NEW PALESTINE — Piles of paper were stacked on nearly every section of principal Keith Fessler’s desk. School might be out for the summer, but the New Palestine High School administrator always has plenty to do.
Fessler, who has been with the district for 10 years, just finished personally signing 286 handwritten cards congratulating every single 2016 graduate; he’s also in the process of hiring several new teachers for the upcoming school year.
Dressed in a Dragon red golf shirt and casual black slacks on a recent afternoon, Fessler looked at ease in the office he’s occupied since becoming the principal five years ago. It’s a role he enjoys — and one his peers say he appears to have mastered.
For the second time in four years, Fessler has been named the District 10 High School Principal of the Year by the Indiana Association of School Principals. He was also awarded the honor in 2013, when he and assistant principal Miles Hercamp were both recognized for their work as administrators.
Fessler is now one of 12 different district winners in Indiana who’ll have a chance to be named High School Principal of the Year for the state during a recognition ceremony in November as part of the association’s annual fall professional conference.
District 10’s winners comprise educators from Dearborn, Decatur, Fayette, Franklin, Hancock, Jennings, Ripley, Rush, Shelby and Union counties.
District High School Principals of the Year are elected by their peers.
While his colleagues have been handing out their congratulations, Fessler is quick to point out an award of this kind is really one for the entire school.
“These type of awards do not happen in a vacuum,” Fessler said. “There is a whole lot of effort by a lot of people to have put me in a position to win something like this.”
A supportive community, great faculty, staff and, of course, the students are high on Fessler’s praise list.
Under Fessler’s leadership, the school has maintained top county and state graduation rates in the high 90 percentile, in addition to being named a four-star school on a continuous basis nine of the past 10 years.
And still, Fessler points to his team.
“We’ve kind of caught lightning in a bottle here really with our outstanding staff,” Fessler said.
Fessler credits Hercamp and other school administrators for helping him steer the ship. He also thanked his father, Jim Fessler, a retired firefighter who gave him a great piece of advice when he graduated college.
“He told me I could go and bury my diploma because what matters most in life is treating everyone with respect,” he said. “It’s what we try to do here every day.”
Even as he grows comfortable in his role as principal, Fessler feels strongly about continuing to challenge himself; this summer, he’ll graduate from Indiana State University with a superintendent’s degree.
District superintendent Lisa Lantrip described Fessler as an exceptional leader who has distinguished himself.
“Great high school principals are hard to find, and New Palestine High School has a great principal,” Lantrip wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter.
He uses his guiding, mentoring and supporting leadership skills to implement programming to help his students excel, Lantrip wrote.