Switzerland Supt. welcomes challenges with new job

Taking the reins at a school district dealing with deep budget cuts, disappointing state report card marks and an emergency levy vote a couple months away didn’t scare off John Hall.

“I think it’s a heck of a challenge,” said Hall, 53, who was hired last month as superintendent of the Switzerland of Ohio Local school district.

Hall, who previously served as superintendent of the Patrick Henry Local, Oregon City and Barberton City school districts, will take the place of Larry Elliott, who reached a separation agreement with the district in July with two years left on his contract. Hall started his three-year contract on Aug. 26.

“He was selected due to his experience and his leadership qualities,” district Treasurer Lance Erlwein said in an email. “It was clear in the interviews that he possesses the energy, drive and competitiveness to lead this district toward improvement at all levels. I am thrilled to be working with him, and his passion for the well-being of our students is contagious.”

Recently retired Noble Local Schools Superintendent Dan Doyle served as interim superintendent for Switzerland for about a month.

Hall, whose most recent job was as superintendent of the startup Rise and Shine Academy charter school in Toledo, said he plans to make his home in the district and has already found a temporary place to live.

“I have always lived in the (public) district I served,” he said, adding the same was true when he was a teacher, coach and principal.

Hall credits the competitive spirit that served him well as a coach with his willingness to take on the district’s challenges.

Following the rejection of a levy in May by about 200 votes, the board of education moved forward with the elimination of approximately 40 jobs, canceled plans to hire school resource officers and increased pay-to-participate fees for sports from $10 per student, per sport to $200 at the high school and $100 for junior high. There’s a five-year, $3 million-a-year emergency levy on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Passage of the levy would mean restoring lost academic programs; failure would mean additional cuts, Erlwein said.

“The community is ultimately going to decide what kind of educational system they will have,” Hall said. “As an outsider coming in, this levy is desperately needed.”

Hall’s annual salary will be $87,900 – $1,400 less than Elliott’s annual salary, said district Treasurer Lance Erlwein.

“The fact that he was willing to take less (than) the outgoing superintendent given the work we have ahead of us spoke volumes about his commitment to our cause,” Erlwein said in an email. “One of our biggest concerns when we embarked on our superintendent search was that our compensation levels are significantly less than those of our neighboring districts in all job classifications. Our salaries are at the bottom 5 percent in the entire state.”

Hall noted it isn’t just financial issues facing the district.

“More important than that you have the challenge of academics,” he said. “They failed their grade card, and we need to get better.”

Although an overall grade was not assigned to districts and buildings for this year’s state report card, the district met just 10 of 24 indicators on the performance index and received four Fs on the eight categories assigned letter grades this year.

Hall said he’s confident the district can improve and credited the students and staff with making it possible.

“We have good, polite students that are ready and eager to learn,” he said. “We have quality staff members that will be working with us to try to get this ship turned around.”

Hall said it will also take the support of the community, with which there has been some friction over changes in building plans following the passage of a bond issue and levy in 2009 and other issues.

“I think the community and the school district both need to heal,” he said.

One way he hopes to interact with the community is by moving board meetings from the central office in Woodsfield to the schools around the district, which is the largest, geographically, in the state. The next one is at 6 p.m. today at Beallsville High School.

Administrative team meetings will also go on the road, Hall said.

“We’re going to be … visiting classrooms and talking about best practices,” he said.”We’re not going to run the district from my office.”