An alumna, a former corporate employee and a recent college athlete are among the 70 new Seymour Community School Corp. staff members for the 2021-22 school year.
Superintendent Brandon Harpe said that number includes certified and classified employees. The corporation was able to hire additional staff with ESSER funds with the goal of decreasing class size and add programming to combat learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Now, it’s time to meet three of the new staff members — one from the elementary school level, one from the middle school and one from the high school.
Now working at Seymour High School is very nostalgic for Jackie Hare.
After graduating in 2003, she worked in banking and also spent time with Developmental Services Inc. and served as a case manager for the state.
After having kids, she moved into part-time work at insurance offices, working for Farm Bureau for five years and Moore and Shepherd over the past year.
Last summer, she met with SCSC special education leaders Mika Ahlbrand and Marykate Helmsing and learned she could receive an emergency teaching license.
This summer, Ahlbrand reached out and asked if she was still interested in teaching, and Hare applied and was hired to be a new teacher in The Academy at Seymour High School.
“I feel very blessed to be here,” Hare said. “I don’t think that the opportunity I have right now is an opportunity that would come along very often, so to do something that I’m passionate about and to be able to get in when I did, I love kids with special needs, they are just wonderful, I’ve been around them my whole life. All of them are wonderful individuals. They made me feel super welcome.”
Hare was drawn to special education because her aunt, who used to be a director for DSI, has a son, Brandon, with special needs and he is Hare’s children’s godfather.
“We’re two years apart, and we’ve always just been super close,” Hare said. “He has just taught me so many things. I always say everybody should aspire to be like Brandon. No matter what’s stacked against him, he always seems to accomplish. He’s amazing.”
Now that she can help students similar to Brandon achieve things in life makes her feel blessed.
“Transitioning into the real world can be scary for anyone, especially anyone with special needs,” Hare said. “I think a lot of it is just about breaking a cycle for them and showing them that they can do more. When you actually see someone succeed in that, there’s nothing I don’t think more rewarding. I’m just super excited about it. I still really can’t believe that I’m doing it.”
The Academy has nearly 30 students this school year. Fellow teacher Valerie Reitman and other staff in the classroom have helped Hare fit right in.
“They are all veterans and I’m the newbie, so as the teacher, it can be a little bit intimidating because I want to be there to support them, but a lot of them have stepped up and are really supporting me,” Hare said.
She said she’s excited to find out who she is as a teacher and how that’s going to benefit students.
“Just opening them up to new experiences and ways to look at things and how can we incorporate this in life outside of school, how can we help them make their goals, once I find what my style is to do that, that’s probably the most exciting,” Hare said.
Being involved at SHS when she was a student and enjoying her teachers and staff, Hare said she considers it a very positive thing to be back there teaching.
“It’s really awesome to walk around and you see teachers that you had and classmates that work here now or your classmates’ older siblings,” she said. “I feel like Seymour is a very tight-knit community, and I think Seymour High School just replicates that. I was very excited to come back.”
Following graduation from Edinburgh High School in 1993, Joseph Lollar went to college and earned a business degree before entering the corporate world.
He was at ArvinMeritor for seven years and spent the past 14 years with Cummins Inc., working in corporate responsibility, human resources and quality.
About 10 years ago, he obtained his teaching license through Indiana Wesleyan University.
“I’m sitting in a meeting at work and there was just something about it that I have always wanted to do teaching, always wanted to go into it and just felt like I wanted to go back to school and get my teachers license,” Lollar said. “Teaching, I do think for sure, is a calling. I really believe that.”
At the time, Lollar said he felt more of a responsibility to his own kids and helping them financially get through school.
Now, though, two of his kids have completed college and the other one is in college, so he felt it was the right time to pursue his dream.
“It took me 10 years, but I’m finally here. This is my first day, and it has been really special,” Lollar said, smiling, while sitting in his first grade classroom at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School on Thursday.
His last day at Cummins was June 30, and he said he took a leap of faith that he would find a place to teach. He submitted applications to schools in Seymour, Columbus and Franklin, and Jackson Principal Justin Brown was the first to call.
“I didn’t interview with anyone but Mr. Brown,” Lollar said. “I was impressed with him, his culture here. He just really impressed me with what he had going on here. I really just made a connection. It was within a day or two he offered me a position. I just felt it was right. I did feel like it was a really good place to start.”
Lollar said he has worked with various age groups of youth through his church, The Point in Seymour, over the years and was drawn to teach at the elementary level.
He has 26 kids in his classroom.
“No question, relationship with the kids is what I’m looking most for,” Lollar said. “I think before we really get into the learning piece of it, you have to develop those connections. I’ve already seen them on Day 1.”
While Cummins was a great place to work and he felt a responsibility to do his best, Lollar said teaching is a different level of responsibility.
“The moment you step in a classroom, you have 26 children that are looking at you, depending on you to help them not only academically but perhaps sometimes emotionally with their physical needs, so I do feel a huge responsibility to see the children grow,” he said.
Starting a new job, Lollar also credited his three fellow first grade teachers for making him feel welcomed and prepared.
“The collaboration among teachers here from what I’ve seen just in the short time I’ve been here is really good, so I feel like I was prepared with the help of teachers,” he said. “But mentally, ever since I had my teachers license the last 10 years, I’ve been in the classroom in my mind waiting for the moment that I could do that.”
Fresh out of college, Erin Browning landed a job teaching science at Seymour Middle School.
The 2017 graduate of Greensburg High School continued her academic and athletic career at Hanover College. Throwing the shot put and discus for Greensburg, Browning was an indoor state finalist. Then at Hanover, she wound up specializing in the hammer throw and made it to the national level as a sophomore.
Academically, her initial intention was to become a physical therapist, but her major changed after meeting an education professor, who happened to be former SMS science teacher Debbie Hanson.
“I had always been pushed away from education because of the money, but my passion was still there, and so I got my placement and really liked it,” Browning said.
She gained classroom experience at all three levels while at Hanover and wanted to teach high school biology, but she wound up being drawn to the middle school age.
Browning said science became her focus since her mom majored in biology and worked in neurology and she had good high school science teachers.
Earlier this summer, she applied at various schools. SMS was the fastest to respond.
“I felt at home right away from my interview at Seymour,” she said. “The goals, the morals, the missions of this school seem to line up with my values pretty well. I do see teaching as a profession, and it should be looked at that. The way we dress, the way we talk, the way we act I think is very important, and the administration seems to agree with that, and I appreciate that.”
When it comes to students, Browning said she likes the saying “A student’s circumstances don’t determine their destination.”
“I 100% believe that, and you can see in my classroom, every one of them is a scientist and every one of them can be a leader and they can be whatever they want to be,” she said. “I fully believe that if they put in the effort to get there, they can. It doesn’t matter what their circumstances are, where they come from.”
Along with teaching science to seventh- and eighth-graders, Browning will coach the throwers on the SMS track and field team in the spring.