Our education system would not be what it is today without the dedicated teachers and administrators who work hard to make sure our children are given the foundation to explore the world around them. They work long hours, developing a ciriculum with the goal of shaping and encouraging a child’s mind, all the while navigating the politics of education. But for life long educators like George Letz, this did not deter him from dedicating his career to rural Northwest Indiana school systems.
Letz began his teaching career in Gary. After graduating from Valparaiso University with a degree in Mathematics, the Crown Point native made his way to the Gary school system, where he taught for a few years, before heading to Munster to teach middle school for six years. It was the beginning of a long career in education and leadership, one fostered during four years of education courses, hands on experience, and serving others.
“I did some interning and finally did my student teaching while at VU. After those experiences, I really had an interest in teaching,” Letz said. “And during the summers that I was teaching, I always worked for the Munster Summer Parks Program. We had three different parks, and I was assigned to one park where I led a group of college students working with the kids, so I had some leadership experience from that as well.
“I was also in the Naval Reserve for a few years,” he continued. “When you do that, you learn how to be a team member, which helped enhance my leadership skills.”
It was this immersion into leadership and education that steered Letz to a slight change in his career. While working in Munster, the principal approached him with a belief that Letz could do great things for students, beyond what he was doing for them in the classroom.
“He thought I had the leadership skills and that I should look into school administration,” Letz explained. “So, I just kind of gravitated towards that, and I realized it was something I could do.”
As he began earning certifications in school administration, Letz learned there was so much more to the field than he previously thought.
“You learn a lot about ciriculum development, which of course is one of the most important things in school administration,” Letz said, “but you also learn quite a bit about leadership. I was able to do an internship at a school for a semester under the guidance of a principal. Then I finally received what is called an Education Specialist Degree in School Administration, which allows you to be a superintendent.”
For the next 20 years, Letz was a superintendent in two school districts, Hanover and MSD Boone Township.
“You’re involved in everything within the school district,” he explained. “Most of the school districts I worked in were small and we had less than 2,000 children total. So we had fewer than one hundred teachers, so I was able to be involved with all of the teachers and the principals to develop a ciriculum for the district.
“Along with that, every five years when we were up for accredidation from the state and private associations, I would be really involved in ciriculum development, more so than a superintendent in a much larger district.”
In both Hanover and MSD Boone Township school districts, Letz not only had the pleasure of overseeing current students and administrators, but also expanding the district by building new schools.
“That’s a very complicated process,” Letz said. “But when you get the chance to build a physical school the way that you and your teachers wanted it to be and finally see the finished product, that is a true accomplishment.”
But with any career that involves politics, regulations, laws, and more, hardships are commonplace and make providing what students and teachers need more complicated than it has to be.
“Here in Indiana, not enough money per student is provided,” he said. “Since 2010, we have had referendums, which means you have to decide how much money you need from the taxpayer to run your school district- in other words, get some extra money. You set a tax rate, go to the public, and they have to vote on it.”
Referendums are notoriously difficult; if it does not pass, the entire process starts over. During his time as a superintendent, Letz went through two referendums- one passed, one didn’t.
“It’s very difficult in small school districts, especially in what would be rural districts like mine,” Letz explained. “Both of these referendums were in Hebron, which has a higher tax rate. In Indiana, to help the taxpayer, there is a cap on the tax rates, which is why there has to be these referendums. It’s a good and bad system; it helps the taxpayer, but that means there is less money for schools.”
But while referendums, politics, taxes, and more made the job difficult at times, Letz knew he was where he was supposed to be, working with people and creating a ciriculum that benefited all of the students.
“You’re working with the teachers and administrators on developing a ciriculum, which is what I really loved and what I really enjoyed doing.”
When Letz retired from school administration four years ago, he continued to offer his help and expertise to school districts in need. He began working with an organization called Administrative Assistance, which provides interim principals, superintendents, or adminstrators to school districts in need of leadership or ones looking to complete a study on different subjects or issues within the district.
“For a summer, I did a study for the East Chicago schools on how they could save money on certified people,” he said. “I still belong to Administrative Assistance today.”
In his spare time, Letz can be found continuing his role as a leader. For the past five years, he has been in charge of putting on the annual Crown Point Fourth of July Parade and fireworks, using the leadership skills that came about from years of unqiue experiences. He can also be found on the Board of Directors of Campagna Academy, an organization in Schererville that provides services to children coming out of DCS or the court system in need of counseling, an education, or care that they may not otherwise receive.
“I was approached by a member of the board, who was an architect and was working at one of our schools in Hanover,” Letz explained. “He told me to stop by one of their board meetings to see what I thought about it. Sometime later, he recommended me for the board and I’ve been a part of it for the past twenty years.”
Along with volunteering and being a leader in Northwest Indiana, Letz is a family man and loves spending time with his wife, three children, seven grandchildren, and two cats, and reads historical nonfiction and biographies when he gets the chance.
In education, a love of working with other people, being a leader, and always learning something new are common denominators, ones that can be found in George Letz. His dedication to providing care and opportunity to the youths of Northwest Indiana exemplifies everything that is good in education. It shows that when people like him use their positions to enact good, great things can happen.