The retirement announcement by Vandalia-Butler City Schools Superintendent Bradley Neavin caught many, including me, by surprise. Make no mistake – this is a serious blow to the Vandalia-Butler community.
That’s not a knock on who will likely be the next Superintendent, Rob O’Leary. O’Leary, who will likely be named the Assistant Superintendent at Tuesday’s Board meeting, is a solid choice to succeed Neavin.
However, there’s no question O’Leary has big shoes to fill.
Neavin came to the Vandalia-Butler City Schools (VBCSD) in one of its darkest hours. Multiple levy attempts had failed, teachers were laid off, and the community’s lack of confidence in the district’s leadership had crippled its ability to find a way forward.
Simply put, the school district, and this community, was divided and in crisis.
Enter Neavin who, before he was even hired, gave a breath of fresh air that was desperately needed.
During a community forum with the finalists for the Superintendent’s position, the candidates were asked if their phone number would be on the district’s web site – something that wasn’t the current practice and was an example of what many thought was then Superintendent Christy Donnelly’s “bunker mentality.”
Neavin won the room, and likely the job, with his answer.
“I don’t know why it wouldn’t be on the website,” said Neavin. “In fact, if you want my cell phone number, I’ll give you that.”
It was a decisive moment, one that was discernible in the room at that moment. I was there.
While it wasn’t easy, that attitude of openness won over the community. Neavin has been a champion for the district since his arrival. From countless coffees, individual meetings, and the Columbus Statehouse, Neavin has been a tireless advocate for the district, its staff and students, and this community.
“He (Neavin) came in at a time when morale was at a all time low,” said Vandalia-Butler Board of Education President Bob Cupp. “He single handily came in and turned things around and brought spirit back into the district. A good leader always wants to leave things better than when he took over. He has done that.”
There have been missteps along the way. The bus contract with First Student was a disaster – a decision Neavin regrets to this day. But he tackled it head on, owned the mistake, and did what was necessary to fix the error. Never once did he deflect the issue.
Neavin has made some great hires. Butler Principal Thomas Luebbe and Athletic Director Jordan Shumaker have injected an energy, and love for students, that I’ve not seen in my five years here.
Neavin’s retirement comes at a crucial time for the district. With the death of Board President Bruce Sucher last month, a new Board Member in Missy Pruszynski, along with three seats up for election, including Pruszynski’s, and the potential that Board Member Mary Kilsheimer may step down due to personal issues requiring time out of state, the Board of Education may have an entirely new look next year. How the dynamics of new board members and a new Superintendent play out will be interesting to say the least.
Neavin has made his mark on this community and its school district. While it is unfortunate that he is retiring now, the community should be grateful for a job well done.
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.