The leader of a small mid-Michigan school district is taking some leave to serve his country. Ithaca Public Schools Superintendent Steve Netzley is a soldier in the Michigan Army National Guard.
This will actually be my first long-term deployment. Typically, the situation is where I'm leaving for more traditional training, and those tend to be 30 days or less at a time. So, this will really be our first experience where I'm gone for a significant amount of time on a full deployment.
So, as a command sergeant major; for people who are not familiar with the term, you are the top enlisted person in your particular unit, and you are the liaison between the enlisted personnel and the commanding officer. When you are in your superintendent role, you are the commanding officer. So how does that work in your life?
Well, I understand both roles, and I enjoy both roles. As the superintendent, you are the commander, so to speak. Of course, that comes with a lot of responsibility and can be kind of a lonely position sometimes because it's just you and whatever support network you have surrounding you. When I step into my role as the command sergeant major, I can empathize with my commander and understand exactly what my commander is going through. So I think it gives me a unique perspective on what I can do to help my commander be successful and the unit be successful. I enjoy switching back and forth between both roles. I've been doing it my entire career, and it's a nice change of pace to go back and forth, for sure.
Has one role taught you some sort of a life lesson that you didn't really think applied to the other part of your life? Maybe you thought, ‘OK, there’s some connectivity; there’s something I learned in the army that fits in my position in education or vice versa.
The things that I've learned in the military, you know, about building relationships, taking care of your people, putting them before yourself, and being more of a servant leader type…that's translated well into the education world. A lot of leadership is, do you have people's backs or do you have their hearts? If you have their hearts, they'll work themselves to death for you and if you just have their backs, you get the bare minimum. That's certainly something I've learned over the years.
You're leaving for Iraq with the 126th Theater Public Affairs Support Element from Fort Custer near Augusta, Michigan. We have not seen or heard a lot of coverage in the last several years from Iraq. What is happening there now?
We can do everything from conducting press conferences and press credentialing and escort. We can also do production. We can do video, photo, news stories, interviews; the full gamut of public affairs.
You’re right; Iraq has not been in the news as much lately. You hear a lot more about Afghanistan or other operations. But, since the defeat of ISIS; although we're still fighting ISIS and they may not hold a physical caliphate anymore, they've turned it into more of an insurgency now. So, we’re there to support our Iraq partners and continuing to pressure that organization and not let them come back and be a threat.
I'm sure the Ithaca Public Schools will be in good hands while you're gone with an interim. What types of projects are going to be happening in your absence that you're hopeful to see come to fruition once you get back?
So, we have an interim hired. It's Sarah Kettlehohn. Sarah is a retired superintendent from Merrill Public Schools, and she’s actually an Ithaca grad. She has a great perspective on Ithaca. We have full confidence in Sarah; she’s going to do a great job for us. The timing is interesting when I'm leaving, because we're actually gearing up for a bond campaign and looking to go to a vote in May 2020. So that's been the big project we've been working on here in Ithaca and Sarah's going to be focused on that. She's a great person and very experienced. I have full confidence in her.