Longtime elementary school principal prepares to retire

NEW PALESTINE — After 38 years as an educator, longtime school principal Mark Kern is stepping down at the end of the school year.

For nearly two decades, Kern has called Southern Hancock home, serving as an administrator at all three of the district’s elementary schools during his 18-year tenure with the district.

Kern, 60, spent 15 years at New Palestine Elementary as principal before taking the helm at Brandywine Elementary, where he’s worked the past two years.

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Now, he’ll give up walking school halls to become more active in church, he said.

Rhonda Peterson, who has worked for the district for 17 years — the past 13 in central office — has been selected to replace Kern.

Kern and his wife, Pat Kern, began discussing the possibility of him leaving the education field at the beginning of the year when he started to feel God was calling him toward ministry, he said.

He serves as a deacon at Pleasant View Baptist Church, and last summer, he received his license to preach.

Kern didn’t think he could be an effective principal while ministering, he said.

Nothing compares to holding a job that provides an opportunity daily to positively impact people’s lives, he said, and ministry will give him the chance to do that in a different way than education did, he added.

Kern will miss the interactions with students, families and staff, he said. But he’s hopeful to find the same kind of fellowship wherever he ends up.

He’ll begin looking for a job at an area church when the school year ends.

Katy Eastes, who replaced Kern as principal at New Palestine Elementary two years ago, was hired by Kern back in 1999, his first year in the district.

She’ll miss the positive energy he exudes and the quiet but passionate way he’s helped lead the district for so many years, she said.

“Mark Kern is the epitome of integrity,” Eastes said. “Our district will not be the same without him.”

Not only has he been a professional she and others looked up to for guidance, Kern also has become her dear friend, Eastes said.

Peterson echoed those sentiments. Kern was her fifth-grade teacher, and years later, he recommended her for a kindergarten position at Sugar Creek Elementary.

She’s honored to follow in his footsteps, she said.

While Kern is leaving the district, he still plans to stay involved; he wants to work with the Southern Hancock Community Education Foundation, the community-based support group for the district, and attend New Palestine High School Dragon sporting events.

“I still want to be a part of this community because it’s such a neat community,” Kern said.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.