Siebert looks back at a decade of service



DUBOIS — December 2019 came with a bittersweet realization for former Northeast Dubois School Board member John Siebert.

After 12 years representing Harbison Township on one of the last appointed school boards in the state, Siebert knew it was time to step aside and not seek a fourth term on the board. He loved serving on the board, Siebert said during a January interview, and he knows he’ll miss it. But, he said, he’s also had the honor of being part of the leadership that has guided the corporation in its current time of major change. He’s proud of that.

“To me, one of the best things I’ve ever done is be a school board member,” he said.

Recent years aren’t the first time Siebert played a role in changing the culture of Northeast Dubois. Board President Mary Pankey recalled that several years ago when the corporation went through the strategic planning process, Siebert was at the forefront.

Professionally, Siebert is a consultant who helps nonprofits with strategic planning, so when the school corporation went through the process, he was right at home.

“He was helpful with organizing community meetings and establishing the culture of the school as we went through the strategic planning process,” Pankey said.

Superintendent Bill Hochgesang also cited Siebert’s nonprofit experience as an asset to the board. Schools and nonprofits are similar, Hochgesang said. Both have limited resources and have to leverage those resources to effectively serve people. Siebert was good at finding a balance.

“It’s about making the most of what we have,” Hochgesang said. “He was very good about that and at planning for the future.”

Hochgesang added that Siebert was always open-minded when teachers and administrators came to the board with innovative ideas for instruction.

For Siebert, it was easy to be open-minded about change. Part of his life view is the belief that times of change are opportunities for growth, and he brought that approach to his role on the school board, especially in the last four years.

Since 2015, the corporation has sought and passed a property tax referendum, announced the closure of Celestine Elementary School and reconfigured grade levels to spread students among the three buildings that will remain after Celestine Elementary closes at the end of this school year. For board members and school administrators, it’s been a hectic few years filled with decisions that left many displeased. Looking back on it, though, Siebert sees the years as the most fulfilling of his tenure as a board member.

“When you have to make hard decisions, when you have to make decisions that won’t make everybody happy, that’s when you have opportunity for growth,” Siebert said.

In such times, Siebert said, it’s important to lead with your heart and make the decision that will benefit the most people in the long term, and that’s what he’s tried to do during this time of change for Northeast Dubois. He’s grateful to everyone in the community for continuing to support the school corporation. He knows that for some, voting yes on the referendum meant making sacrifices, and saying goodbye to Celestine Elementary will be tough. Voting to close it was the hardest decision he had to make while on the board, Siebert said.

“But I really believe education will improve for everybody,” he said.

Although he’s no longer on the board, Siebert said he plans to stay involved with the school corporation. In fact, he attended a recent board work session where the school board — now with Shawn Dooley sitting in Siebert’s old seat — discussed phase two of renovations at the current high school. He didn’t comment during the session, but he was there in the front row supporting his former colleagues.

“[The last few years] really put the school [corporation] in a position for success,” Siebert said. “I really believe the current board will do the right thing to move the school corporation forward.”

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