Teachers leader ready to retire, reflect

Herald Staff Writer

Indiana State Teachers Association President Nate Schnellenberger will retire from his position July 31 after six years of advocacy for Indiana teachers.


The 62-year-old Jasper man spent the majority of his 34-year teaching career as a science teacher at Forest Park High School and co-president of the Classroom Teachers Association for Southeast Dubois schools. He became involved in the statewide organization as a committee member and was later elected to two terms as the treasurer on the board of directors. He chose to run for the top position in 2007 and again in 2010.

The organization’s bylaws prevent members from serving in a position for more than two terms. The board elected current Vice President Teresa Meredith to be the new president beginning Aug. 1.

Schnellenberger said his presidency has been both rewarding and frustrating. During his tenure, the Indiana Legislature passed and enacted several education reforms, including teacher merit pay based on performance evaluations and collective bargaining restrictions, and cut millions of dollars from the education budget each year.

“Decisions about public education are made by legislators who often have not been in a public school since they were in high school,” Schnellenberger said this morning from Washington, D.C., where he was attending National Education Association-related meetings. “There are some of them that think they know all the answers about public education, and they don’t think they need to listen to administrators or teachers. The result of that is poor public policy regarding education.”

Schnellenberger and other ISTA members throughout the state fought back hard against many of the reforms proposed by former governor Mitch Daniels and former state superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett. Though many of those measures still passed into law, Schnellenberger will close his final term on the heels of what he considers a great success for public education.

“Probably the greatest accomplishment was the election of Glenda Ritz,” Schnellenberger said of the new superintendent of public instruction who defeated Bennett last November and took office in January. “Dr. Bennett ... had more than $1 million in his campaign war chest and the ability to get more money. Here comes Glenda Ritz, who had never run for public office before, had no name recognition, no money, and we were able to help her run a stealth campaign, a social media campaign. Our members were certainly big players. We facilitated and helped organize our members to work for Glenda.”

His former co-workers at Forest Park High School will remember him for his years of service both in the classroom and in the ISTA office.

“Nate is a man of resolve. No one could foresee the tough challenges that he would have to face during his tenure, but Nate was the right man at the right time to lead the ISTA through some of the roughest years in its existence,” said Don Prusz, a science and math teacher at the school. “The tougher the circumstance, the stiffer he set his jaw. Nate is both my friend and the leader of my professional organization and I could not be more proud of his dedication and success.”

English teacher Rock Emmert said he appreciates Schnellenberger’s dedication to the children of Indiana in a time when deep cuts from the Legislature were stripping programming from schools.

“His leadership and integrity during a difficult time will always be remembered by those of us who work with our youth every day,” Emmert said.

Even those who did not know Schnellenberger personally have heard about his campaign to save education dollars and teachers’ rights during Daniels’ and Bennett’s terms.

“I don’t know Nate as well as others, as he was gone when I started teaching here,” Forest Park health and physical education teacher Ross Fuhs said. “I do know that (he) had all the best intentions for teachers. He was someone who would ruffle some feathers if need be to try and help the teachers out.”

Schnellenberger will retire from education and continue living in Jasper. He said his retirement will give him more time to spend with his wife, Beth, and other family members.

“I was both proud and humbled to have the opportunity to lead a more-than-40,000-member organization and to represent teachers and education employees across our state,” he said.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com