SIDNEY — From teacher and coach, assistant principal, principal to superintendent, John Scheu has been involved with Sidney City Schools since 1972. On Tuesday, he will bid the district farewell after spending the past seven years as its superintendent.
“The Sidney job came opening 2011, and I applied for it,” said Scheu, who was superintendent at Hardin-Houston Local Schools at the time. “I was fortunate to get the job. There were risks involved with taking the job.”
The district, he said, was facing financial disarray.
“The board meetings were a circus to behold,” said Scheu. “There was bickering among the board and finger pointing, along with name calling.
“I decided I’d like to be part of the solution and not be part of the problem,” he said. “They say timing is everything, so I decided to see if I could make a difference.”
Scheu said he met with Treasurer Mike Watkins to see if the district’s financial direction could be fixed. Watkins told Scheu that he didn’t know.
“I left a secure job with Hardin-Houston with a number of years left on my contract,” said Scheu. “I took a chance to come back to my home district.”
The road to financial recovery, he said, was a team effort from the teachers union and board of education.
“We had to cut teachers and teacher’s salaries,” said Scheu. “They had to take the highest salary reduction in the state — 5.8 percent reduction in salary to make ends meet.
“Once that was done, we passed a renewal levy, which made our future brighter,” said Scheu. “We now have the largest carryover balance we’ve ever had.”
Scheu said the turnaround was accomplished by being transparent with the teachers and administrators.
“It was a very transparent procedure,” said Scheu. “The teachers and administrators were given the same financial figures to look at. The teachers saw the writing on the wall on how to stop the district from going under.
“We had a salary freeze and reduction from the superintendent to all 435 employees. The freeze was there for several years until the levy passed. This was a cooperative effort with the teachers union and administrators working together for the betterment of the district. The administrators and union worked hand-in-hand and had a trusting relationship.”
During his years as Sidney’s superintendent, Scheu said he is proud of several new programs that have been established.
“I’m proud of the Workforce Academy that we started in grades 7 to 12,” said Scheu. “Sidney was in the forefront of starting the program. I’m proud to have the workforce curriculum that is giving tools to our students to enter the workforce whether it’s just right after high school or college. We want to see the students come back to the Sidney businesses for employment.”
Scheu said a parent of an eighth-grade student recently came to the board office for a work permit. Her son had taken the workforce program at the middle school and loved the class. That class encouraged him to get a job so he could save money for college and to also help his family pay for school supplies.
“Because of Workforce Academy, our students know what industry is located in Sidney and Shelby County,” he said. “They know what qualifications they need to get a job and the salaries available.”
But what he’s most proud of about Workforce Academy is that no state or federal grant money was used to start the program.
“It’s all locally funded by industries in Sidney and around the county,” he said. “The industries feel it’s important to give money to make the program successful. The program has received statewide recognition.”
Scheu is also proud of the fact — that after a 50 year absence — FFA was brought back to the district’s curriculum.
“Vo-Ag and FFA were brought back in 2016,” said Scheu. “We are an agricultural area, from the farms outside the city limits to the food industries, such as Cargill and Freshway, in the city limits.”
Another positive for the district, he said, was the implementation of all-day kindergarten without asking the taxpayer for additional funds.
“We started all-day kindergarten six years ago,” he said. “We got eliminated of two administrators — the assistant superintendent and assistant principal at Northwood — so the program would be at no cost to the taxpayers. It’s a curriculum benefit to have the kids in all day kindergarten.”
Sidney has also become a leader in school security measures, said Scheu.
“We began the school security program five years ago,” said Scheu. “We are on the cutting edge of safety for our staff and students.”
And while the district has taken measures to protect its students with school security officers, resource officers and an armed response team at each building, the program was one Scheu never imagined having to implement.
“School security like we have today never crossed my mind,” said Scheu. “The whole issue changed for me after the Sandy Hook massacre.
“They had all the bells and whistles for school security,” said Scheu. “But the shooter was able to shot his way into the school. He shot his way into the first classroom and killed students and teachers. That day in 2013 changed my way of thinking.”
Scheu said he has met four of the five goals the board of education had set for him when they hired him in 2011. The only one he hasn’t met is increasing the academic scores and state report card for the district.
The goals set for him included academic improvement; marketing Sidney City Schools, restructuring the district, dealing with the administration and finances for the district.
“Those goals set for me in 2011, are the same goals all superintendents try to meet each year,” he said.
When he walks out the doors at the board of education building Tuesday, Scheu admits he doesn’t know what the future holds for him.
“I don’t know it it’ll be retirement or if I’ll search for another superintendent or interim superintendent position,” said Scheu. “I’ve considered teaching classes at a university.
“I’ve also been approached by a person to start a firm to provide consulting services for school security,” he said. “Right now, I’m just going to smell the roses and see what the future holds.”
With a year left on his contract, Scheu said he saw the writing on the wall on how the winds were changing in the district.
“I wanted to go out on my terms as much as I could,” he said. “I wasn’t quite ready to go out like this.”
In a prepared statement, Scheu expressed his feelings about his departure.
“I would have preferred to stay a while longer, but it became virtually impossible to lead the school district,” Scheu said. “The light came on bright after being informed by one board member that he was a card carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), after expressing my feelings to the board about respecting the American flag/National Anthem and the decisions for students to not participate in the spring walkout due to safety concerns, to remember the victims of the Parkland, Florida, mass shootings.
“Couple this with having a board member publicly telling people the only reason he ran for school board is to get rid of me, another former disgruntled teacher with an agenda and a fourth member flip flopping on commitments made, has been quite challenging to deal with. This discourse and second guessing of decisions being made has stymied the district from moving full speed ahead.
“Despite this, I remain committed and loyal to the school district, and am contemplating a run for a school board seat in November 2019,” Scheu concluded.
Scheu said he has had a chance to meet with the district’s new superintendent, Bob Humble.
“I support him as the new superintendent,” said Scheu. “The board made an excellent choice. I think we’ll work closely together during the transition process.”
Scheu and his wife, Cindy, are the parents of three children — Emily, Allison and Scott — all Sidney High School graduates. They have five grandchildren, two who are in the Sidney School system.
“My wife and I have lived here for 46 years,” said Scheu. “It’s been a good 46 years in Sidney. There will be a lot of things I’ll miss at the district, but I plan to remain active and committed to the school district. The administrative staff here is second to no body. I’ll miss working with the administrative team.
“When I came in seven years ago, I was part of the improvement process,” he said. “I can’t help but say the district is in better shape today than it was seven years ago.”
Scheu started his career with the district in August 1972 when he was hired to teach social students at Sidney High School and to be the boys junior varsity basketball coach.
“I had been hired by New Riegel Schools, but I hadn’t taught there yet,” recalled Scheu. If was after the July 10 deadline (for teachers to resign) when Sidney contacted me about a job.”
The New Riegel superintendent, said Scheu, was on a camping trip in Michigan with his family. Scheu was able to track him down and asked to be let out of his contract.
“I told him the Sidney job was enticing and that my wife-to-be’s family had relocated from Dayton to Anna,” said Scheu. After some further discussion, Scheu’s contract with New Riegel was voided and he accepted the Sidney teaching job.
He spent 7 years teaching at the high school and then became assistant principal at Bridgeview Middle School. In 1981, he left the district to become principal at Mississinawa Valley Middle School. In 1985, he became principal at Ansonia Elementary School when his dream job at Emerson Elementary School came open in 1987.
“We lived in Emerson attendance area,” said Scheu. “This was my dream job. I spent 13 years there as principal. That’s the longest I’ve been in one position during my career.”
He left Sidney City School again in 1999 when he became superintendent at Riverside Local School. He spent a half year at Logan Educational Service Center as superintendent before moving to Hardin-Houston Local Schools to become the district’s superintendent.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.