Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Bruce Stahly has spent the past 45 years cultivating a reputation of strong leadership and innovation in the field of education. Now that legacy — at least in its current form — is coming to an end.
Stahly, who began his journey with GCS back in 1998 through his hiring as deputy superintendent, has announced he will be retiring at the end of this month after 14 years with the corporation.
Born in Elkhart in 1945, Stahly spent his youth in the town of Wakarusa, eventually graduating from Wakarusa High School in 1963.
It would not be until after his graduation from Goshen College in 1967 that his interest in the field of education would begin to manifest, however.
“After graduation, I took part in a teaching assistant program at the University of Wisconsin,” Stahly said. “I taught chemistry there for one year. That was the time, of course, of the Vietnam War.”
A member of the pacifist Mennonite faith who filed for conscientious objector status during the war, Stahly accepted his first official teaching position in 1968 as a math instructor at Middlebury High School before heading off to East Africa to complete his alternative service.
“I taught for two years in Middlebury, and then I did my alternative service in the (Mennonite Central Committee’s) Teachers Abroad program from 1970 to 1973,” Stahly said. “That’s when I went to Kenya, East Africa, to teach chemistry and mathematics at the Muhoho High School.”
Upon returning home from Kenya in 1973, Stahly took a year off to finish his Master’s degree in education from Indiana University before returning once more to Middlebury to take a teaching position at Northridge High School, where he would remain until 1984, eventually serving as assistant principal.
Following his time at Northridge, Stahly took another year off and returned to Indiana University to finish his doctorate coursework in Equity and School Finance. Then, in 1985, Stahly accepted a position as assistant superintendent of MSD of Wabash County, where he would remain until 1991.
“It was a great experience for me,” Stahly said of his time at MSD. “I did the whole thing, as far as food service, transportation, business management, the facilities, those types of things. Then in 1991 I accepted a position as business manager at School City of Mishawaka, and I was there for about three and a half years.”
In 1994, Stahly was recruited to fill the position of executive director of support services for South Bend Community Schools — a time he remembers with particular fondness.
“I had four great years there in the South Bend Community Schools with Dr. Virginia Calvin,” Stahly said of the corporation’s former superintendent. “She was a great mentor to me.”
It was from South Bend that Stahly would eventually accept his first position with GCS after receiving a call from then-Superintendent Kent Evans.
“I got a call (in 1998) from Kent Evans to consider coming over here to Goshen as deputy superintendent,” Stahly said. “Kent ended up retiring in 2002, and that’s when I took over as superintendent.”
Boasting one of the highest percentages of low income and English as a new language (ENL) students in the area, the GCS reputation has taken some pretty big hits over the years, particularly in the area of low standardized test scores — something Stahly admits has posed quite a challenge during his time with the corporation.
On the flip side, there seems to be no end to the accolades showered upon the corporation, whether it be the recent naming of Goshen High School as one of the top high schools in Indiana and the nation by U.S. News and World Report, the success of its recently implemented International Baccalaureate diploma program, or the continuously high state and national rankings of its arts and music programs, just to name a few.
“It does hurt at times when people who are just looking in from the outside don’t realize the quality of education that we have in Goshen Schools,” Stahly said.
While definitely a challenge working under such conflicting reputations, Stahly said he loves how the corporation’s unique makeup has allowed him to work with and provide opportunities for students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“My own feeling is you continually need to recruit from all sectors of society, and make it a positive experience for everyone,” Stahly said. “I loved my time in South Bend because it felt like you were doing some good for the community. And I have felt the same way here in terms of really working for what I hope will be the best for the community.”
A proactive leader
Marceil Royer, assistant superintendent with GCS, said it is exactly that sense of compassion and desire to provide the best educational environment possible for those around him that makes Stahly such an effective leader.
“Besides mentoring central office administrators to become superintendents, Dr. Stahly has led the district proactively in its educational vision,” Royer said. “He has navigated changes in our demographics and increasing enrollment while continually focusing on what is best for the students. He has a tender heart for disadvantaged children and families.”
In addition to working with the students, Stahly was quick to note what a joy it has been to work within the city of Goshen and Elkhart County as a whole, particularly when it comes to the many relationships he has built with his peers in the educational community.
“I think in the present day and age, there are communities and counties and so on where there is a lot of discord between superintendents. That is not the case in Elkhart County,” Stahly said. “I think I would speak for all of the superintendents that we want the best educational opportunities for every child in Elkhart County. It doesn’t matter where they go to school.”
George Dyer, recently retired superintendent of Concord Community Schools and a good friend of Stahly’s, was quick to agree.
“The seven public school superintendents in Elkhart County were very close and met often since we all served on various boards and committees together,” Dyer said. “Bruce is very well respected by those of us who know and worked with him over the years. Although he has many areas of expertise, school finance is at the top of that list. He has always been willing to share his expertise with any of us when needed. He has been a tremendous asset to the Goshen Community and to those he served.”
Stahly was also quick to reference what a privilege it has been for him to be a part of the many construction projects and educational initiatives undertaken by the corporation since his hiring that he feels have made GCS a source of pride within the community.
Cause for concern
Stahly noted his worry that those times of plenty he was so fortunate to have been a part of may very well be a thing of the past.
“I’m concerned about the shift right now in education,” Stahly said. “With the tax caps right now, at the opening of school this year I told the people that I don’t blame my successor for the fact that you might not be able to get the items that you might normally be able to get because of those tax caps. So that’s a major concern to me, and I say that because I think we’ve gone through a period where there was really positive support for what we were doing in Goshen Schools, and I think that still continues, but now with the tax caps, it really makes it more difficult.
“So yes, the programs, the landscape, it was really a good time here in Goshen. But I don’t know whether the next 10 years as far as facilities and some of those things, that the same opportunities will be there, and that does concern me.”
Despite those financial concerns, however, Stahly said he couldn’t be happier with the current direction of the corporation, particularly when it comes to the quality of staffing and leadership now poised to take the reigns in his absence.
“We’ve got some terrific administrators that I feel can really move things ahead,” Stahly said. “I think it’s nice to have (Assistant Superintendent) Barry Younghans moving over as principal of the high school, and Lori (Shreiner) at the middle school. That’s really, really fortunate. Plus the fact that (Deputy Superintendent) Diane Woodworth has been here, I don’t think there’s going to be a different road. She knows what we’ve been working on, though of course I’m sure she’ll have other initiatives of her own. There are just a lot of really great things going on right now, and I think they will continue to go on.”
Even with his retirement now imminent, Stahly said his drive to serve the community he loves is as strong as it has ever been. In light of that fact, Stahly said he has already lined up a plan that could have him back and active within the community in just a few short weeks.
“There may be something announced within another six weeks or so of something I would be involve in, and it’s something that’s community oriented right here in Goshen,” Stahly said. “It involves neither the schools nor the city, but it is looking at seeing whether I can still be active in the community.”
Stahly currently lives in Goshen with is wife, Barbara, a former Laboratory Kindergarten teacher at Goshen College. Together they have two grown sons, Gregory and Tom.