Erik Belcher loves the Fayette school district, and once told the Board of Education it would take something special to make him leave his job as superintendent.
That “something special” arrived this month, so Belcher will leave the beloved school district to take the helm Aug. 1 as superintendent of Napoleon Area City Schools in Henry County. He will replace Dr. Steven Fogo, who has announced his retirement.
The new position is an opportunity to grow professionally, but Belcher can’t help but feel bittersweet about the change.
“There’s so many wonderful people at Fayette. We’ve done so many great things here,” he said. “It took something awful special to put me where I am. Napoleon kind of hit those check marks.”
Belcher, 47, was one of 18 people to apply for the position in February. The Napoleon school board eventually narrowed the candidates to four, who met with both board members and a large community group during final interviews. Belcher was approved at the board’s March meeting, and will sign a three-year contract with the district at $112,000 annually.
He said the decision to move on was not easy. Steeped in the district, its students, and the community the past seven years, he would have retired from Fayette schools had the new opportunity not come along.
“I love Fayette. It’s an incredible place with incredible people,” he said. “The kids, the community, the staff, the board, my co-workers…I’ve been here for seven years and I’ve been a fighter for the place. Because I’m so emotionally attached, I’m invested in the district. It’s been very difficult.”
He said the Napoleon school district is offering him a chance for professional growth he can’t overlook. “In Napoleon, I’ll have an impact on over 2,000 kids. To me, that’s very humbling. I’m a small-town guy. Napoleon is a large small town. Professionally, it’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to be exhilarating. It’s going to keep me fresh.”
During his meeting with the school district’s community members Belcher was taken by their enthusiasm. “I’m all about the kids, and they’re passionate about the school and the community,” he said. “(Dr. Fogo is) leaving the district in great shape. There’s going to be a big learning curve for me going in.”
Belcher said he won’t enter the position with an agenda. Instead, he’ll make observations, get acquainted with people, and immerse himself in the community. “I’m diving in, but I also know that anything worth having or doing begins with relationships, and those take time,” he said.
The West Unity native was appointed both superintendent and elementary school principal when he joined Fayette schools in 2012. One year later, he transitioned to full-time superintendent. He said he’ll continue to work hard for the school district during his remaining months in areas such as legislation, unfunded mandates, and providing mental health care to students.
“We’ve just got to continue to fight for every kid and family in our community,” Belcher said. “We’re so reliant on the state budget. We have to share our voice on all the concerns the rural districts face in the state.”
The Fayette school board hopes to have a new superintendent in place before the current school year ends. Belcher said that person “needs to be an advocate for small schools.”
Fayette school board president Kirk Keiser said Belcher has been a valuable asset to the school district and the community. “Erik has done great things for us at Fayette, and I’m sure he’ll do great things at Napoleon,” he said.
Ty Otto, Napoleon school board president, said Belcher was chosen, in part, for his experience. “The things he was able to accomplish at Fayette were just very impressive,” he said. “We were very impressed with how active he is in the community, and look forward to that in Napoleon.”
Belcher said while he awaits the challenges of Napoleon schools, he finds it difficult to make the transition.
“I’m excited about it, but also sad on a daily basis,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.