The Final Bell
Superintendent Maggie Hoernemann Retiring After 20 Years With the Avon Community School Corporation
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Dr. Margaret (Maggie) Hoernemann came to Avon from West Lafayette, having worked in administrative roles at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Prior to that, she worked in the Chicago suburbs where she began her educational career as a high school French and Spanish teacher. She describes transitioning from junior/senior high school to a K-6 grade school like “going to another planet,” but says she learned a lot.
Twenty years ago, Dr. Dick Helton hired Hoernemann as Avon’s first Director of Human Resources.
“I had the cool job of hiring the best teachers, custodians, principals and bus drivers,” Hoernemann says. Then the previous superintendent, Dr. Tim Ogle, asked Hoernemann to expand out of HR and get involved in curriculum so she became assistant superintendent for Curriculum and HR and then associate superintendent for the district before moving into the superintendent’s role in 2012.
A highlight of serving as superintendent for the Avon Community School Corporation (ACSC) was prevailing in the referendum in 2018.
“It changed the trajectory of our school corporation in a positive manner,” Hoernemann says. “It demonstrated that the majority of voters were willing to dig deep into their pocketbooks to support public education.”
The passing of the referendum enabled the district to add more than 100 teachers, thus increasing the number of opportunities for students.
Don Hodson, Trustee of Washington Township, says that Hoernemann’s number one priority was always to unite the community, and she has built a strong coalition by getting to know school personnel, business leaders, community members, students, faculty, staff and parents.
“From those efforts, she has revitalized the pride in Avon Schools that has spilled over into pride for our whole community,” Hodson says. “That’s one of the reasons why the 2018 referendum passed and also why she was selected as Indiana’s Superintendent of the Year.”
ACSC Board President Anne Engelhardt is grateful to Hoernemann for always making sure every opportunity was acted upon whether in seeking a grant, informing legislatures or participating in awkward conversations.
“Maggie was not afraid of any conversation or subject and with kindness she was quick to the point,” Engelhardt says. “You truly felt like she was in your corner.”
Hoernemann hired elementary school teacher Janet Craig 17 years ago, and Craig has appreciated her friendship and leadership ever since.
“Just like the TV show “Cheers,” Maggie knows your name — and everyone in your family,” says Craig, noting that she attends funerals, checks in when teachers who are sick and offers support in every conceivable way. “Maggie is our lighthouse in Avon. She has helped us navigate the rough storms that come our way.”
One of Hoernemann’s favorite aspects of her job is mixing and mingling with her students by attending sporting events, theatre performances, awards banquets and more.
“It tickles me how parents and students will thank me for coming because that’s the most fun part of the job,” Hoernemannn says. “I also think being visible in the school community as well as in the community [at large] helps build trust and indicate what our priorities are, which is supporting kids in everything they do. Frankly, I wish there were more hours in the day so I could be at more events.”
John Sparzo, Co-founder of Avon Band Together, appreciates Hoernemann’s support for the performing arts as it has permitted the district to grow outstanding programs year after year that are recognized on a regional and national level.
“She attended the Avon Symphony’s ISSMA state championship performance in 2019 and was spotted at the Bands of America competition in Lucas Oil Stadium last year,” Sparzo says. “What a boost it gives to staff, students and parents to see they have support from the top.”
Leesa Brown, ACSC employee and proud parent, is a huge Hoernemann supporter.
“There are not enough kind, sincere and appreciative words that can be said about Maggie,” Brown says. “She has made it personal and knows people and students by name, makes it a priority to be out and about at all Avon school events — not just the ones during the school day.”
Kim Woodward, Member of the Avon Board of School Trustees, calls Hoernemann a champion advocate for all accomplishments by her continual tweeting recognition of student and staff accomplishments, big or small.
“Unknown to most, she has a penchant for writing personal notes of thanks and appreciation that are treasured by their recipients,” Woodward says. “In the day and age of email, it’s easy to resort to that mode as proxy to a handwritten note, but Maggie never succumbed.”
But, to Hoernemann, this job is personal. As such, she has collected her fair share of funny stories — like the time she visited an elementary school cafeteria and a student told her that they should get an elephant for the school. Another student was shocked to learn that Hoernemann was older than her grandma. She chuckles, delighted by the unfiltered nature of children.
“There are lots of stories nobody will ever hear by the bus drivers, cooks, custodians and teachers — all of whom take care of the children,” Hoernemann says. “Every single day it’s happening quietly and without a lot of fanfare with the kind of people who come to work for Avon schools.”
Sparzo is not surprised to hear that Hoernemann would share credit with others.
“She always gives credit to those around her rather than accepting praise for herself,” says Sparzo, who cites the example of the founding of the Avon Oriole Advocates, a grassroots citizens organization made up of staff, parents and community members who have become a strong action group that has successfully educated the community and the legislature.
“I clearly remember the phone call in the summer of 2014 when Maggie, herself, outlined the entire concept of a grassroots organization that would help bring the community together in support of the schools,” Sparzo says. “When we held the first meeting with 40-plus in attendance, well over half of the participants indicated that they were there simply because Maggie asked them to attend. Still, Maggie will often suggest that I founded Oriole Advocates.”
The superintendent’s humility is ever-present. Years ago, Hoernemann approached Craig White, Lead Pastor of Crossroads Church, to suggest having ministers in the community gather with her to improve the community.
“Maggie set a tone for the religious community to feel a part of the educational community of our town. This is how it ought to be,” White says. “In my 20 years of living in Avon, never has there been a better bridge-builder in this role as Maggie Hoernemann.”
White calls Hoernemann’s warm smile, tender words and genuine love for students, staff and faculty infectious.
“She endears herself to everyone she meets by her application of putting others above self,” White says. “Her personal connection with students and staff is a model for all to follow.”
When Hoernemann retires on June 30, she knows she’ll miss working with leadership in the district as well as central office staff. She’ll also miss being physically present in the school buildings.
“I’ve been in school every day of my life,” says Hoernemann, who has no plans to move from the area post-retirement. “This is home, and my husband Steve and I will stay here and stay involved in some way.”
Woodward, for one, is grateful.
“Maggie’s fingerprints are all over this community, and we are fortunate that she intends to stay involved and focused in many of her community efforts,” Woodward says.
Post-retirement, Hoernemann plans to devote more time to see family, exercise and learn to play pickleball, bridge and piano. Her legion of fans feel she’s earned some R&R. In fact, Avon Education Foundation Board Member Chris Tincher calls Hoernemann one of his heroes.
“She’s a life-giver. You always leave her presence encouraged and better for spending time with her,” says Tincher, who fondly recalls the first time they met and how she immediately made him feel welcome and valued. “She has an amazing way of making you feel like the most important person in the room.”
Sparzo calls Hoernemann a study in effective leadership and a model of integrity and honesty.
“While she is a strong and unwavering advocate for Avon Community School Corporation’s students, teachers and staff, she remains cognizant of the broader context in which the school system operates,” Sparzo says. “To ensure that the school corporation had good relations with other leaders in the township, she helped develop a collaborative involving all of Washington Township’s taxing entities. To be certain she understood the needs of the business community, she served as a board member for the Avon Chamber of Commerce. To unify the community around the school system that she loves and leads, she proposed and supported the Oriole Advocates.”
Tincher references the quote by Theodore Roosevelt that sums up Hoernemann’s career.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
According to Hodson, she lived out her calling.
“Every once in a while, there are folks who truly emulate the plan that God has for them,” Hodson says. “Maggie Hoernemann is one of those people.”