As a high school principal at 24 and a school superintendent at 32, Pettisville Local Schools Superintendent Steve Switzer knew education was the right career for him.
“I think education is a fantastic profession. I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to play a part in the lives of so many young people,” he said.
But that opportunity will end July 31, when Switzer retires after 38 years with the Pettisville school district. He leaves behind a legacy that includes overseeing the construction of both a school facility and a wind turbine to power it.
“I just feel that it is time. I am 70 and there are other things I would like to do,” he said.
Switzer is departing during arguably the school district’s most uncertain time. The novel coronavirus pandemic shut down the school buildings March 13, leaving administrators and teachers scrambling during a a week-long spring break to implement an online curriculum to finish out the academic year. Instruction resumed March 25, a feat Switzer attributes to the determination and caring of the schools’ personnel.
“Our administrators, faculty, and staff did a fantastic job of adapting to teaching remotely and meeting student needs,” he said. He added that during his entire career he never experienced a challenge like COVID-19 presented.
“Nothing really close,” Switzer said. “One thought is that it will change education forever. I am not sure just how much. Our students are very resilient and they can adapt to change probably much better than the rest of us. Teachers are also creative and find new ways to teach their subject matter and get points across.”
Switzer modestly declined to name his accomplishments as Pettisville’s superintendent, saying, “My greatest honor was to serve with so many outstanding and dedicated professionals, fantastic students, and a supportive community.”
However, he oversaw the construction of a 97,000 square foot school complex that opened in 2011. He also helped lead the construction of an on-site wind turbine that has provided the facility power since 2013.
His most notable disappointment during his tenure was the placement of the school district’s special needs students in classrooms constructed by area schools in another school district specifically to give those students a permanent home.
“They were an excellent addition to our student community and were benefited by being at Pettisville because they really belonged and were a part of things,” Switzer said. “It was an excellent place but I felt that – being as small as we were – we offered a sense of community that might not be present in a larger school. I was disappointed in myself for not coming through for them.”
A Melrose, Ohio, native and 1971 graduate of the University of Findlay, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English/Education. Further studies earned him a Master’s degree in Education in Guidance and Counseling and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Educational Administration, both from Bowling Green State University.
His prior positions included principal at Holgate High School in Henry County, English and psychology teacher for Arlington Local Schools, and adjunct associate professor at B.G.S.U.
Switzer said, like many teachers, he pursued a career in education due to a connection with children. He has taught English and Sunday school, worked as a school counselor, coached basketball and baseball, and attempted to create different opportunities for junior high students, his favorite age group. He began a noontime basketball program for them while at the Paulding, Ohio, school district, and became the first basketball coach for junior high girls in Holgate’s school district.
“As I moved into administration, I hope I was able to empower others to provide that kind of service to students of all ages,” he said.
And as for changes in the educational field during his career, Switzer decries the ability of citizens or companies to earn revenue from public education through charter and online schools and the political contributions that support them.
“(They have) created a strong, well-financed effort to discredit our outstanding system of public education,” he said. “We educate every student and do it well. Public schools are the backbone of our democracy and deserve the credit and respect that they are due.”
Students through the years, however, haven’t changed, he said.
“Pettisville students were hard working, diligent, caring, and honest in 1982, when I came to this community, and in 2020 they are hardworking, diligent, caring, and honest,” he said. “While I am partial to Pettisville students – I think they are the absolute best – I think we are blessed throughout northwest Ohio with youth who represent their communities well.”
With his son, Andrew, teaching English and social studies and coaching the quiz team at Pettisville schools, Switzer is ready to pass the educational torch and relax in his retirement. He and his wife of 43 years, Laura, hope to travel once coronavirus restrictions are eased, including more trips to Chicago to visit their five-year-old twin grandchildren.
“If all else fails, we live in a woods with a lot of outside work always waiting,” Switzer said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.