Dr. Bill Riggs is known for his sense of humor and professionalism, as well as his devotion and pride of being a Mt. Vernon Marauder. He will retire in June after 21 years of service to Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation (MVCSC) and 44 years in the education industry. His retirement reception is on Sunday, May 17th from 1-3 p.m. at Fortville Elementary School and is open to the community (including children); no RSVP is needed. See invitation here.
His supporters say that the combination of his personal wit, leadership, knowledge, and dedication to Mt. Vernon made him the perfect fit to lead the district through two decades of growth, surviving major economic challenges. Many say it was due to Dr. Riggs’ leadership and vision that has now landed the district into growth mode once again.
Riggs tried to deflect the retirement attention by giving justified credit to Mt. Vernon staff for their commitment and admirable dedication, and always providing Mt. Vernon students with an exemplary education even through difficult times.
Those who worked alongside of Riggs say that many don’t know of his personal generosity supporting the education foundation, previous referendums, and even birthday cakes and flowers for each administration staff several times a year. He has known to personally support co-workers’ family fundraisers or children’s initiatives. Generosity is an attribute that those who work closely with him saw on a regular basis. They say that many people do not know what a great sense of humor he has, and what a compassionate and caring person he is towards others.
Mike Horton, Assistant Superintendent states, “After working for eight different superintendents, Bill leads the way in his genuine concern and kindness to others. That has been apparent in many difficult situations when he will take time out to discuss how this will affect people. He takes the shots that come with being a superintendent, but always remains professional. He is so well respected in the state he could have left when times were tough and made more money elsewhere, but it’s the measure of this man as he chose to stay, roll up the sleeves and get to work to resolve issues in the best possible way for the school and community.”
Riggs also made sure that life insurance benefits were provided to all non-certified, full time staff, and also set up sick banks where staff can donate their individual sick days to help out a fellow staff member with critical needs.
The Maintenance Director, Joel Seifert states, “The school system has been a reflection of Dr. Riggs, of which we are so thankful. His leadership skills have not only had a positive effect on our children, but also me as an employee. The staff forms a close knit community and he understands what the school system means to the employees. Dr. Riggs will be greatly missed as a boss, leader, and friend.”
A Fruitful Career in Education
Riggs started as a high school math teacher in Marion, which led him to teaching math at the nationally awarded alternative school for at risk students called “Pontoon.” Riggs was a featured speaker at multiple statewide and national conventions discussing the achievements at “Pontoon”. The program had many teaching successes educating 200 alternative students; most were expelled or suspended multiple times. The federally-funded “Pontoon” was recognized by the state superintendent as an outstanding program that impacted students’ lives by improving their education and behaviors.
Riggs learned a lot about challenges students face when he was promoted to the Counselor Coordinator for three programs in Marion: “Pontoon”, “Outlook” which was for special needs students, and the “Pool School” which served students in the criminal justice system. He was the counselor for all students in the three areas.
He continued his leadership role when he moved to Rochester, Indiana to become the Assistant High School Principal for four years, and then was promoted to the Assistant Superintendent for six years.
Riggs began his superintendent career at South Newton for three years, and then moved to be the superintendent at Scott County District Two for four years.
His varied experiences in education served him well, giving him a broad perspective to continue Mt. Vernon’s development. Mt. Vernon hired Riggs as a superintendent in 1994.
A District of Growth
Comparing the Mt. Vernon district in 1994 to 2015 would be apples to oranges, to say the least. The growth in students, which drove the increase in staff and buildings, has all more than doubled in the last two decades.
His most notable developments during his tenure have made a substantial impact in all students’ daily rigor. All of the existing school buildings have either been built or remodeled under Riggs’ leadership. Curriculum has been impacted through the early childhood development program with the Intermediate School, which Mt. Vernon lost in the economy downturn. The intermediate setting, specific to fifth and sixth graders, is a unique approach to the middle school transition which Mt. Vernon hopes to reestablish in the future.
There have been other substantial impacts for high school students, including changing to a block schedule and the adding the High-Tech Academy. With the block schedule, students are able to accrue additional credits compared to the traditional seven-period schedule. The High-Tech Academy was created and funded by the 2003 Eli Lilly Cape Grant; Riggs co-authored the grant’s educational component. The grant funded a Microsoft Academy, an A+ Certification program, and a state-of-the-art computer modeling and animation lab. Mt. Vernon was one of the first high schools in the country to have a 3D printer and is currently the only high school in the country to have an Elumen’s Vision Dome.
Another development Riggs was a partner is was connecting the four county schools with fiber optics. This gave the schools the ability for staff to run joint class projects between the county schools and improved the communication and therefore collaboration opportunities in the county.
Dr. Riggs said, “The Mt. Vernon staff is a remarkable, exemplary group of professionals who provide an outstanding academic program. The staff has survived the economic downfall and stuck with the district; this shows the caliber of Mt. Vernon staff as they never wavered to provide the best education possible to the students. The public may not have known how difficult it was for the staff at times, because the staff stuck through the hard times and the community supported the staff and students when needed.”
Riggs states, “The Mt. Vernon Education Foundation and the PTO’s (Parent Teacher Organizations) were a life-saver for the schools and staff during the economic downfall. They helped provide the needed resources when the district could not, and helped keep morale up.” Dr. Riggs noted that they looked a long time to find someone to begin an education foundation, and after a meeting with a visionary volunteer extraordinaire, Leanne Brown, he knew he found the right person. That discussion began the legacy of a foundation that has since given over $150,000 back to the schools in teacher-requested grants.
Mt. Vernon Leadership
In regards to the staff, Riggs feels fortunate to have hired most all of the current school leadership. He is extremely proud of Mt. Vernon staff and because of the caliber of people hired, Mt. Vernon continues to attract the top talent in the state. Riggs feels the current staff encompasses really good, supportive people who are working for the students’ education as the primary goal.
Riggs stated the teachers are top-notch. In many other school systems there is friction between the administration and the teachers, but at Mt. Vernon everyone works in the best interest of the students. During the economic downturn, the Classroom Teachers Association (CTA) chose to work with the administration during the difficult pay freezes and other challenging hits to form a collaborative solution, which showcases once again that Mt. Vernon staffs’ hearts are in the right place.
“The student leadership has always been strong, showing their community service, positive character leadership among their peers and willingness to learn. The students are able to go to an event, behave appropriately and continue to have fun,” states Riggs. This positive behavior demonstrates the pride the students and staff have at Mt. Vernon.
Riggs said the school boards at Mt. Vernon have been some of the best he has ever worked with. In other communities, many school board members have personal agendas and are not necessarily there for the most pure reasons. Riggs feels at Mt. Vernon, the school board has always cared about the staff and students. The board has not always agreed and strong opinions have been shared, but the respect, despite differences of opinion, has always remained.
The school board never shied away from making a difficult decision. They accepted criticism, and many took personal or professional hits for their school board decisions. Riggs stated,“The school board has led by example and made the decisions that needed to be made. During the economic downfall, I was humbled and will not forget that the school board had faith that I could lead Mt. Vernon through the challenges.”
Learning What it Means to Be a Marauder
Dr. Riggs said that much of his desire and admiration of what it meant to be a Marauder came from Bev Baugh, who was the former business department manager for Mt. Vernon. Baugh was raised and graduated a Marauder, went off to college, returned and worked 32+ years as a Marauder. Her pride and enthusiasm for Mt. Vernon left a lasting impact for Riggs. Baugh states, “Bill is a man of incredible faith, integrity, someone who has a sense of humor in the most difficult times, and compassion for others without a thought of himself. He truly is a role model of which we should all strive to personally live. I loved my job because of him and the way he consistently made ridiculously tough decisions based on what was right for everyone, not just for individuals who tried to pressure him.”
Riggs also highlighted learning about being a Marauder from Darrell Thomas, who was the former high school principal. He appreciated his leadership, how he utilized his assistants, and the foundation he developed with his high school staff and students.
Next Steps for Riggs
When Dr. Riggs retires, he said he will miss the people most of all. From day one, there have been outstanding people working at Mt. Vernon. He appreciates the staff’s devotion to the students and the daily commitment providing a uniform goal: to provide the best education possible to Mt. Vernon students. The staff has strong moral values and ethical behavior, which depict a Marauder.
He is looking forward to the future for Mt. Vernon. The district is poised for growth and Riggs is anxious to see how it develops.
He said he will not miss having to make the decisions of school (weather) delays, and also the last three crazy days of school before a vacation. On the flip side he loves the excitement at the beginning of school and the heightened level of enthusiasm.
Dr. Riggs has only taken two full weeks’ vacation in his 21 years at Mt. Vernon; he plans to spend time relaxing with family and traveling with his wife. He said she has been very supportive of his promotions in new cities and the long hours he has committed, so he plans to spend the next year traveling wherever she wants to go.
The legacy Dr. Riggs wants to pass on is to “appreciate the fine qualities of our school, students and staff. There are so many positive, amazing attributes in the Mt. Vernon environment, including the quality of our staff and students. The Marauder values, pride and ideals are not in many other school systems, so we should appreciate the positive environment within the Marauder walls.”
Please join fellow Marauder fans at Dr. Bill Riggs’ retirement reception on Sunday, May 17th from 1-3 p.m. at Fortville Elementary School.