,” she said.

Starcher plans to be out and about in all four of the district’s schools regularly so she’ll have firsthand knowledge when the time comes to make long-term decisions about spending and programs.

“I think that you have to make it a point in your schedule to get into the buildings and be around the students and teachers,” she said.

Fort Frye Local Board of Education Vice President Charlie Schilling said he appreciates Starcher’s emphasis on curriculum and communication and how she’s been meeting with various booster and PTO groups in the district.

“I really like her energy. I like how she’s involved in a lot of different things throughout the school,” he said.