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After 37 years as a teacher and principal with Sylvania City Schools, Dale Wiltse figured he'd had a pretty good run in education.
Still, he wasn't officially retired last summer when he was tapped by Perrysburg Schools Superintendent Tom Hosler to fill in as principal at the junior high school. A vacancy had arisen when former Principal Patrick Calvin was suspended and later indicted for theft in office.
While Mr. Wiltse figured the job would be temporary - he started Oct. 1 and planned only to finish out the school year - last week he signed a two-year contract with the Perrysburg school board.
"It's wonderful team, a great school," he said. "Everything is in place. I know the kids."
Standing in line in the cafeteria where Mr. Wiltse was serving up chicken nuggets Thursday, eighth grader Celia Connolly said Mr. Wiltse lost no time getting to know the 1,000-plus kids at the junior high.
"He's very friendly," she said. "He walks up and asks you how you're doing. He knows everybody in the school."
Mr. Wiltse insists he doesn't know every student's name, though he's working on it. He got a headstart last year after learning he would be working at the junior high. He borrowed a yearbook and started familiarizing himself with staff and students.
The personal touch apparently impressed the community.
School Board President Valerie Hovland said last week that Mr. Wiltse was selected for the job following surveys with parents and staff.
"We had people who said we'll kill you if you don't keep Dale Wiltse at the junior high," she said. "We don't take death threats lightly."
Mr. Hosler said parents indicated they wanted a leader who was trustworthy, compassionate, experienced, and "there for the kids." As a parent, Mr. Hosler had gotten to know Mr. Wiltse when his own children attended Highland Elementary where Mr. Wiltse was principal.
Mr. Wiltse, 59, never planned to be a junior high principal. He hoped to teach high school math after graduating from the University of Toledo but other than a year of substitute teaching with Toledo Public Schools while he was still in college, he never did.
He did his student teaching at Arbor Hills Junior High School in Sylvania and ended up teaching seventh and eighth grade math there for 13 years. He spent one year as assistant principal at Arbor Hills, 6.5 years as principal at Hillview Elementary, and 16.5 years as Highland Elementary principal.
He said his new stint at Perrysburg Junior High doesn't feel like a second career.
"For me, it's a continuation," Mr. Wiltse said. "I never saw it coming - either this job or the one I'm going to be filling for the next two years."
For the past year, he said his focus has been keeping the school safe and financially accountable. He never met Mr. Calvin, he said, and didn't know what happened with his predecessor, whose case is pending in Wood County Common Pleas Court.
He likened his role to running one leg of a relay race.
"You focus on the leg of the race you're running, not the leg before you," Mr. Wiltse said. "You run your best and when you hand off the baton you hope the person after you runs faster and better than you did."