New Sup't Neil Sappington faces challenges

by Norm Winick

Neil Sappington isn't stepping into an easy job. When he takes over as Superintendent of Galesburg District #205 July 1st, he'll be in charge of a district staring at a $3.4 million deficit. And, while his two predecessors have come with significant financial backgrounds and experience, Sappington is more of a curriculum geek. His resume is filled with academic studies he's performed and programs he's implemented -- from his bachelor's degree in zoology to his doctoral dissertation comparing changes in classroom science curriculums.

Nonetheless, he says he's prepared to tackle the financial challenges that lay ahead. ''I've worked with [former Superintendent] Ron Cope who was extremely knowledgeable about finances. In some ways, they are not as difficult as the ones we faced in the early 1980s. Then, we were nearly alone among districts in financial difficulty. Today, almost every downstate district and even many in the collar counties are struggling. It's really unfortunate we're heading into these financial straits. We're seeing more students with greater needs now than ever before.''

''I'm more knowledgeable on the expenditure side of finances and I expect that's where we'll be addressing the issue. I don't expect to propose any kind of referendum with the local economy the way it is.''

''We've been in the planning process since 1995, trying and implementing a variety of programs of instruction. For money reasons, we are going to have to be more conservative in what we can afford to try but because of the ''No Child Left Behind'' Act, we are also going to have to be sensitive to preserving those programs that make an impact on our success as measured by the act.''

''Overall, I am not in favor of the constant testing the act mandates but the reality is that it puts a focus on learning and academic achievement.''

''This financial crisis also gives us an opportunity to look at the programs we have in place and see which ones are most appropriate to achieving the mission of the district.''

''It's really too early to talk about any specific cuts. We are still really at the early process of analyzing the deficit and looking at all areas.'' One possible savings could involve replacing himself with a ''director'' rather than an ''assistant superintendent'' for curriculum.

One of the changes implemented in the last few years that also involved some extra cost, hiring four additional teachers, is the four-block schedule at Galesburg High School. ''We are committed to the four-block until 2004,'' says Sappington. After that, it will be evaluated. So far, from the surveys we've done, we're pleased.''

Sappington started with District #205 in 1973, serving as a fifth grade teacher, a principal, and currently Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum. He served between 1982 and 1988 as R.O.W.V.A. High School Principal. When the District's top post became open three years ago, Sappington did not apply. ''I had a son in school here and just didn't think the time was right.'' He was looking to advance his career and says he did apply for three other positions over the last four years -- until Gary Harrison announced his departure this summer.

''It's something I'm real excited about -- to assume the superintendency of a district I've been involved with for so long.''

So far, Sappington says, the Maytag announcement has had absolutely no impact on enrollment. ''We're watching it very closely. In fact, we were up 11 students this month over last. I do expect there will be some impact as the plant phases out and people find work elsewhere.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr website December 28, 2002

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