By Sue Kiesewetter
MORROW - Ralph Shell will step down as superintendent of Little Miami Schools July 31 after a 39-year career in education.
"The district is in good shape financially and academically. Everything is running smoothly," said Shell, 60. "It's time for me to go back to my walnut farm in Hillsboro."
For the past three years Shell has overseen the 3,028-student district, which grew by about 200 this year. He arrived just weeks before the district opened a new high school in 2000.
"Being a superintendent is a very stressful job and he's done a good job for our district. We wish him well," said board member Steve Rothwell.
"He's been able to give us foresight how we need to approach the impending population explosion out here over the next five to six years."
During his tenure Shell faced some tough times after voters rejected an income tax in November 2000 and an operating levy in May 2002.
He oversaw $1.8 million in cuts, froze staff hirings, closed buildings at 4:30 p.m., saw school library hours curtailed and reluctantly imposed pay-to-play fees for after-school activities.
When a 6.97-mill operating levy passed last November, Shell was quick to cancel the fees, brought back some laid-off personnel and thanked the levy committee by preparing his famous garbage-can dinners - where food was cooked in a tin can over a fire.
"He's going to be very, very missed. He was here in our district because he truly cared about the kids," said parent Liz Gloshen, who worked on all three levy committees.
"He is such a down-to-earth person. I could sit down and talk to him and not feel like I was being talked down to."
Parent Tammy Thompson said Shell always respected and worked well with the district's parent-teacher groups.
"I definitely think he will be missed," said Thompson, who heads the intermediate school and Harlan-Butlerville Elementary Schools' parent group.
"Anything I would have asked for, he would have accommodated."
Shell said he won't rule out the possibility of returning to education.
His departure is the third time he's retired since leaving the Preble Shawnee district in 1994.
His career took him to several Southwest Ohio districts, including Mount Healthy, Wilmington, Goshen and Fairfield Local in Highland County, and the Ohio Department of Education.
Throughout his career he continued to farm, getting rid of his hogs in 1990. He has a grove of about 1,000 black walnut trees and also grows corn, soybeans and wheat.
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