Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

January 17, 2013

Retiring superintendent reflects on time at Stew-Stras

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

STRASBURG — For decades, Steve Harsy has seen nearly everything there is in the world of education.

Now, after three years of serving the school district, Harsy, the Stewardson-Strasburg superintendent, will be stepping down from his position at the end of the spring semester and retiring to spend more time with his family.

Harsy said he remembers the issues that struck him when he first started at Stew-Stras, some of which are the same issues the district deals with today.

"I would say that walking in the door, of the most obvious problems the district faces is financial," Harsy said of the beginning of his time at Stew-Stras. "It was easy for me to look at the books and see that cuts were going to have to be made or changes were going to have to happen."

Harsy already had experience in education before coming to Stew-Stras. He spent 10 years as a social studies teacher and guidance counselor in Sparta another 10 years as a principal in Highland before serving as a superintendent in both Bethalto and Redbud.

Despite the budget woes, which still continue to plague the district, Harsy said he was proud of the physical transformations that have been made in the district.

"Without everything we've done the last three years with this project, most of this building was in horrible condition," he said of the district's facilities, some of which were built in the 1950s. "With the construction project, we've been able to create a modern, highly constructive building for our students."

In the last three years, the district has built a new, full-size gymnasium for the junior high, refurbished the old gymnasium into a new media center complete with a 30-station computer lab, new science labs and general fixes to many other physical issues at the school.

Looking forward, Harsy said he knows the next superintendent will be facing some of the same problems he has dealt with.

"I'm pretty sure that it would be the same answer if you would ask any of the other 800 superintendents in Illinois, and it's seeing the reduction of state aid," he said, referring to the biggest problem the district faces. "When we saw the drop, it started a process where every district faces the challenge of how do you create an experience for your student when all of your funding is reduced."

The recent athletic co-op with Windsor School District has been one of the more noticeable ways the district has tried to combat cuts in federal aid. Harsy said he thinks further co-ops - both academically and athletically - will start to appear between many other local schools.

"I think this is definitely in the trend," he said. "Everyone's looking for greater efficiencies and better ways to meet the needs of our kids. We're really looking for an academic co-op and I think we're on the road to promoting that experience with one or more of our neighbors. Students should be able to sit in English class and all have the wonderful experiences and then put on a baseball uniform and play.

"If we can collaborate and more efficiently use our teachers, that's what it's all about. It's about how we can do the best for our kids. I don't think you'll see the word co-oping go away. I think the word's going to stick around for a long time. Sooner or later, when times get tough, we have to work together."

Despite the projects, renovations, co-ops and more, Harsy said he thinks the most important thing about his time at Stew-Stras was the friendships that were formed.

"I'm most proud of the relationships," he said. "That's a key thing for those who have had the pleasure of working here. We have, simply, the finest young children, parents and faculty. There are no better people to work with."

Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or jackson.adams@effinghamdailynews.com.