Higher calling

MEDORA

During her third year as an English teacher at Medora Community School Corp., Austin Absher participated in an internship with Principal Chrystal Street.

That was part of earning her master’s degree in educational leadership.

Seeing how Street led the school and helped it improve sparked Absher to apply for the principal job after Street announced she was taking a job at Brownstown Elementary School.

Earlier this week, the Medora board of trustees unanimously approved Absher to be the corporation’s next principal.

“I have always enjoyed taking on leadership-style roles. Even in high school and in college, when we were doing group work, I always liked to help organize, and I’ve just always enjoyed working with a team, being part of a team,” said Absher, 27.

“Then two years ago, when Chrystal Street came in, I got to see so much of what she was doing to help push the school forward in a really positive direction, and that really kind of lit a fire under me to possibly look into stepping into that role,” she said. “Once I started my coursework for that, I just realized that it was really the next obvious step for me, so it just all kind of went from there.”

Absher received a two-year contract of $70,000 per year for the roles of principal and Title I data specialist. That goes into effect July 1.

“I’m here a little bit sooner than I thought I would be, but I think that’s a really great thing,” she said of taking on an administrative role. “Being young, I have a lot of energy, a lot of passion, a lot of drive, and I love this school. I know everyone in it. I know the students, I know the staff, and I’m just really excited to get started.”

The school board also approved the administrative contract of Superintendent Roger Bane to serve as assistant principal at $28,000 for each of the next two years. His superintendent contract will move from 130 days to 200.

Also, Brad McCammon will move from assistant principal to physical education and health teacher and remain as athletics director. The latter position pays $10,000 per year.

Absher was one of 15 applicants for the principal job. The interview committee narrowed the field to three before choosing Absher.

“She’s curriculum-minded. She’s professional, and I think she’s pretty tough,” Bane said. “I don’t think she’s going to be afraid to manage, plus everything else you have to do as a principal.”

Absher is a native of the southern Illinois community of Carrier Mills. She has lived in Indiana for the past 18 years, including the last 10 in Bloomington.

The 2006 Bedford North Lawrence High School graduate earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary English education from Indiana University in 2012.

Absher said she started out studying prelaw before switching to psychology and then education.

“My grandmother was an English teacher for years and worked with the Illinois Department of Education after she retired, so I have a lot of that education blood going through me,” she said. “It has just always been something I’ve been really passionate about. It was just the obvious choice for me.”

During the spring semester of her senior year at IU, she did her student teaching at Shoals Community School Corp. After college, she was a substitute teacher with Washington Township schools in Indianapolis for a while until learning about an opening at Medora.

“I knew someone from the community, a really good family friend, so I had heard a little bit about Medora. I just knew it was a very, very small school. That was kind of all I knew about it going into it,” she said.

“So when I came, it really helped me having that experience in Shoals, which is kind of a similar small-school setup,” she said. “I applied. The interview just went really well, and I felt really welcomed from the get-go. It was just a really good fit.”

For the first two years at Medora, Absher taught English to grades 7 through 12. Then this past year, she taught English to grades 9 through 12, a dual-credit English class and two English credit recovery courses.

Meanwhile, she worked toward her master’s degree in educational leadership from Indiana State University, which allowed her to apply for administrative licensing.

In her new role, Absher said she plans to continue a lot of the elements Street put into place.

One is working with data to help drive student achievement.

“Research shows that if you’re not working with data, then you’re doing your students a disservice,” she said. “We have to look at what the kids are doing, what problem areas they are having, where they are growing and if they are not growing academically.”

Absher also will continue to keep the morale up at the school and ensure everyone works together.

“When (Street) came in, I really got to see that morale improve and just our ability to collaborate with one another and create these really great conversations and relationships and just continuing that and making sure that we’re all in this together and listening to one another,” she said.

Absher expects the transition to principal to be smooth because she’s familiar with most people at the school.

“I have a building full of really great resources at my fingertips,” she said. “I feel very fortunate that I’m going into this having such an amazing staff. I’ve worked with these people for three years. I know them, I trust them, I respect them, and I’m really excited to see where we go over the next couple of years.”

She also wants students to continue being involved in the community.

“I really feel that the school is kind of the heart of this community, so we need to be sure that we are doing things to help build that heart a little bit,” she said.

While she said she will miss being in the classroom every day, Absher is ready to take over as principal.

“Being in the classroom is something that I’m going to miss very much, not getting to have that kind of interaction with the kids every day. But it will be a new kind of relationship that I get to form with them,” she said.

“I’m ready to work hard and put in the time. I’ll always do what I need to do to put kids first. We have to always keep them at the forefront of every decision we make, and I trust that myself and every single staff member here feels that way, as well.”

Absher file

Name: Austin Absher

Age: 27

Hometown: Carrier Mills, Illinois

Residence: Bloomington

Education: Bedford North Lawrence High School (2006); Indiana University (bachelor’s degree in secondary English education, 2012); Indiana State University (master’s degree in educational leadership, 2016)

Occupation: Recently hired as the new principal for Medora Community School Corp., where she has been an English teacher for the past three school years

Family: Parents, Bryan and Myra Absher

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.