Education

Belleville school district is getting a new superintendent

Belle Valley 119 superintendent retiring at end of school year

Belle Valley School District 119 Superintendent Lou Obernuefemann will retire from the Belleville, IL school in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO at the end of the 2016-2017 school year and be replaced by Bartelso Elementary School District 57
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Belle Valley School District 119 Superintendent Lou Obernuefemann will retire from the Belleville, IL school in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO at the end of the 2016-2017 school year and be replaced by Bartelso Elementary School District 57

A group of people learning to scuba dive helped put Belle Valley District 119’s retiring superintendent on his career path in education. For his replacement, it was a group of people learning to fly who gave him the nudge.

Both men were pursuing other fields, but discovered their love of education through their interests.

District 119 Superintendent Louis Obernuefemann, who will retire at the end of the school year, said he was interested in scuba diving when he graduated from O’Fallon Township High School. After he learned how to do it, he became internationally certified and started training other people.

Obernuefemann said he liked teaching them but didn’t think about education as a career until a group of scuba diving students suggested it.

“They said, ‘You are such a good teacher; why don’t you become one?’ ... And I thought, ‘I’ve always loved science, and I love teaching. Why not?’” he said.

Obernuefemann’s replacement, R.Dane Gale, has a similar story. Gale said he was inspired by his uncle, who was in the Air Force, to start taking pilot lessons. After he got his license, Gale started teaching others how to fly.

Gale said he enjoyed aviation, but it was the interactions with people that made him feel he had “finally found my calling.”

“That was my one true love,” Gale said of teaching.

When he takes over as District 119’s superintendent on July 1, Gale will be leaving behind his current position as administrator at Bartelso Elementary District 57 in Clinton County.

I am certainly happy to be coming back to the Belleville area.

R.Dane Gale, incoming superintendent at Belle Valley District 119

Obernuefemann said he feels Belle Valley, which he has come to think of as a family, is in good hands with Gale.

“I was literally losing sleep at night concerned about my replacement until I met R.Dane at his school and got the chance to sit down and talk to him,” Obernuefemann said. “... The man is exactly what I think Belle Valley needs: open, honest, dedicated. He’s got the old school work ethic.

“And most of all, as he told me, he said, ‘I’ve been looking for a family, and I see you’ve got that, and that’s what I want,’ so I knew he was just what we were after,” Obernuefemann added.

Gale said transitioning from his current district, which is about 25 miles east of Scott Air Force Base, to Belleville will feel like coming home. While he’s originally from Fairfield, Gale said his connection to Belleville goes back to the 1980s. His first teaching job was at Jefferson School in Belleville District 118.

Gale said he continued working as a teacher in District 118 for 14 years before accepting a principal position at Signal Hill School. He lives in Millstadt today and commutes to Bartelso, where he has worked as both the superintendent and principal for six years. Gale’s wife Karen teaches kindergarten at Freeburg Primary Center. They have two adult daughters.

“I am certainly happy to be coming back to the Belleville area,” Gale said.

Obernuefemann said he and the school board were impressed by Bartelso’s test scores, which were twice as high as the state average last year. Belle Valley’s scores on the statewide assessment were slightly below the average. Gale said he has plans to “challenge the entire Belle Valley team to think outside the box and develop student-centered learning around the curriculum.”

“That was one of the goals for me: to look at the instructional practices at Belle Valley and try to improve those instructional practices,” he said.

Obernuefemann said because his four children have graduated college and left home, he and his wife will have time for their interests in retirement. Alycia Obernuefemann, a fifth-grade science teacher in District 119, is also retiring at the end of the year.

As far as all the state mandates and the paperwork and the finances, I won’t miss that a bit. But the rest of it, I will.

Louis Obernuefemann, retiring superintendent at Belleville Valley District 119

Louis Obernuefemann said they enjoy scuba diving and searching for rocks, minerals and fossils together. Some of their treasures include a dinosaur egg, meteorite and 300-pound crystal that sits in their living room.

But it won’t be easy to say goodbye to the students and staff, who Louis Obernuefemann calls his children, brother and sisters.

“As far as all the state mandates and the paperwork and the finances, I won’t miss that a bit. But the rest of it, I will,” he said.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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