Leader by Surprise

Leader by Surprise

If a teacher can drive a bus, then a superintendent can work the lunch room. This leader has done both.

Paul Garrison may be the superintendent of Daleville Community Schools, but he still pulled lunch duty last year.

He says he didn't mind. When you work in a district with only two schools and about 670 students, you must tolerate an ever-changing job description.

"I compare it to operating a small business. You do everything that has to be done," Garrison says.

He learned that early in his 15-year teaching career in the district. He recalls the former superintendent walking in his classroom and asking, "Paul, did you ever think about getting a bus license?" The superintendent took his class, and Garrison was sent to get a physical and a bus license. Later that day, after Garrison passed the test, he was handed the keys to Bus #4. "I really need you to pick up kids tomorrow morning," Garrison recalls the superintendent saying.

Strolling up the Ladder

Such is the life in a small school system. Still, it seems as if people there have known all along that this man, who married his high school sweetheart and grew up no more than 40 miles away, was tailor-made for the town. It seems everybody knew it but him.

"I didn't think I wanted to be a teacher, and when I was a teacher, I did not want to be principal. Then, when I was a principal, I said I did not want to be a superintendent," Garrison says.

"I compare it to operating
a small business. You do
everything that has
to be done."

The object of much mentoring, he was urged to be a leader. The school board, often before he got the necessary licenses, kept promoting him. In 1998, he was named superintendent. No search required.

Garrison has hardly been a disappointment. The district is high achieving, and this school year he was named East Central Indiana District VI Superintendent of the Year.

Colleagues say he participates in many regional and state organizations and is a tireless worker. "It pulls me pretty thin," Garrison admits.

He is vice president of a multi-district insurance trust, serves on a state committee for professional development and is part of the East Central Indiana School Study Council. He's also active in his Chamber of Commerce and serves on the board of directors for both a special education cooperative and for the Community Alliance to Promote Education (CAPE).

"He is Mr. CAPE," says Ron Fauquher, a business executive who chairs of the organization. "He has clearly emerged as a community leader. ... The reality is he cares about education and young people in our community probably the most of anyone. ... We need to find more people like him."

Colleagues note that Garrison can do this work because he has an excellent rapport with his board and a smooth-running district. But his is not a district without problems. In Indiana, where school budgets are set by the state, notice has been sent that cuts are probable, increases are not.

"I followed an excellent financial manager [former superintendent Theresa Eineman], and we spend money very carefully. Still, it is a challenge," Garrison says.

He often lets staff in on decisions. If the supply budget needs cutting, they get to choose where. Hopefully, it makes tough choices easier to swallow, he says.

While he is a great administrator, Garrison remains close to his teaching roots. "[Garrison] doesn't distance himself from the classroom," says Jim Willey, principal of Daleville Jr./Sr. High School.

Willey has also noticed that Garrison is a bit of softy. A favorite bet among staff is to guess how long it takes Garrison to start getting emotional at graduation.

Garrison explains that, in the last few years on graduation day, he has watched former students moving on to the next stage of their lives. "Usually what I have in my mind is some memory of them," he says.

Amy D'Orio, wdorio@earthlink.net, is a contributing editor.


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