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'Every day has been fun'

Edwin H. Sponseller retires from Pa. schools

Edwin H. Sponseller retires from Pa. schools

July 02, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - After 40 years in education, 18 of them at the helm of the Chambersburg Area School District, Superintendent Edwin H. Sponseller retired last week.

"I've truly been blessed by the district and the board of directors, who have treated me very kindly over the years," Sponseller said. "I don't regret anything. Every day has been fun, and I enjoyed myself."

"I had a great supporting cast," he said of his administration colleagues, faculty and staff.

Sponseller, 62, has spent all but two years of his career in Chambersburg schools, starting as a ninth-grade civics teacher and basketball coach at Faust Junior High School.

Those two years were spent as an assistant principal at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa.

Sponseller also has been an assistant principal at Faust and an associate superintendent at Chambersburg.

Despite his retirement, and being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, Sponseller does not intend to slow down.

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"In the immediate future, we're going down to Caledonia (State Park) tomorrow, and I'm going to run six miles and my wife is going to bike," Sponseller said Thursday.

Travel with his wife, Susy, to see their sons, Todd and Stephen, also is on their itinerary, as is "occasionally hosting our grandson, who is 3 1/2," he said. So are trips to Fenway Park to see his beloved Boston Red Sox.

"There's electricity in that ballpark," he said.

"I reacted very well to the chemotherapy I've undergone so far," Sponseller said of the treatments he has received for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. He plans to take part in a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which will require him and his wife to move there for several weeks.

"I'm in remission," he said. "What we hope to accomplish with the clinical trial is to keep it in remission."

Sponseller is retiring at a time when the district is undergoing significant changes, some of which still need to be dealt with, he said.

"We have not solved the secondary configuration issue," Sponseller said. A final decision on the futures of the high school, junior high school and middle school needs to be made soon because of the district's growing population.

After years of a relatively stable student population, the district has seen significant growth in the past three years, finishing the just-ended school year with about 8,500 students.

"We've done very well at the elementary level" with a program to add new schools and expand or renovate others, Sponseller said.

Regarding the high school, Sponseller said he had advocated a one-school, two-building concept, with freshmen and sophomores in one building and juniors and seniors in another not more than four miles from each other.

"Of course, I couldn't sell that idea" to the school board, Sponseller said.

A recent demographic study of the district predicts the high school-age population of the district will exceed 3,000 by 2015, too many students to put into one building, he said.

"Our high school is much too big," Sponseller said. "We have kids falling through the cracks."

Chambersburg Area Senior High School, has more than 1,800 students in grades 10, 11 and 12.

"Smaller schools work much better," he said.

Any school should be small enough that the principal knows every student by name or sight, Sponseller said.

The district also needs to reach a new contract agreement with the Chambersburg Area Education Association to avoid a strike, Sponseller said. The contract with the teachers expired Friday.

The community endured a 13-day teachers strike in 1980, "and it took the district years to recover from that," Sponseller said.

"Our teachers, they're the ones that deliver our product, educating the kids, and it's very important we get an agreement with them," he said.

Sponseller said he has taken pride in presenting balanced budgets that avoided dramatic real estate tax increases, and balancing the interests of students, teachers, parents and other community factions.

Sponseller said the district is in good hands with Joseph Padasak, formerly the superintendent of the Windber (Pa.) Area School District.

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