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Yellow Springs Schools Treasurer Joy Kitzmiller, on the job for 10 years in the local school system, announced at the Dec. 10 school board meeting that she will be leaving her position. However, she will continue as interim treasurer until the end of this school year. At the same meeting, the board accepted the resignation of Yellow Springs High School Principal John Gudgel, a 30-year veteran of the district as a teacher, counselor and, for the last 15 years, high school principal. Gudgel, who will stay in his position until the end of this school year, said he plans to remain involved with local schools in some fashion.

Gudgel to retire; Kitzmiller resigns

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In a large den-like room tucked behind the high school office and next to the gym, complete with the sounds of squeaking gym shoes and game shouts, a key Yellow Springs schools administrator with 30 years on the job has decided to retire. Across town, in another large office — this one painted a deep blue and flooded with natural light — another administrator choked up at the sight of an empty cardboard box used for moving.

Completing the Yellow Springs school district’s administrative sweep, YSHS Principal John Gudgel is retiring at the end of this school year after three decades as an educator, guidance counselor, coach and principal in the district. In addition, Treasurer/Chief Financial Officer Joy Kitzmiller has resigned her post in order to manage the financial affairs of her home district, Cedar Cliff, starting next school year.

The board is also seeking replacements for former Superintendent Norm Glismann and former Mills Lawn Principal Christine Hatton.

At the Dec. 10 school board meeting, Gudgel’s resignation to retirement, effective July 31, 2010, was accepted by board members who warmly thanked him for his many years of service to the district. But Gudgel was quick to note he won’t be riding off into the sunset any time soon. While he takes time to reflect and focus on family, he will be weighing his options to continue working with Yellow Springs youth, he said.

Also at the board meeting, after a 15-second hesitation during which board members seemed to hope the motion to accept the resignation would just go away, Kitzmiller’s resignation was also approved, effective Dec. 31. Later in executive session, Kitzmiller was appointed interim treasurer for the duration of the 2009–2010 school year. A board discussion on the hiring process to fill the vacancies will be in next week’s News.

Retiring, with options

When Gudgel leaves at the end of the year, the loss to Yellow Springs schools will be huge, according to Interim Superintendent Tony Armocida in an interview this week.

“The school is not just losing a principal, but losing an institution,” he said. “I’m happy for John’s sake, but sad for the teachers and students who won’t experience his caring and dedication.”

Since it’s hard to say goodbye to something that has been a part of your whole life, chances are good that John Gudgel will continue to be involved with local youth in some capacity, he said at the board meeting.

“This isn’t the end of my involvement in education. I am weighing my options,” he said. “In some capacity I would like to stay connected to the Yellow Springs school system.”

After graduating from the Yellow Springs schools, Gudgel began teaching in the district as a substitute teacher in 1979. When a social studies position opened up, he moved into the role — which he kept for 10 years. After working through a masters degree in guidance counseling at the University of Dayton, he became a full-time guidance counselor in the upper grades. Four to five years later, he was content in this role.

“It was not my intent to become principal,” Gudgel said. “I was perfectly happy being a guidance counselor.”

Because of his deep familiarity with the district, Gudgel was asked to serve as interim principal in 1994–1995, when the then-principal resigned just before the start of the school year. Gudgel held this interim position for the year. Then, in what he described as a “baptism under fire,” he found himself returning to school for an administrative certificate in order to allow him to fulfill the position permanently. Thus began his 15-year tenure as principal of McKinney and Yellow Springs High School. In total, Gudgel has nearly 50 years of involvement in the Yellow Springs schools — with 30 of those as an educator or administrator.

For Gudgel, the high school principal position requires 12- to 14-hour days on a regular basis, and the ability and willingness to chat about school business on Saturday downtown. People’s concerns are valid, he said, and it is important to spend time to hear them when they are able and willing to share, he said. But work weeks that sometimes stretch from Monday to Saturday until 10 p.m. each night have taken their toll, and Gudgel said it was time for him to take a good look at himself to reflect and reassess his priorities.

Gudgel’s history with the community has given him a true advantage as an administrator, he said. As a life-long Yellow Springs resident, he knows the families he interacts with, and the sense of family history he has with many students allows him to be a more effective mentor. Youth want independence, Gudgel said, but they often want more interaction with adult family and mentors than many would think.

“Kids want to know not only that you care, but that you respect them, and that you listen to them,” he said. “In terms of being successful (with youth), that is more than half of the battle.”

According to Gudgel, retirement is not a decision that he comes by easily. While he wants to keep his options open, he would really like to get back to what his intention was as an educator — to teach.

“I guess I am saying goodbye to this position,” he said. “I’m not riding off into the sunset.”

The rest is history

Like Gudgel, Kitzmiller was happily employed in another position before being recruited into an administrative role in the district. She was an assistant treasurer for Xenia schools, and didn’t have any intention of applying for the Yellow Springs district’s job listing. But the district leaders were not finding the person they were looking for. Then Superintendent Tony Armocida lured Kitzmiller into an informal meeting.

“We just hit it off, and the rest is history,” she said.

When Kitzmiller came on-board with the district, she was one of the youngest treasurers in the state. The teachers had picketed the year prior during difficult labor negotiations, and the district was often on the ballot for what seemed like constant property tax hikes needed by the district to maintain operations. As a young treasurer, Kitzmiller said she made many mistakes, but always had the support of a talented board and the mentorship of Armocida to guide her.

Kitzmiller, who already had a child, had a baby nine months after taking the job with the district. But in “typical Yellow Springs” style, her colleagues encouraged her to take twelve weeks off and installed a computer at her house in order to make it easier for her to do her work. They told her family came first, and this set the tone for the duration of her stay at the district, she said.

“These are my friends here,” she said. “That’s going to be the hardest.”

As treasurer, chief financial officer, and business manager combined, her daily duties are always something different. While some work is routine, she sees the core of her work as being responsive to the needs of the district’s educators. Whether it is a staff member coming into her office because they need to purchase classroom materials, or a principal seeking funds to implement a new program, Kitzmiller said she considers her true job as a support role that supports teachers and administrators in getting what they need to educate to the best of their ability.

“I am not a watch dog,” she said. “When they come to me, I figure out a way. If I need to shuffle money from here to there to figure it out, then that is what I do. That’s what we’re about, educating kids.”

And Interim Superintendent Tony Armocida can vouch for her ability to run a lean budget. Once in the recent past, consultants who comb school budgets looking for savings (for which they get a steep consultant fee) were brought into the district. After their visit, all Armocida got was a letter that stated their firm could not do business with the district, because there were no savings to be had.

Kitzmiller’s thoughts on the future of the Yellow Springs district are positive, because the district has strong educators and a lot of community support. Still, she acknowledges that the budget is going to have to undergo some revisions on the program end.

“There is simply nowhere else to cut from,” she said.

Gudgel, too, has thoughts on the present and future of the district. The fact that this district is so small means it is really good at being a caring school system, he said, because no student is just a number. This district is also good at developing critical thinkers who can articulate and discuss issues. In these ways, Gudgel said, the schools reflect the community.

The challenges faced by the district, according to Gudgel and Kitzmiller, are increasing amounts of unfunded mandates from the state, which place a heavy burden on small districts that have less funding to operate with. In addition, Gudgel noted that an increasing reliance on high-stakes test scores that are questionable in terms of their ability to gauge learning and intelligence, presents another concern.

But when asked about his greatest success as an administrator, Gudgel replied that graduating each year’s senior class is the highlight of his experience, and is “a capstone event for the community.” Community turnout at school and youth events is a source of pride for the district that proves to him — and to the youth themselves — that they matter.

At school events with a large community draw, Gudgel said the last community member coming will have to remember to turn the Yellow Springs lights out. And that is a cost saving measure Kitzmiller can approve of.

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