EAST HELENA — After nearly two decades leading the East Helena School District, Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer is announcing plans to retire this summer.
“I love what I do; I love the kids in this school system; I love the people I work with,” he said. “This is not an easy decision, but at some time, you have to say somebody else can do this – and do a better job than I can do.”
Whitmoyer has built a 37-year career with the district, starting as a math and science teacher in 1984. He became middle school principal in 1991, where he played a role in planning for the new East Valley Middle School building.
When he took over as superintendent in 2001, East Helena Public Schools included only three facilities: East Valley, Eastgate Elementary School and Radley Elementary School. He leaves the district in a much different place, having overseen years of growing enrollment, the construction of Prickly Pear Elementary School and the long process to get state and voter approval to build East Helena High School.
Whitmoyer says district families, trustees and others deserve credit for the successful efforts to build new schools. He said he is most proud of how East Helena Public Schools ran day-to-day.
“The high school’s a great thing, and I’m proud of it, of course, but I’m proud that we operated a budget that made kids have great teachers every day,” he said. “We’ve operated a school system that is family-centered.”
East Helena Public Schools will have to replace two longtime administrators this year. Radley principal Joe McMahon is also retiring. He spent 13 years as principal at Eastgate, then another 13 at Radley.
Both McMahon and Whitmoyer said having consistent leadership has been key for the district.
“Ron and I have worked together – he’s been here longer than I have, so he was here when I started and became our superintendent, and the middle school-high school principal Dan Rispens has been here quite a while too,” said McMahon. “It’s been very beneficial for the district to be able to have those administrators in place and keep them in place.”
“When we put our heads together and we decide as a group, ‘This is where we’re going to go,’ we get there,” Whitmoyer said. “I’m very proud to have been a part of that – just one team member.”
School board chair Scott Walter said both men will leave large legacies behind.
“Both of these guys will really be missed, but they’ve earned, and they deserve, their retirements,” he said.
Walter said trustees have not yet put together a process for finding a new superintendent, but they’ll be working on it over the next few weeks. He said they’ll likely look for candidates in the state and region, rather than nationwide – and he said they plan to consider people within the district as well.
“If we see a candidate that is qualified, we’re not going to overlook somebody in our own backyard,” he said.
Helena Public Schools is also currently seeking a new superintendent, after Tyler Ream decided to step down at the end of June. The Helena school board will be conducting initial interviews with five semifinalists Wednesday and Thursday, and they are expected to choose finalists after the last interview.
Whitmoyer’s last day on the job will be July 30. He says he’s staying an extra month after the official end of the school year to take care of a few final things.
Both Whitmoyer and McMahon say, after retirement, they look forward to spending more time with their families, particularly their grandchildren.