By MAX FILBY
Tragedy led Ed Kurt to education and, eventually, to Findlay.
A car accident in 1985 killed his mother, crushed his left leg the day after his 20th birthday, and dramatically altered his future. After a year on crutches helping to coach seventh-graders in football in his hometown of Margaretta, Kurt moved on from the accident and toward a career with kids as a teacher.
“It was a horrific thing that was kind of a defining moment in my life,” Kurt said of the accident.
When he returned to Ohio State University as a junior, he dropped business agriculture in favor of mathematics education.
He eventually came back to the Margaretta School District as its top administrator.
Kurt, 48, who served as Margaretta superintendent for 12 years, became the new chief for Findlay City Schools about two weeks ago.
Kurt said he looks forward to “making decisions that will impact and assist young people.”
“If we keep doing that, then I think we’ll stay right on target,” he said.
Kurt’s philosophy is to make sure students have what’s necessary to succeed.
“This business is about kids,” Kurt said, and “doing what the community wants.”
He said there isn’t just one way to do something that works for every student, and schools must make sure they’re getting the attention they need.
“It’s like what I used to tell my students about math problems,” Kurt said. “There are a lot of different ways you can get to Columbus. The important thing is that you’re getting there.”
The extra effort is always worth it to teachers when they finally “see that light bulb go off” as a student comprehends something, he said.
“When kids come back 10 to 15 years later and say I made a difference, that’s great,” Kurt said. “It may seem corny, but that’s it, that’s me.”
Kurt enters a financially healthy Findlay district. In May, voters approved a permanent 5.9-mill operating levy, which generates $4.8 million a year.The district also opened two new middle schools and the Millstream Career Center a little more than a year ago.
Kurt sees his first year as superintendent as a chance to ensure that success continues, and the district maintains good fiscal health.
One way, he said, is to fill it with the best people possible. Kurt has said that Findlay City Schools already has a lot of the right people.
Although his first year may include few changes and more behind-the-scenes observing, he plans on putting in longer workdays than most.
Kurt said he’s typically in his office at 6 a.m. and sometimes doesn’t end his day until after an athletic event or board meeting. Although this means some 12-hour-plus workdays, Kurt said it’s just what’s required of a superintendent.
“My kids used to ask, ‘Why does dad sleep so much on Saturday?'” Kurt said. “It’s because dad didn’t sleep at all during the week.”
Attending games, meetings and other events is how Kurt ran his schools. He was always available when the community needed him, said Margaretta High School Principal Troy Roth.
Roth said Kurt is the kind of boss who employees and colleagues want as a friend. Roth met Kurt when they were both basketball coaches for Sandusky High School in 1997.
While coaching and teaching math at Sandusky City Schools, Kurt obtained a master’s degree in education administration from Ashland University in 2000. He became assistant principal at nearby Perkins High School in 2001, before making the jump to Margaretta in Erie County in 2002.
Since meeting Roth in 1997, Kurt not only became one of his good friends, but also someone Roth looks up to.
“He was a mentor to me. I’ve learned how to be a better administrator from him,” Roth said. “We had a great time working together.”
Roth said Kurt’s departure was sad for members of the Margaretta district and community.
Kurt said he’ll “always be a Polar Bear,” and he’s excited about now being a Findlay Trojan, too.
Kurt pledged to move to Findlay before he started his new job. He is here, but his wife, Kim, and some of his other family members won’t be here until later this year.
“Religion, family and profession, in that order,” he said of his priorities. “That’s how you keep balance in your life and I think that’s important to have.”
Kurt’s dedication to youth is obvious through his personal life. One child, Devin Jones, is a former student who Kurt took in when he needed help.
“I love him,” Kurt said. “He is my son.”
Kurt never formally adopted Jones, but took him in after he befriended Kurt’s son in school. A picture of Jones, who now plays football at Ohio University, sits on a shelf in Kurt’s office.
“I’m really proud of him. I’m really proud of all my kids,” Kurt said.
That kind of dedication is something the Findlay school board noticed when it went looking for a replacement for Dean Wittwer.
“He’s passionate about student achievement and success. It was one of the main things that drew us to him,” board President Shane Pochard said. “I think we hired the right person at the right time.”
After a nearly six-month search, the board offered Kurt the job in February under a two-year contract at $138,000 per year, which also assures him a 2 percent raise during his first two years there.
Kurt is excited about school starting Monday. As students return, he wants to spend time meeting and getting to know as many as he can.
It may be more difficult in a district almost five times larger than his old one, but it’s something students need in order to believe that teachers and administrators believe in them, he said.
“Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Kurt said.