Hertsel quizzed for school chief

Published 5:26 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cassopolis Public Schools Board of Education Monday night interviewed 24-year veteran Tracy D. Hertsel as a potential successor to retiring Supt. Greg Weatherspoon.

Tracy Hertsel

Hertsel, a Donnell Lake native who graduated from Ross Beatty High School with its first class in 1980, is in his second year as one of three co-principals of Ross Beatty Junior/Senior High School.
Hertsel, who has also been a firefighter since 1982, first for Penn Township (until 1990), then for Cassopolis (since 1991), is instructional leader for more than 500 students and 50 professional and non-professional staff.
This school year he worked with Cass County Sheriff Joe Underwood to establish an on-site resource officer and implemented a new seven-period day.
Twice, March-July, 2005, and February-April, 2004, he served as interim superintendent.
Board members spent about an hour and a half posing more than 40 questions, first from a prepared questionnaire, then follow-ups offered by individual members, in the library.
President Christine Locke said the board would vote on its next step Feb. 13.
Hertsel listed the “pro-active” response to persistently lowest achieving (PLA) status as his proudest professional achievement.
Cassopolis was shocked Aug. 16, 2010, that the school made the Michigan Department of Education’s list of 92 PLA schools.
“It felt like getting punched in the stomach repeatedly,” he said. “It hurt a lot, we were angry and we want off that list. The high school staff feels the same way.”
A formula used schools’ seventh and eighth grade MEAP scores and 11th grade MME scores, with student proficiency levels, whether a school made AYP (adequate yearly progress) and if a graduation rate fell below 60 percent factored in.
“The response we gave and the results we got in one year, I just hope we can sustain it,” said Hertsel. “We shot for the moon to get on top of it. We tried for a New Tech High School, but, unfortunately, the money did not come. The system is not fair.”
Priorities in his first 100 days would be the budget  — the toughest challenges are still ahead — student achievement and better marketing to tell success stories and to build on them, such as the 22-member robotics team through collaboration with Niles.
To be creative, he has turned to pastors to “push from the pulpit” information he needs circulated.
Hertsel, who “bleeds blue and white,” earned a master’s degree in education in 1991 and a bachelor’s degree in education in 1986, majoring in physical education coaching and minoring in economics, both from Western Michigan University.
He graduated from Southwestern Michigan College in 1983 with an associate degree in general studies.
Hertsel served as principal of Frank Squires Early Elementary School from 1997 until 2010 and as special education director from 2004 to 2010.
He was dean of students for the school in 1996-1997 after fulfilling the same position at Sam Adams Middle School in 1994-1996.
Before becoming an administrator, Hertsel taught grades 1-4 physical education and eighth grade economics, law and literature and seventh grade social studies at Squires and Sam Adams.
“I’m well-rounded, with perception of the whole district,” he said. “My greatest strength is acting quickly on my feet.” Trying to do too much himself and not delegating would be an area to further develop — although “the board needs to understand that this district has been cutting resources for more than 10 years.”
Not only are there more reporting requirements, but Hertsel’s multi-tasking includes setting out microphones for board meetings.
Budget limitations with the state pushing service consolidation make sharing resources, such as a curriculum expert, essential, Hertsel said to an audience which included Lewis Cass Intermediate School District Supt. Robert Colby.
“Engagement is a huge piece,” he said, “ probably the most challenging we face every day” between intact families where both parents work, single-parent families or grandparents rearing children.
“Technology and e-mail help, but you can’t pull people together like PTOs used to because people have got so much on their plates,” he said.
Whether his leadership style is “flexible” or “decisive” depends on the situation because he wants to involve as many as possible to get solid facts and steer clear of “hearsay. I want to hear it from folks being affected.”