Two years ago, Emily Schaeffer didn’t know that she’d be a school superintendent when the 2022-23 school year started. Andy Stover, on the other hand, had just become one.

Schaeffer, 38, is starting her second year leading the Nettle Creek School Corporation from Hagerstown. Stover, 35, is starting his third year leading Western Wayne School Corporation from his office in Pershing. While both have backgrounds in teaching and coaching, their paths to school leadership differed.

Both superintendents attended Winchester Community High School, although they didn’t really know each other there. Both attended college to become professional educators. But while Schaeffer hadn’t thought of herself as a school corporation’s top administrator, Stover decided early on that he wanted to be the leader.

Andy Stover

“When I started teaching, I realized that as a teacher, you only impact 25 to 30 kids in your class. I wanted to make a bigger difference,” Stover said. “I’ve been coaching since I was 19 years old. Being a coach puts you in a position to lead. I’m now in a position to make decisions that affect 700 kids.”

Stover taught high school at Daleville for five years before taking an elementary principalship at Union City, where he served two years. He then became that school corporation’s testing coordinator and safety coordinator before becoming the director of STEM integration and grant management.

“It’s a long title for assistant superintendent,” Stover said. “But in two years, we generated about $4 million in grants.”

He came to Western Wayne as superintendent in August 2021.

Emily Schaeffer

Schaeffer came to the superintendency more gradually. She had been teaching since 2009 at Randolph Central schools, where she grew up, and living in the Hagerstown area. In 2015, friends at Hagerstown Jr.-Sr. High School (then-Principal Mark Childs and teacher Chris Oliger) encouraged her to apply for the job she took, teaching physical education there.

“I would tell you,” she said last month, “the job of superintendent was not on my radar.” At the time, her older son was a year away from starting kindergarten and she saw a chance to have the same school schedule as him.

When the assistant principal’s job opened at HJSHS, she got it. After two years, she became director of curriculum for Nettle Creek, a position she held for another two years.

Dr. Kyle Barrentine, who preceded her as superintendent, worked to establish a succession plan for leadership in the Nettle Creek schools.

“In my first winter as director of learning, Dr. Barrentine, in my winter evaluation, encouraged me to go back and get my [superintendent’s certification]. I thought he was crazy to suggest it. I never really wanted that job.”

Barrentine resigned late in the 2021-22 school year to become superintendent at Shenandoah School Corporation in Henry County. Schaeffer had completed the Education Specialist degree (Ed.S) coursework for the job, but still needed to serve an internship.

“The internship is usually 300 hours in the administration office, learning the duties of a school leader,” Schaeffer said. Nettle Creek hired her on an emergency license. With Barrentine serving as her internship supervisor, she completed the internship last June.

Both superintendents agree that the job is difficult but rewarding. Each is pleased with what their district has accomplished.

When Schaeffer served as director of learning in 2020, she established a Curriculum Summit. Annually, all Nettle Creek teachers are invited to spend up to four days just after the end of school honing what they teach. Objective 1 in the district’s 2025 Strategic Plan is “To develop and maintain a guaranteed and viable curriculum at each grade level and each subject area.” Objective 2 is for every teacher to be highly effective.

The summit now is led by Elizabeth Bryant, who took Schaeffer’s place as director of learning.

“We have focused on our instruction, what are we teaching and when, and what are we delivering,” Schaeffer said. “It’s helping us make the most out of our instructional time and focus on what students need to know and be able to do as a result of our instruction.”

To that objective, faculty at both the high school and Hagerstown Elementary are provided with three professional development opportunities each week, often led by that building’s master teacher.

In his first year at Western Wayne, Stover focused on a new strategic plan, which involved putting together a committee of many community residents, businesspeople, and school educators and staff. That group divided into subcommittees, each focused on a different area.

“I am incredibly proud of our community. Strategic planning required biweekly meetings for six months. The nucleus of the community has helped us center our effort on what we need to do as a district,” he said. “The most challenging part is convincing people to believe that they are good enough in this community.”

He is pleased with a renewed focus on academic achievement, noting that this year’s third-grade scoring on the I-LEARN led the county.

“At the end of the day, testing is not the end-all, be-all but it gives us a good idea of where our students stand academically. The results showed we made the right decisions.”

Schaeffer completed a New Superintendents Academy in 2022. After her first year in the job, the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents invited her to speak to the current class. Her topic: “What are the qualities it takes to be a great superintendent?”

First, she said, is to develop an understanding of school finance, including having the financial plan support the goals of the strategic plan.

Second, is developing a support network. “Being in this office is lonely,” she notes, saying that she meets with the other four Wayne County school superintendents at least monthly. The IAPSS connected her with other administrators. “I have at least 10 superintendents that I can pick up the phone and ask advice.”

Instructional leadership is the third important attribute, she said. “This is a personal choice, a reflection of a leadership style. “When I think of what I want to see, I have to be the lead learner. If I am continuing to learn, it sets the model of what we expect from our children.”

Fourth is being visible, accessible and transparent in the community.

But fifth is taking care of yourself. “I have two small kids at home, so it includes not missing out on their childhood.”

Schaeffer and her husband raise show cattle on a farm in the Hagerstown area. But she found time to help her older son to raise a pig for 4-H and show it at the Wayne County 4-H Fair.

Like Schaeffer, Stover and his wife have young children. He is active in community organizations such as New Day Kiwanis and the Boys and Girls Clubs and serves on some community boards. At home, he’s an avid gardener and home canner. He reads “mostly motivational books.”

Both superintendents enjoy their work, although they admit to missing more direct contact with the children. Both believe they’re in their career position, with each saying they’ll stay on as superintendent for at least the foreseeable future.

“No matter how good I was today, I want to be better the next day,” said Schaeffer. “When I stop learning, I have started to fail myself at my job.”

Stover sums it up this way: “Each day we need to get 1% better. At the end of the year, that’s 182%.”

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A version of this article appeared in the August 30 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.