When Kristin Barker, Whitehall's new director of secondary education, walked into Resch's Bakery last week, she struck up a conversation with a 60-year-old Whitehall man who has been peering into the shop's tempting display cases since he was a boy.
He remembered when he could barely see over the counter, Barker said. He's been shopping at the bakery for succulent treats every week for nearly a half-century.
"Everyone is so ingrained in this community," Barker said. "That's what I love about Whitehall."
Barker, along with Darrell Propst, Whitehall's new director of elementary education, are new to the district and new to the community this year. Barker comes from South-Western City Schools, where she most recently served as coordinator of student services. Propst stood at the helm of Taylor Road Elementary School in Reynoldsburg for the past nine years.
Together, they will help guide principals within the district's three elementary schools, middle school and high school, overseeing programming to include curriculum, testing, funding, gifted and special education, and federal programs. The new posts allow each to better serve administrators, said Propst.
"The positions are new, but there has always been someone here in the district in these offices who have done those things," Propst said. "So it's really just a reconfiguration, looking at it more from the level where the students are."
He said the restructuring allows each to focus their talents and energies on specific ages.
"By bringing our experience to each level, we will directly impact kids right away," Barker said.
The positions are part of an overall restructuring by Superintendent Brian Hamler, entering his second year in the district's top job. As part of the reorganization, Hamler has created a deputy superintendent's position underneath him -- held by former Rosemore Middle School Principal Mark Trace -- under which four administrators fall, including the director of elementary education, secondary education, special education and operations.
Both Propst and Barker said they are excited to contribute their talents to the district.
"As a (former) high school principal, I'm completely comfortable with master scheduling, working with personnel and making sure we are fiscally responsible in the decisions we make," said Barker. "I am very much team-oriented and a collaborator. I think working with principals, working with staff and determining what our needs are is important as we move forward to achieve at even greater levels."
Achievement will be her No. 1 priority, she added.
Propst said collaboration will be a major part of his approach as well.
"That's one of the great things that I take away from Reynoldsburg, is that the elementary principals there were very close and worked very well together and met frequently. We worked on issues together, so there's a model that I want to replicate with the elementary schools principals here."
Coming from two very different districts, both Barker and Propst said they have been pleasantly surprised with the intimacy of Whitehall's tight-knit community.
"One of the biggest surprises for me in talking to people here is the stories of, 'I grew up in Whitehall' or 'I moved away for a while but came back' or 'My parents have lived in Whitehall for years and years,' " said Propst. "These are people with deep, deep roots and they love this town.
"To me, that's exciting."