This school year is bringing more than just new freshmen to Ithaca and Lansing High Schools. Two new principals, Don Mills at Ithaca and Eric Hartz at Lansing, will join these new students in getting their bearings on the unfamiliar terrain.
“I’m in a community that cares very much about kids and academics,” Hartz said. The former Cortland State football player is more than familiar with the Lansing community; he has been part of it for 18 years, and says he originally moved to Lansing because of the secondary education.
Hartz is also a graduate of Ithaca High School, and received his B.S. and Masters in Physical Education from Cortland State, as well as his Certificate of Advanced Study. Hartz worked for 14 years as a P.E. instructor, teaching at Dryden High School, South Seneca High School and Ithaca High School. His administrative career began in 2002.
“I had a principal at Dryden who encouraged me to look at administrative positions,” Hartz said. For the past four years, Hartz has served as principal and varsity football coach at local Groton High School.
Hartz emphasizes an empathetic and accommodating outlook for Lansing students of all backgrounds and abilities.
“It’s all about the students,” Hartz said. “It’s about getting kids the education they need to succeed in all walks of life. Getting a four-year college education is not for everybody. What we don’t want to see is kids dropping out.”
Mills brings a similarly accomplished background, but to a considerably more contentious environment. Whereas Lansing has had three principals in the past 27 years and a relatively stable leadership, Ithaca High School has seen considerable administrative turnover.
Over the years, the diversity of Ithaca High School’s student body has spawned racial tensions and conflicts that the administration has struggled to deal with. The school has seen 10 principals serve in the past 21 years, with its most recent, Joe Wilson, recently stepping down from a five-year term, the longest of the period.
Mills, who was unable to be reached, has a reputation for mediation and is expected to stabilize some of the school’s more mercurial aspects.
“The interview process brought out what his strengths were,” said Ithaca school board member Jay True. “I think his style of dealing with people is very open and he’s a very approachable person. He’s a good listener, and his past experience has shown that he’s able to work well with staff, students and parents.”
Mills was previously principal of Niagara Wheatfield High School in nearby Sanborn. He maintains an open-door policy for parents, students and faculty, and is bringing high hopes to a district in dire need of stability.
“We felt he had an honest, genuine interest to come into the job,” True said. “I think he’s a great match for the school.”