VEEDERSBURG — Southeast Fountain Schools has a new leader.
Dr. Tania Grimes, with nearly 30 years experience as an educator and administrator, will take over today as superintendent of the neighboring school district.
Approved by the corporation’s board of trustees Dec. 15, Grimes is set to replace interim superintendent Dawn Puckett. Puckett has overseen administrative duties since the district parted ways with Dan Foster in September.
“I can’t express how grateful I am for [Puckett] and all she’s done, and she’s going to continue to work as a mentor with me so that there’s a successful transition,” Grimes said. “It’s a great district here and I look forward to building on all of the great things they’re already doing, and keep piloting us forward.”
Grimes was raised in a rural setting outside South Bend not unlike the Southeast Fountain area. A graduate of Bethel College, Indiana University-South Bend and the University of the Cumberlands, Grimes brings a master’s degree in education and a doctorate in administrative leadership to the role.
In addition to her work as an elementary teacher for 23 years, Grimes has been a principal, director of curriculum and assessment and an administrator of both public and private school systems. But it’s with the students and teachers of the public school system, she said, where her true passion for education rests.
“While [the charter school] was a great experience and great opportunity ... it just cemented for me that I wanted to be in a traditional public school,” Grimes said.
Grimes has possessed a passion for teaching since she was a four-year-old child growing up in Lydick, Indiana. In 2009, during her teaching career, Grimes earned the Teacher of the Year award from the Indiana Department of Education. It was then that her administrators in the South Bend School Corporation began encouraging her to seek a position in leadership.
“The state, the school district and IUSB were all trying to get me to take classes for administration,” she said. “I needed to renew my teaching license and thought, ‘Oh, I’ll go ahead and take at least one administrator class.’”
And now, a decade later, Grimes is set to use her education to better the education of her new students at the helm of an entire corporation.
“From my very first memory at about four years old, I just knew I was gonna be an educator, and I never changed that,” she said. “That’s all I ever wanted to do.”
And as schools across the country continue to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the many limitations it creates, Grimes said she will keep students on campus as much as the pandemic allows.
“I believe teachers are working as hard or harder than ever to try to meet the needs of students, but I honestly believe nothing takes the place of in-person learning,” she said. “If there’s another major outbreak in the community, we’ll reassess. But my immediate plans are getting the schools reopened.
“Prior to winter break, the district had to go on full remote learning for a while due to the number of staff and students who were either quarantined or had contracted COVID-19,” she explained. “But it looks like most of our staff are either doing better or their quarantine periods are over, and a significant number of our students — same thing. So we’re hopeful that we’ll be back in the same way the schools opened in the fall.”
Though Grimes and husband Berry are new to Fountain County, she has already has close family nearby.
“It helps that we have a son and daughter-in-law and a one-year-old grandson living in Crawfordsville,” Grimes said. “But I have two sons who are grown and married; our other son is an officer in the Army ... they just had their first child two days before Christmas, so we have a new grandbaby in Germany. We also have a daughter who is going to be coming to the high school here.”
The Grimes are also active as foster parents.
As she looks ahead, Grimes said she looks forward to integrating into the Southeast Fountain community by meeting and networking with its residents as individuals.
“I’ll start getting to know staff members, community members and listening to the community so we can start coming together to make a strategic plan with the district moving forward,” she said.
Grimes’ contract is set to run from Jan. 1, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2024 with a salary in the tune of $102,000 annually. The contract is posted in its entirety online at www.sefschools.org.