NEW PALESTINE — He’s the kind of administrator young teens want leading a school, his students said.
Jim Voelz, Doe Creek Middle School principal, paints his face on Spirit Day, conducts a talent show every year for students and staff, lets his staff wear jerseys and jeans for special events and even allows students to pour ice cold water over him to raise money for charity.
It’s the kind of attitude that has long made Voelz a favorite among students and staff; now, the longtime administrator has been recognized as one of the state’s top educators.
This week, the Indiana Association of School Principals named Voelz its Indiana Middle School Principal of the Year.
Voelz, 46, has been leading the school for 12 years and been an administrator for 17. This week’s honor is one students and staff say Voelz has surely earned.
Voelz was recognized Sunday at a special conference of the Indiana Association of School Principals. He was the nominee for District 10, which encompasses Dearborn, Decatur, Fayette, Franklin, Hancock, Jennings, Ripley, Rush, Shelby and Union counties.
District principals of the year are elected by their peers, and one principal is honored from each of the 12 districts statewide. Steve Bryant, principal of Greenfield-Central High School, was a District 10 nominee for high school principal of the year.
While Voelz knew of his District 10 nomination, the award for the top district principal — principal of the year among all districts — was announced at the ceremony and was a surprise.
“I was blown away,” Voelz said. “I had no idea.”
Voelz, who oversees the district’s seventh- and eighth-graders, said he didn’t earn the honors all by himself, he works with a great staff and students who push themselves to be the best.
“You win an award like this, you have to have all the little things in order,” Voelz said. “I feel like we have that here with a very special staff from top to bottom, along with amazing kids.”
Science teacher Mary Jones said Voelz is a supportive administrator, and she’s not surprised he won the award.
“He encourages teachers to be innovative and creative in ways that will inspire students,” Jones said.
The school district’s curriculum director Rhonda Peterson, who nominated Voelz for the award, credits his ability to connect with staff, parents and students as reason for his success.
“He puts the importance of building relationships above all else,” Peterson said.
In the past decade, Voelz has built a culture of respect, collaboration and high expectations for both his staff and students, Peterson said. That’s proven especially important at the middle school, where 12- and 13-year-old students struggle with social issues that sometimes overshadow learning, officials say.
“The positive culture creates the foundation for quality teaching and learning to take place,” she said. “Teachers feel good about teaching there, parents feel good about sending their children there and students feel good about going there to learn.”
Voelz said he’s lucky to have a job he’s passionate about.
“I really love the kids and what I do,” Voelz said. “I can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything else.”
Voelz said his mission each day is to make the school a great working and learning environment for students and staff alike. He can’t imagine a career doing anything else, he said.
“Our students are enjoying school,” Voelz said. “When somebody enjoys something, they excel and try hard and make good decisions, and that trickles into our classroom and every part of our school.”
The recognition ceremony was a part of the 2015 Principals of the Year Recognition Celebration during the IASP annual fall professional conference.