Switzerland County native Rod Hite honored as ‘Middle School Principal of the Year’

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Switzerland County native Rod Hite has been honored as the “Middle School Principal of the Year” for the State of Indiana. He was honored for his service as the Principal of the Junior High School in the South Ripley School Corporation.

He was selected as the winner in District 10 by the Indiana Association of School Principals; while the state award was through the Blue Ribbon Committee and the Horace Mann Foundation.

He received his honor on Sunday, November 23rd, at the IASP Conference in Indianapolis.

“Each district has a principal who has been nominated by a fellow principal,” Rod Hite said. “Then they are selected by the district, and then those 12 compile a package that goes into the Blue Ribbon Committee and the Horace Mann Foundation; and they select one winner for elementary, one for middle schools, and one for high schools. Those three now go on to the national Educator of the Year award, which will be presented in Washington, D.C.”

Rod Hite said that the announcement of the national award won’t be made until September of next year.

Rod Hite was nominated by Dave Strauss, the principal at Batesville.

“When I was down there in that area, I got together an area middle school principals meeting with principals from all different districts,” Rod Hite said. “We would sit around and talk about best practices that are working in the field and a lot of those kinds of things and how we operate. We also opened our doors for other schools to come in and visit; and that in turn has hopefully shared a lot of information and helped other schools. We’ve seen other schools in Southeastern Indiana have their performance increase from that, so that’s what got the recommendation and the ball rolling.”

“When I came to South Ripley, they were a ‘D’,” Rod Hite said of the state’s grading system for schools. “We were able to get that to an ‘A’, Four Star School with above 50-percent free and reduced and almost 20-percent special education population. When the results come out again this May, they should be a three-time Four Star School in Indiana, which is being in the top 25-percentile in every category. We’re pretty proud of that.”

Rod Hite said that the state refers to what it calls, ‘breaking ranks’, which refers to what a school is willing to do to and what a school has done to help institute student success. At South Ripley, many new programs and hard work from students and staff made it a reality.

“We changed our master schedule to add reading classes for every student in addition to an English class,” Rod Hite said of some of his changes. “We offered free bus rides home after remediation. We instituted true team teaching aspects where we went to grade level teams instead of discipline areas. We gave our teachers common preps so that we could host data meetings and team meetings. There were many different things.”

And, although he instituted and oversaw the changes, Rod Hite is quick to divert the credit toward others.

“Really, when it came down to it, there were a lot of different things, it’s not just one thing, he said. “The parents, the kids, and the teachers are all working together for a great cause. All I was able to do was put the structure in place. The teachers had to do the work and the kids really put out the effort and the parents had to cooperate, and all of it came together to culminate in one big award.”

And when he accepted the State honor in November, he also made sure that everyone else knew that many people shared the award.

“When I accepted the award, that’s exactly what I told them,” Rod Hite said. “I felt very honored to be the one to accept it, but it’s really a South Ripley award.”

Rod Hite is now in his first year as Principal at Edgewood Junior School, where he oversees a school of 640 students in three grades. The school is part of the Richland Bean Blossum School Corporation near Bloomington, Indiana.

Rod Hite graduated from Switzerland County High School in 1993, and he then joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving four years. From there he worked in the finance world for a couple of years, before deciding that he wanted to enter education.

“My wife’s family was educators, and we talked about settling down and having children. We’d been married about seven years at the time and still didn’t have any children,” Rod Hite said. “We both went back to Indiana State and earned our teaching degrees. She teaches second grade and I taught social studies and coached.”

That first job was in the North Decatur School Corporation, where he taught for a couple of years before he learned that South Ripley had a position open for a social studies teacher and a baseball coach. Having excelled in baseball while at Switzerland County High School as a student, he was a natural to coach the Raiders.

After a couple of years in that position, North Decatur called and asked him if he’d be interested in returning to North Decatur as an assistant principal and athletic director, which he accepted.

While there he earned a master’s degree in curriculum; and then began working on his administrator’s degree in administration and leadership, which he soon earned.

“Then South Ripley built a new junior high school and I was still living in Versailles and my wife was teaching second grade there in Versailles, and I had taught and coached at South Ripley, so I came back and became the junior high principal there for four years.”

While at South Ripley he also continued his education, earning his EDS and superintendent’s license and educational specialist degree.

Now that he’s in Ellettsville at Edgewood, he is getting ready to start his Ph.D. program.

The decision to move to Edgewood was a difficult one, but it provided Rod Hite with the challenge of a little bigger school; as well as opportunities for his sons: Roman and Saxton.

“Roman just started his first football game in the second grade at IU Memorial Field,” Rod Hite said. “That was a great honor to see my kids have a lot of opportunities that they wouldn’t have had in some of the small school settings, but at the same time I was able to advance my own degree because I’m close enough to Indiana State that I can start on my Ph.D..”

Rod Hite, with all of his travels and opportunities, is and will always be a “Switzerland County boy”. He met his wife, Mandy, when he was a freshman at Switzerland County High School and she was a student at South Ripley.

“We met in the Switzerland County High School gym,” he remembered. “She came there to play volleyball and I got her name and phone number, and she came to a dance that Friday night in October of 1989, and before you know it, this July we will be married 20 years.”

Does he ever see a time when he will return home?

“When everybody says, ‘where are you from?’ I always say Vevay or Switzerland County,” Rod Hite says. “It’s always home. Mine and Mandy’s ultimate goal is to someday build a home in Switzerland County and retire out there. It’s still home to me. When the right opening comes around, then maybe that will happen. It’s one of those things. I appreciate all those things, and I take a lot of pride in coming from Switzerland County. A lot of great people. A lot of great teachers and coaches along the way who helped me become the person I am today.”