Monday, May 21, 2018
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New chief of schools takes post - for real

The last time the superintendency of the Ottawa Hills schools had been open, Cathleen Heidelberg didn't apply.

Then the district's director of curriculum, she filled the superintendent's chair on an interim basis while a district committee found and hired Gail Mirrow.

But during that six-month interim stint, from August, 1999, through January, 2000, Ms. Heidelberg discovered she liked the top job better than she had expected.

So when Mrs. Mirrow announced her retirement last spring, Ms. Heidelberg, then assistant superintendent for instruction and technology, didn't hesitate to apply.

The local school board chose her in July, and since Dec. 1 she has been deputy superintendent during a transition period that will end Monday, when Mrs. Mirrow retires.

A high school mathematics teacher in the Toledo Public Schools for 13 years early in her 35-year education career, Ms. Heidelberg acknowledges that her affluent, 987-student district shares few of the problems that beset large urban districts like neighboring Toledo's.

Most pupils come to school "ready to learn" every day, and parents take active interest in their children's educations.

But that doesn't make running the district a simple matter of making sure the lights are on and the heat works on cold winter days.

"Continuing to strive for academic excellence is very important for us," Ms. Heidelberg said.

"That doesn't just happen by itself. We are always identifying things we need to do for our students to make sure they can be successful in the 21st-century global marketplace."

The district's wealth means it has the resources to keep its programs strong, and Ottawa Hills' status as a landlocked bedroom community means that the schools always will rely on residential taxpayers, Ms. Heidelberg said. So "cultivating citizen support and confidence" is vital.

"We have to be very open to what our community wants for its students," Ms. Heidelberg said.

She described herself as a strong believer in soliciting advice from teachers, administrators, and parents, and said that as assistant superintendent, she had not shied from disagreeing with Mrs. Mirrow.

"Having someone there who can challenge your thinking is important. I want somebody to do that for me," the new superintendent said.

"Cathy is a natural to be my successor," Mrs. Mirrow said. "She's very familiar with all aspects of the district and is a respected member of our staff. She's an excellent leader and I believe she will do a wonderful job."

Ms. Heidelberg, a 58-year-old Toledo native who now lives in Maumee, has worked in the Ottawa Hills district since April, 1988.

For four years before that, she was a curriculum consultant and supervisor at the Lucas County Educational Service Center and an instructor for the University of Toledo's Division of Adult and Continuing Education.

A 1970 cum laude graduate of the University of Toledo who majored in mathematics, she taught junior high math in the Bedford Public Schools for one year before joining the Toledo school system.

Ms. Heidelberg said both of her sons, now grown, graduated from the Toledo schools - one from DeVilbiss High School, the other from Start - and "they both had fabulous educations." That other big-city school students don't all fare so well is often because of factors beyond the control of the district, she said.

Among the Ottawa Hills district's imminent challenges, the superintendent said, is replacing a large number of baby boom-generation teachers who are nearing retirement age.

"We have a very experienced staff, and a lot of stability," Ms. Heidelberg said.

"People tend to stay here their whole careers. And we prefer to hire experienced teachers - they bring in new ideas," she said.

The district soon will be updating its five-year plan too - an update the new superintendent said is well-timed with the change in command.

"This is an opportunity to hear again from the teachers, the parents, the students, and the community: What do we want our schools to be like in five years, 10 years, and beyond?" Ms. Heidelberg said.

Mrs. Mirrow cited the school district's growing involvement in the larger community among the biggest accomplishments of her six-plus years at its helm. The district has enhanced its adult technology programs and set up community committees for facilities, finance, technology, and wellness, she said.

Mrs. Mirrow's retirement brings an end, at age 64, to her 37 1/2-year education career, most of which was in the Washington Local and Sylvania districts before she became Ottawa Hills' superintendent.

"I'm looking forward to doing a lot of things I haven't had time to get to. I'm going to be taking a glass-blowing class, and I will be going on a bike trip through the Czech Republic with my husband," Mrs. Mirrow said.

Time dedicated to four grandchildren also will be in order, she said.

Contact David Patch at:

or 419-724-6094.

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