GREENFIELD — Eastern Hancock Superintendent Dave Pfaff said he is often asked if he would have taken the job if he knew what he would be facing within the next year.
Pfaff, who already had spent 40 years in education when he retired as principal at Eastern Hancock High School in the spring of 2019, didn’t remain on sidelines for long: That fall, he returned as superintendent and soon was facing one of the biggest challenges of his career: leading the corporation through a global pandemic and trying to keep students and staff safe from COVID-19.
So, would he have accepted the job if he had known what lay ahead?
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“Absolutely, I would have,” Pfaff said. “…If your family is facing adversity, do you want to be there with them to help them get through it, or do you want to be apart from them so you don’t have to experience it?”
Now, after two years as superintendent, Pfaff announced this week he’s going to retire again at the end of this school year. He always intended for the job to be a short-term one, he said.
“I told them that this would be a year-to-year thing and each year at Christmas I would re-examine and decide if I wanted to go for another year,” said Pfaff, who told the school board this week about his intentions.
This year, after considering the state of the corporation, Pfaff decided this would be a good time to depart. Eastern Hancock is in a good financial position for the future, Pfaff said, and the tides are beginning to turn on the pandemic with the introduction of vaccinations.
“We have a good leadership team here in the central office and out in the buildings,” Pfaff said.
For Eastern Hancock High School Principal Adam Barton, Pfaff has long been an important influence: He was Barton’s junior-year history teacher and one of several EH teachers who influenced Barton’s decision to pursue a career in education.
“He was that favorite teacher, he was that person that everyone enjoyed it in his class,” Barton said.
Barton said the corporation has been lucky to have Pfaff, someone the community trusted, as its leader during the pandemic.
“He made a huge sacrifice for our school system by coming out of retirement,” Barton said.
In the 42 years he has spent in education, Pfaff said, he’s often spent more time at school than he has with his family.
“Now’s the time to start spending some time with my wife, doing some things that we’ve talked about, and traveling,” he said. There is also a fourth grandchild on the way for the family.
In 2019, Eastern Hancock was in a difficult position. Having recently hired a new principal and assistant principal at the high school, leaders were now in need of a new superintendent three weeks before the start of the school year with the unexpected resignation of Vicki McGuire. Pfaff had been retired for all of two months after more than two decades as high school principal.
His return was a natural choice. He had spent his entire career at Eastern Hancock after being hired as a social studies teacher in 1979 right out of college.
Eastern Hancock Elementary School Principal Amanda Pyle said she’s honored to have worked with Pfaff over the past 21 years. Having him at the helm of the corporation for the past two years, she said, has helped the district weather the storm of COVID-19 and given Barton time to settle into his new role.
“There’s just not enough positive things that can be said about Dave,” she said. “…Dave has really brought a sense of calm to our community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, was like nothing he had experienced before in his career, and he said dealing with the situation has often been “extremely stressful.”
“There was no textbook, no history book, really no rule book,” he said.
Unlike many school districts in the country, Eastern Hancock got a preview of what combating an outbreak of illness would be like before many people were talking about COVID-19.
“We were in the throes of something before the government shut us down,” Pfaff said, referring to an outbreak of illnesses attributed to the flu and other ailments that forced EH to close for two days in early March 2020, mere days before all schools closed for the school year because of the emerging pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, Pfaff said his top priority has been making sure the corporation’s students received the best education possible. He believed that in order to do that, the students needed to be back in the classroom with their teachers. To accomplish that, he spent much of the summer of 2020 working on a plan that would allow in-person schooling to resume.
“I’m 100% convinced that kids need to be in school,” he said.
Pfaff hopes the next superintendent will be someone who will focus on students’ experiences. In the next few years, he anticipates that the corporation will need to continue focusing on the issue of teacher compensation and will increase its enrollment.
“We just want someone who will honor relationships and honor the students and staff,” Pfaff said.
Pyle said she would like to see a new superintendent who shares Pfaff’s best qualities — a focus on forming relationships and good communication skills.
Barton said one of Pfaff’s greatest strengths is being a good listener, and he hopes the board’s choice for the new superintendent will be “someone very similar to Mr. Pfaff.”
School board president Jim Jackson will be leading the search for a new superintendent. The board is working with the Indiana School Boards Association on the process, which will involve collecting resumes and interviewing candidates over the next few months.
“We’re just looking for the very best candidate that will help our school move forward,” he said.