It’s official: Steele permanently at the helm of IRSD

Date Published: 
March 31, 2017

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Mark Steele is now the full-time superintendent of the Indian River School District.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: Mark Steele is now the full-time superintendent of the Indian River School District.It was a unanimous vote this week as Mark Steele was officially hired as the superintendent of the Indian River School District.

At their March 27 meeting, the IRSD Board of Education promoted former assistant superintendent Steele from interim superintendent, effective immediately, with a two-year contract beginning July 1.

A lifelong Dagsboro resident and 36-year educator, Steel said, “It feels good to know that people support you and people trust you. It feels really good.”

Now that the IRSD officially has a new leader, it removes a level of uncertainty, and the administration can stride forward with a better sense of direction.

“This gives me a chance to look at the long-term things we need,” said Steele, who suggested creating a long-term district plan and a community financial review group.

“I put a lot of faith in principals. … They have to run that building and know they can do things that are in the best interest of the students,” he said, so he’s accepting of different management styles.

He also wants more public input.

“I think the community needs to play a bigger part and bigger role — not just when there’s a referendum or big concern,” Steele said. “If they have a concern, I really wish they would pick up the phone and call me. A lot of time, picking up the phone or talking face-to-face is the right policy.”

As for his leadership style, he said, “I like to listen. I don’t have any problem making a final decision, but I like to make my decisions based on good facts and historical things.”

Steele became interim superintendent in January when Susan Bunting was appointed Delaware Secretary of Education, after more than a decade leading the IRSD.

Some voters during the lead-up to the recent current-expense referendum said they found Steele’s presence comforting and appreciated new leadership after the Delaware State Auditor of Accounts accused the district and its former CFO of some financial mismanagement.

“Dr. Bunting did an outstanding job. We just differ on the way we deliver,” Steele said. “We get the job done at the end of the day.”

Steele is IRSD’s sixth superintendent since the district formed in 1969.

Members of the public repeatedly praised Steele during his two months as interim superintendent, and that included former IRHS principal and former school board member Lewis Patterson, who this month flat-out recommended that the school board hire Steele immediately, saying, “The law does not require you to do a search” to fill the position.

In fact, the IRSD didn’t do an applicant search, “which would have taken months,” said School Board President Charles Bireley. “We just didn’t have time. We’ve got a bigger problem with this budget.”

Bireley said the board should have voted on filling the position last month but were tied up with other business.

“He did such a yeoman’s job on this referendum. He spent ungodly hours going everywhere under the sun … trying to get this thing passed,” Bireley said of Steele.

Steele gave public presentations seemingly nonstop during the month leading up to the March 2 current-expense referendum, which was the district’s last chance to improve its financial outlook for the 2017-2018 school year. With record public turnout, the referendum passed by about 57 percent.

“Despite the passage of the referendum, challenges still lie ahead, due to proposed reductions in state funding for education,” Steele stated. “The administration and Board of Education are committed to addressing these budget cuts in a manner that has the least possible impact on classroom instruction.”

Steele said he will propose a series of administrative cuts in April. The board will make the final decision.

Steele has been familiar face around the IRSD his whole life. He became IRSD assistant superintendent in mid-2013. Before that, Steele’s entire school and professional career — apart from a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Salisbury University — were at Indian River High School. Steele taught math and physics for 10 years, and was assistant principal for about eight years and principal from 1999 to 2013.

“It is an honor and privilege to be named superintendent of the Indian River School District. I thank the Board of Education for this opportunity,” Steele stated this week.

“As I’ve stated previously, I am committed to being a community superintendent. I pledge to be open and accessible, and will strive for transparency in all district operations. Our staff will continue to work tirelessly to provide IRSD students with the best educational programs in the state of Delaware.”