Shakeups at School City
A candid shot while interviewing Dr. Stevens. All photo credit belongs to Mrs. Jennifer Smith, SCM's Director of Communications and Project Management.
School City of Mishawaka has seen its fair share of growth, expansion, and modernization as years pass. Snow days have turned into e-Learning days, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed curriculums, and now, the community is seeing a shift in superintendents, following Mr. Wayne Barker’s departure from the area to be closer to his hometown of Bluffton, Indiana. Barker’s departure came as a shock to many who adored him, but Mishawaka is honored to welcome back Dr. Theodore Stevens into the school system to lead the 2022-23 school year and beyond.
Stevens is a returning face to School City of Mishawaka; he is no stranger to the community, and has made quite a name for himself as a leader in education. He started out as the principal of Lasalle Elementary School from 2013-2015, then moved to central office. By 2016, he moved to the assistant superintendent position, but,
“I wanted to be a superintendent. My career-life goal was to become a superintendent. (So,) in the fall of 2018, (I asked myself), ‘Do I stay in hopes that I can be Mishawaka’s superintendent, or do I make a decision (to) go somewhere and be the superintendent?’...
Stevens ultimately left Mishawaka to become superintendent at South Central Community School Corporations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The “very small” community whipped him into farm life, and he harbored a tractor collection. When his phone rang this past spring,
“The school board was inquiring if I’d be interested in the superintendent position here… The rest is history.
“I like working with people. Education is a people-intense business… I enjoy that. What I’ve learned through time is (that) everybody’s capable of learning,” Stevens made clear.
SCM's new superintendent, Dr. Stevens.
Mishawaka High School also gained two new administrators this past summer, Mr. Samuel Ells—who is replacing Mr. David Troyer—and Mrs. Kristin Wells, who is filling a longstanding opening since the pandemic.
MHS Alltold Editor in chief, Kate Hill.
“I have big shoes to fill… (because) I’ve not met anybody yet who has disliked Mr. Troyer. I’m not going to be Mr. Troyer, but I definitely hope that I can build relationships like he has,” said Ells.
For Wells, the same ideology rings true,
“I really do love teenagers…you don’t do this job otherwise…I want to get to know as many students as I can, not just those who are in trouble and made a poor choice.”
Society is founded upon the interdependence of economics, morals, and education. It has been universally understood throughout history that a stabilized balance between those three pillars of life is necessary for one to live successfully—like a three-legged stool. Stevens inferred the idea of a three-legged stool and maintaining stability is just as vital in one’s schooling career, and he wants to make it easy for every student to attain such balance by providing a wide variety of opportunities for students with varying interests,
“What we [School City of Mishawaka] want to try to do is provide opportunities for our students. Really, it’s like a three-legged stool: academics, athletics, (and) fine arts—those are the three areas that we really try to make sure we have opportunities for kids to do activities that they enjoy.”
Growing up, Stevens himself was a well-rounded student. He was “a track kid,” performing well in the 400 meter and long jump. He was involved in show choir and the academic decathlon team, and although he did play football and tennis early on in high school, he admitted,
“I wasn’t very good.”
Stevens is also “a Purdue guy” when it comes to college football. He graduated from Purdue University, and even met his wife in the marching band. He played the tuba, and still remembers “the basics” with preparation. He said,
“I might bust out the tuba at Christmastime and play some songs…Mr. Chamberlin [the Mishawaka High School Band director] has invited me to come jam with the band anytime, (but) I wouldn’t fit in the new uniforms…I may hit them up come basketball season during pep band.”
Ultimately, Stevens looks back on his high school career with fond memories, and while one might think he’s done it all, he said,
“I wouldn’t say I’ve done it all. Those experiences helped form the educator that I am today… I enjoyed school; I enjoyed the activities. I was involved, and I want other kids to be involved and enjoy school just as much as I do.”
Ells and Wells both grew up in Westfield, Indiana, “not only five minutes away from each other, and we never knew that. We met here in Mishawaka,” said Ells, but the two did take slightly different career paths to reconnect.
“I’ve been in education for 18 years,” said Ells. “Most recently, I was at Career Academy in South Bend…serving as the assistant superintendent for the district…Prior to that, the vast majority of my educational experience (was) in special education…primarily focusing on students with emotional disabilities.
“I've had a wide range of experiences as an educator,” summed up Ells, “(but) I chose to come to Mishawaka because my wife and I have started a family, and I wanted to make sure that I was able to devote time to my profession, education—but also to my family—and find a good way to balance the two out…Family is my number one,” said Ells, not daring to be departed from his Goldendoodle, Cooper.
He explained, “In my career…I jumped to district level administration. I skipped the building level, so this is a great opportunity for me to get back into the building level, and back to my original passion of working with students and helping them be successful. That’s why I’m here…”
And despite his hour-long commute every morning and after school from and to Chesterton Ells said,
“I wouldn’t change it for the world. I value community…(and) over the past month, I have developed a true love (for) Mishawaka.”
Ells’ passion for helping students become successful stems from a longstanding belief that,
“Principals and assistant principals are counselors with a different viewpoint….As an assistant principal, my job is to make sure that [a student’s] social/emotional well-being is (cared for). I’m not always the bad guy,” he clarified.
“I don’t want to be the person who is always lecturing [students], or barking at [students]. I want to have a conversation with [students]. I really feel that relationships are the foundation for success in a building.”
Wells got her “career start” at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, and has since taught at Zionsville West Middle School in Indianapolis. She’s also been a Spanish teacher at Marion, and an assistant principal at Northridge. Now here at Mishawaka, she has two young boys who “keep me on my toes,” and describes herself as, “a Michigan gal,” when it comes to beaches. She’s here at Mishawaka because,
“When I was first married, my husband and I bought our first house together right by the Battell Center, and so, Mishawaka holds a special place for us.”
She added, “I have been really happy so far since I’ve started here. I wanted to be part of a team that was bigger. I’m excited to be here; I feel lucky.”
Dress code is a controversial topic that has swept the nation within the past year as students have returned to in-person learning. Last October, the MHS Alltold tackled the issue with a piece called, Is the MHS Dress Code Sexist? This year, MHS students are still asking the question, and remain frustrated by paradoxical answers and seemingly no change to the policy—despite the school’s long-since broken air conditioning and the mid-summer climate—which make it even more difficult to feel comfortable in “school-appropriate” clothing. With two new administrators in the building, an opportunity for new opinions on the subject has presented itself.
“It [Mishawaka High School’s dress code] has nothing to do with body-shaming...or anything like that, but it has everything to do with just a level of professionalism. [School] is a professional setting. Any workplace has a standard of expectations for dress code and decorum,” Wells said.
She wanted to communicate to the student-body that, “We [administrators] try to see everything we can. We cannot see all 1600 students at once…but we are really doing our best to be fair…”
Policies have a track record of clashing with personalities, which often pits students against administrators and creates adversarial relationships. In response to this, Ells made it known that,
“I’m going to enforce the policies, and I’m going to ensure that we [administrators] help all students understand why the policies are in place. Maybe that’s where we need to do better as staff and administration…”
Stevens, Ells, and Wells, are all enthusiastic about the new school year. As Stevens summed up nicely,
“When I arrive in the hall and see people, I’m going to smile and hope that they have a good day, because I want them to have a good day, too.
"When everybody’s having a good day, things go so much better. You learn more, you feel better about yourself, and it’s just a good feeling to have. We’re [administrators and board members] trying to help move the culture in Mishawaka to (a) positive. Let’s have fun, and let’s enjoy every day that we have together.”
Special thanks again to the SCM Director of Communications and Project Management, Mrs. Jennifer Smith, for capturing the candid photos to document the interview with Dr. Stevens!