ARCHBOLD — Jeff Slattery, Four County Career Center’s new superintendent, has been involved in educational careers for many years, but how he got there differed from most in his field.
Slattery was born and raised in Hicksville and attended Hicksville High School. He described his time in school as relatively enjoyable and he was particularly close to his athletic coaches, whom he saw as mentors. However, upon graduation in 1995, the young man did not know what he wanted to pursue — a dilemma many teens of 17 and 18 face.
This drove him to go straight into the workforce, working in manufacturing at Vulcraft Industries in Indiana. He spent some time there before he married his high school sweetheart, Jamie. With her support, Slattery decided to attend college.
His choice of study was education with the goal of becoming a teacher. The idea of coaching and building a relationship with young people attracted him to the career, and he recalled his positive experiences with his coaches. He also thought it would be a good fit for him as a self-described “people person.”
Ironically, after graduating in December of 2004 with his B.A. in education and obtaining his first teaching position in 2005, Slattery did not coach for the first couple of years. He found himself loving the classroom experience at Eastside Schools in Butler, Ind., and guiding students in that capacity. He eventually came to the conclusion that he could further make differences in his school district by pursuing a position in administration.
He earned an M.A. in administrative leadership at the University of Cincinnati with the goal of becoming a principal. However, this did not occur for Slattery for some time and he found himself leaving education.
He went on to earn his health care administrative license and degree. It was in this field that he held his first administrative job at Trilogy Health Services located near Lima. Slattery was doing relatively well for himself at Trilogy, but his alma mater, Hicksville High School, was not.
The high school principal position at this time was experiencing an abnormally high turnover rate. According to Slattery, the school had gone through four different principals within four years. Hicksville High School Superintendent Keith Countryman then approached Slattery with an interest in giving him the position.
Thus, Slattery came back to education in 2014 as the principal of his old high school. He worked alongside the woman who was his own principal back in the day, Sue Dangler. According to Slattery, Dangler was brought out of retirement to train him for the first four or five months as his assistant principal. He always held Dangler in great esteem, even as a student.
“She’s probably the one who inspired me more than anything,” he reminisced back, recalling how he talked to her about becoming a teacher and choosing to enter administration.
To Slattery, Dangler was an administrative model.
“She was truly an advocate for the students,” he said. “No matter who the student was, she was always looking for an opportunity to assist and help them.”
Working alongside her, Slattery witnessed what the role of an administrator truly is. He came to the realization that as an educational leader, he was there to provide structure and support, but most importantly, his strengths came from that of acting as student advocate. He would stay in the position of principal for nearly 10 years before the opportunity arose to join Four County Career Center.
Slattery admitted that at first, he did not feel like he was qualified to be a superintendent. As someone who followed a non-traditional path himself, he loved Four County and the opportunities they provided for students. Despite having his superintendent degree from Bowling Green University, he was apprehensive about applying for the job.
After a discussion with a close friend, he decided to just try anyway. He got called into an interview and then a second and then was offered the position.
“I’ll tell you what, it was hard to apply to this (job), but it was very easy to accept,” he divulged.
Although being a superintendent is different to being a principal, Slattery said his time at Hicksville High School made for good experience for the job he holds now. As a principal, he built upon relationships and interactions with students, staff, parents and his community, essentially establishing partnerships and transparency.
As a superintendent, this social aspect significantly decreased, but the value of having them still exist within Slattery and are apparent in how he does things in his day to day. He described it as building similar partnerships, just on a wider scale.
There are some aspects of being a teacher and being a principal that Slattery does miss. He misses the individualized relationships he has built with his kids and the level of student engagement. As a superintendent, this amount of social interaction has significantly decreased.
However, the meaning behind his actions have not altered despite the change in position. Behind every decision, Slattery aims to make an impact on the lives of his charges.
His personal career motto is that “every opportunity can be a challenge, but it is something you can achieve.” He shared that he does not believe in complacency, be it of station or otherwise. There are a mountain of opportunities for students to take advantage of and many different paths that they can take to achieve their goals and these goals can even change as they grow.
“When we grow and age and mentally mature, I think we also change,” Slattery explained. “And when we change, a lot of times that brings up new opportunities or new ideas that we want to experience or achieve.”
He considers himself a prime example of this and fully understands that a teenager does not have to know what they want to be after graduation.
“I could wake up in a year or two years from now and think ‘What do I want to do next?’ and that’s OK,” he said. “The idea of you turning 18 years old and working in the same place until you retire at 65 is gone.”
The future of education, Slattery said, is leaning more toward individualized education. Based on the new graduation requirements of Ohio, how students can earn a diploma is changing. It seems that the new policies take into account the strengths of the individual and Slattery sees that type of attitude expanding.
He believes it is Four County’s duty to explore these options with students to aid in their success and become the best career technical school in northwest Ohio.
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