Head of the class: Superintendent Phil Herman embraces new position

Superintendent leaps head first into new position

Article and photos by Stephanie Fellenstein Published:

Phil Herman is a busy man.

Take a recent Friday, for instance. His work day begins at 7:02 a.m. after his daughter Olivia, a seventh-grader at Kimpton Middle School in Stow, gets on the bus.

"We have a long driveway so I drive her down to the end of the driveway and then I come here [to Hudson] after," he says. "Every single morning she reminds me to 'think positive.'"

By 9:45 a.m., Herman and Doreen Osmun, assistant superintendent, are in the middle of one of their weekly meetings.

"We like to try to touch base at least once a week," he says.

The two hop from topic to topic -- Twitter, the possibility of adding a calculus 3 class, wood skills for special education students and developing a math/science combination for a new service learning class.

Half an hour later, Osmun is headed to the middle school for an eighth-grade language arts presentation, while Herman plans to visit "A Day in Business" at the high school.

A technological leader

Herman is an extremely visible superintendent. Part of this is due to his involvement in every aspect of the school district. The other part is thanks to his Twitter handle @PhilHerman. (He has even been known to demonstrate his dancing abilities on Twitter.)

"I started tweeting for a variety of reasons," he says. "It was right around SB5. There were a lot of negative comments at that time. I have the opportunity to see so many great things happening every day that I wanted to let people know there was another side to see. I wanted to start sharing."

Herman also pointed out that Twitter is a powerful professional development tool.

"It is amazing how many educational hashtags there are," he says.

Balancing game

In one week alone, Herman traveled to Dayton for the girls volleyball state semifinals. He attended the football team's playoff game and was a guest speaker at the Hudson High School Leadership Conference in Hiram. He also worked in all of his regular duties before heading to Columbus for the Ohio School Boards Association Capital Conference where he and Steve DiMauro gave a presentation on "Creating compensation strategies."

"My primary focus this year is visibility. That's a high priority," he says. "Tell us when, and if we can, we'll be there."

On the flip side, though, is balancing that high visibility with his private life. "I'm also focused on maintaining a balance and making an effort to carve out family time," he says. "That was one of the lessons learned from Lakewood [Local Schools where he served as superintendent for three years]."

Becoming superintendent

Herman's original plan was to be a lawyer, like his dad. "Superintendent" did not even make an appearance on his career list when he was in school.

"I grew up in Stow," he says. In fact, when he came back to the area with his family about eight years ago, they moved to the property he had grown up on. "My kids are the fifth generation to live there," he says.

Growing up, Herman attended Woodridge schools through the sixth grade and then he completed middle school at Holy Family Catholic School. He then went to Walsh Jesuit High School.

"I had an interesting mixture of public and parochial schooling," he says.

While he intended to go to law school, Herman says his father encouraged him to major in something other than pre-law. He chose education with a focus on teaching comprehensive communication -- English, journalism and speech.

It was the summer he spent working at Camp O'Bannon in Newark, Ohio, though, that started the erosion of the original plans. He still planned to go to law school, but it wouldn't be long before those plans totally changed.

Back to Camp O'Bannon

Camp O'Bannon is a summer camp, with a focus on low self-esteem, for elementary through eighth-grade children in Licking County, Herman says.

"The kids are recommended for camp by the sheriff's office, nurses and children's services," he says, adding there is also an outpost camp for high school students.

Herman worked for the camp for four years, starting as a camp counselor and finishing his final two years as the summer camp director.

"That really influenced my decision to work with young kids and have a positive impact on them," he says.

Herman still wasn't quite ready to give up his law school dream and entered The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

"I left after the first semester," he says.

With a little time on his hands, Herman headed out to New Mexico to work at a school outside of Santa Fe in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

"I was a resident adviser and teacher's aid at a boarding school," he says. "I worked 24/7 for 3 1/2 days a week and then had 3 1/2 days off. We camped all over New Mexico and Colorado."

A self-proclaimed outdoor enthusiast, the job was right up Herman's alley.

"If it's an activity outside, I love it. Skiing, hiking, fishing, it doesn't matter what it is," he says. "Well, except for golf. I'm terrible at golf."

After finishing out the school year, Herman headed back to Ohio to find a job.

Lakewood Local Schools, near Columbus was looking for an in-school suspension teacher and Herman accepted the job. That year he also subbed, coached freshman girls basketball, middle school track and assisted with the football team. He also started coursework for a master's degree in administration. The next year, Herman was offered a position as an English/journalism teacher.

Around the same time, he met his future wife, Lisa, and they got married during his third year teaching at Lakewood local schools.

"I was suddenly inspired to stick around," he says smiling.

He also finished his master's degree.

After his third year of teaching, Lakewood Local Superintendent Lou Staffilino asked if Herman had ever thought about being an elementary school principal.

"I said 'not really'," Herman says. "and he said, 'you'd better.'"

Herman was offered the position of elementary principal for grades kindergarten through fourth.

Three years later, when Staffilino retired, Herman was offered the superintendent position.

Just to give some perspective, he says, the Hudson City School District includes 31 square miles and has 4,650 students, while the Lakewood Local School District covers 115 square miles and includes 2,200 students.

"I stayed for three years," he says. "My kids [the family also includes son, Hayden, a fourth-grader] were young and we were still thinking about coming back [to the Stow area]."

When the director of human resources position in Hudson opened up, Herman applied and got the job. He spent the next eight years in that position, plus added assistant superintendent to his duties five years ago.

And then superintendent

"I knew I wanted to be a superintendent," Herman says. "I just had to remind myself why I got into education -- to have a positive impact on kids. Now my focus is empowering others to have positive impacts too."

While Herman was named superintendent in May 2013, he officially took over the position on Aug. 1. His three-year contract runs through July 2016.

Herman says he was not intimidated by Hudson's outstanding academic record.

"Good leaders surround themselves with good people," he says, and points to Osmun. "It's amazing what she juggles."

But Osmun shakes off the praise. "It's definitely a team effort," she says.

"It all can feel overwhelming," Herman says. "But what gives me peace is looking at the people here. There are fantastic people who truly have an interest and passion in preparing pupils for the future. I never felt like I was doing it alone. My role is to support them in what they do so well."

Herman pointed out that nine administrators (including himself) are new this year.

"Everyone is very capable," he says. "And none of the secretaries are new. They help keep us pointed in the right direction."

Support system

While Herman is off at Hudson events, his wife Lisa keeps things running smoothly at home.

Herman was busy before as assistant superintendent, but there are a few more commitments these days, especially in the evening, Lisa says. "We have to do a lot of planning."

The family does attend some of the Hudson events with Herman. Hayden, especially, went to most of the Hudson football games this season and stood with his dad on the sidelines.

"That was something really nice for them to do together," Lisa says.

"Family comes first for him. But I know that he's torn when he has to choose between a family event and a school event. I know he wants to be in two places at the same time."

There is also a support system at school.

Linda Miller has worked with a lot of superintendents in the 17 years she has been with the district's central office.

Miller started with Assistant Superintendent Mary Ann Wolowiec and then moved with her when Wolowiec became superintendent. She also has worked with interim superintendent Jack Thomas, Steve Farnsworth and now Herman.

While Herman was busy with meetings on that Friday, Miller was overseeing the computer tech working on his computer. Herman wanted to show video clips in his presentation for the Leadership group, but his computer was not cooperating.

By late morning the technology was upgraded and Miller told Herman her computer also was upgraded so she could work on the project if he needed help.

"I love working with Phil," she says. "He's just a wonderful, approachable person and that really helps him in his position. He is very visible."

Miller points out that Herman is not only approachable for school staff members, but also for the community and the students.

"He goes to the high school and has lunch with the students," she says. "He will randomly sit with kids and ask their opinions on things."

By early afternoon, Herman is heading to the high school for a Day in Business, a business fair sponsored by the Business Club under the direction of Betty Banks-Burke.

"She has been here 40 years and is incredible," Herman says. "She has an amazing passion for business."

The gym is filled with vendors -- 50 local businesses -- for the fifth year of the fair.

He stops to chat with business club members, both juniors, David Johanson and William Price.

"We have more vendors than last year," Johanson points out, and Price snaps a quick picture of Herman.

Business Club President Navneet Kala, a senior, stops to shake hands with Herman. Herman asks him a few questions about his position with the club and then Kala turns the questioning to the superintendent. "How about you?" he asks. "How do you like the job so far?" Herman says he does like the position and thanks Kala for his hard work with the business club.

He visits a few more booths, touches base with Principal Brian Wilch and then heads back to his office to work on his speech for the Columbus conference.

Despite the sometimes crazy schedule, Herman couldn't be happier with his new position.

"I get to see our students growing," he says. "It's a great gift."v

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