NEW PALESTINE — After growing up in Austin in Scott County, newly hired New Palestine Community Schools Superintendent Gina Pleak says she’s looking forward to making another small town, New Palestine, her home.

Pleak won’t officially start working for the district until July 1. However, she’ll be involved in administrative decisions moving forward until she officially takes over. Pleak told the Daily Reporter during a Thursday morning question-and-answer session that she never had plans to be a superintendent when she first went into education nearly 30 years ago but is glad the opportunity presented itself, and she’s thrilled to have the leadership role.

Dr. Gina Pleak, the new superintendent for New Palestine Community Schools. Thursday April 11, 2024. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

That was one of the questions the Daily Reporter asked the county’s newest superintendent. Some other topics are presented here in a question-and-answer format:

Question: What are your immediate plans as the new superintendent for New Palestine schools?

Answer: “I think the smart thing to do in a position is to go slow to go fast and not to come in with what my perceptions are, or ideas. I need to get to know the community, meet people and get to know what others think and what the current state of the school corporation is. What are the hopes and dreams people have for the community? You ask what my plan is and my plan is to come in and immerse myself. The plan is to make it about we and not about me.”

Q: There are several administrative positions open and you won’t have a lot of time to deal with them if you wait until you officially start July 1. Are you going to be able to fill those ahead of time before you officially start or will the current administration do that?

A: “Staffing for the school year is always of great importance because we always want to be ready for the first day of school. We want a welcoming environment and a successful, celebratory day for everyone. I am going to start meeting and communicating with Dr. (Lisa) Lantrip and the school board and will be part of and informed and brought up to speed when it comes to filling positions. Just because I don’t start until July 1 doesn’t mean you’re not going to see me around before July 1. We had talked about that. We are going to work to make sure things are ready. I plan to start meeting people next week and start touring the schools to make sure I know what our next steps are and what positions need to get posted.”

Q: Philosophy-wise, I’ve already heard you say you plan to make decisions based on what is best for kids. As an elementary school teacher, how you first started, I can see that, but does that change as you become an administrator and the head of a school corporation?

A: “My philosophy is that public education is of great importance, so we are there for the basic function of educating students, and with all of that we want to make sure every child has every opportunity and the resources in the environment to succeed to achieve their highest ability and personal best. Our priority is to have high-quality teachers in the classroom for students because we know teachers have the greatest impact for students and they have the greatest value. But, if you talk to teachers, they will tell you everyone is important from the bus drivers in the morning to the person who opens the car door for the student to get out to the custodian. All of that is part of our budget and our purpose … Everyone has value and significance.”

Q: What does or doesn’t belong in the classroom — living in a world where everything must be so politically correct, will that be an issue for the new superintendent?

A: I think there are always challenges and things to consider in this position each and every day. You ask me what belongs in the classroom? What belongs is students, caring individuals and learning that is taking place. Even under conditions, learning can take place. What I can tell you is everyone deserves to be valued and respected and cared for and safe, and we do have values in a community and we need to make sure that teachers feel empowered and encouraged and that our students do as well. I think the whole thing is respecting people’s different opinions and being willing to have open conversations and knowing the loudest voices may not represent all voices, but everyone has different beliefs and values and we have to navigate that. The whole thing is to treat everyone with 100% respect.”

Q: How do you approach the huge decisions that may come sooner than later about when to expand the district or built more? The district just recently bought a bunch of land (114.8 acres) and are finishing up a major renovation at the high school. How will you make those decisions about what to do with the land or when to build or renovate?

A: “Fortunately, my current position (Assistant Superintendent Human Resources, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation) we’ve done a lot of upgrades in facilities and all of that so I’ve learned it’s a community effort. You say it’s me making the decisions, but it’s me asking the questions and allowing us to hear all voices and getting experts into the room about budgets, the facilities and the impact on the tax rate and what makes sense, looking at enrollment and projections, demographics and then taking all of that into consideration and putting it into an organized fashion where we can start sharing it and creating those questions … and then start laying out options based on all the experts in the room.”