Norwalk City Schools Superintendent Wayne Babcanec remembers the day when he used to take visitors through Norwalk on a tour of the schools.
They were looking for a place to move and he was trying to sell the town and the school system.
When the tour would come to the old Norwalk High School on Main Street, “we’d drive by really fast,” he said with a chuckle.
Those days are gone. Now he has the new Norwalk High School on Shady Lane Drive to show off and the old building in town has been transformed into Main Street School for fifth and sixth graders.
“If you would ask Realtors, one of the first thing people ask when they come to town is the quality of the schools,” he said. “When I take people on tours I try to sell Norwalk. We have a strong public school and a strong parochial school system. When somebody moves to Norwalk, no matter what they school they attend, that increases my tax base.”
It’s easy to sell a good product and the numbers are proof.
“I think our achievement scores have been improving,” Babcanec said in his informal “state of the school” address. “Our enrollment has increased for the last eight years and we are in a stable financial situation.”
Babcanec said the schools have been on a 10-year roll.
“I think a definite turning of the corner occurred in 1998 when the community came together to approve the bond issue for the new high school,” he said. “That was when Virginia Poling was superintendent.
“She was a good lady and she pulled together a coalition that sold the idea of a new high school. I’m reaping the benefits of her hard work ... not me; the schools are reaping the benefits of her hard work.”
Poling retired 6 1/2 years ago and handed the reigns of the school over to Babcanec.
The superintendent has a number of projects on his plate, beginning with the search for a new high school principal.
The job opened last week when it was announced Bob Duncan was moving to the central office.
“The new principal certainly is one of my main priorities,” Babcanec said. “It’s a very high-profile job. Given the academics, the athletics, the extra-curriculars that are all part of the assignment for the principal. It’s a tough job. You have athletic events, music events, academic events at least four, five nights a week.”
Babcanec expects to get a number of highly-qualified applicants.
“With an administrative position we certainly will open it up internally and we do have some people qualified. Also, we have advertised this across the state and we expect a lot of interest in this position. We have much more to offer with the facility we have now.”
Another priority is getting the students in grades three through eight ready for the Ohio Achievement Tests which begin next week.
“You have to do the work in the classroom, first and foremost,” Babcanec said. “In addition to that, you do the best you can to motivate the kids to do the best they can. You have to make it more enjoyable. In Norwalk, we have been on an upward trend the last four years ... More is expected of everybody each year.”
Babcanec’s other main concern is the contract talks with the teachers and support staff.
He said he couldn’t get into specifics, but “insurance is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in each contract I’ve been involved with at the Norwalk City Schools.”
Contract talks are expected to step up in May.