The Vandalia-Butler Community came out in force to thank retiring Vandalia-Butler City Schools Superintendent Bradley Neavin on Tuesday. It was a fitting tribute to a man who left an unmistakable mark on this community in just four short years.
I came to Vandalia in April 2012, and the first story I covered was the layoff of several teachers and staff during an emotional Board of Education meeting. I’ve never forgotten that meeting where hundreds packed the Butler cafeteria in support of their teachers. Many tears were shed and much anger was expressed.
A year later, in April of 2013, 46 more staff were let go and the school district was, in my view, at its deepest point of crisis – a financial crisis, but also a crisis of confidence, both in itself and the community’s lack of confidence in its leadership.
Enter Neavin who, figuratively, was the district’s knight riding in on a white horse.
Neavin started having coffees, both in public forums but also in people’s homes. He took on the district’s critics, was honest about mistakes that had been made, and was blunt about the future. There was no one he wouldn’t talk to and slowly, ever so slowly, he started to win people over.
The community’s growing confidence in Neavin – and make no mistake, it was all Neavin in those late days of 2013 – were reflected at the ballot box. Voters finally approved a much needed levy on its fourth try, reversing a loss in November, 2012 by 10 percentage points to a win a year later by a razor thin margin of just 80 votes.
Since then, he and Treasurer Eric Beavers and the team they assembled have slimmed operations, found savings in health care, and lowered Pay to Participate fees twice.
More than that, Neavin has tapped into the pride that the people in Vandalia and Butler Township have, and want to have, for their school district. Neavin ends every speech and every email with “We are Aviators!” and has been intentional about restoring that pride.
One needs to look no further than Butler High School, especially over the past year, to see it and hear it.
Neavin has spent 32 years in education as a teacher, band director, principal, and Superintendent. The last four years in the Vandalia-Butler Schools have been truly remarkable given the starting point of 2013 to now. Neavin has energized and given new meaning to Aviator Pride.
The community should be grateful for a job well done.
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.