BENTON — After six years helping lead Fairfield Junior/Senior High School, Ben Tonagel will be leaving the area to be closer to family and work for his alma mater.
Tonagel has been Fairfield’s principal for the last three years, working as assistant principal and dean of students before that, he said.
The Fairfield School Board accepted his resignation at its meeting Thursday evening, May 9.
“It’s been a great place for my family,” Tonagel told the board. “It’s a great community and that’s what makes it hard to leave.”
He explained in an interview that both he and his wife graduated from LaPorte High School. With three young sons and a fourth child on the way, Tonagel said they want to move closer to their families. He’ll start as LaPorte High Schools’s principal July 1.
He has loved his time working at Fairfield and it’s “bittersweet” to move on, he said.
“I just want to thank this staff and the whole district and community,” for welcoming his family and for the encouraging words about his work here, he said. “That means a lot to my wife and I.”
Superintendent Steve Thalheimer complimented Tonagel on his work at the high school.
“Ben has been an outstanding young administrator,” Thalheimer said.
“I totally understand why he’s going, but it doesn’t make it any easier for us. ... LaPorte is very lucky,” he said.
Prior to coming to Fairfield, Tonagel taught third grade at Leesburg Elementary in Warsaw for six years.
The Fairfield School Board also approved a recommendation from Thalheimer to pursue several safety enhancements at Fairfield’s schools.
As long as the school corporation receives a $50,000 grant from the state, Fairfield will add buzz-in camera systems to all its buildings, which require a school staff person to see a visitor through an outside camera before unlocking an entrance and allowing the person inside. Fairfield will also install card swipe systems to doors at Benton Elementary and Fairfield Junior/Senior High School. Millersburg and New Paris elementaries already have the card swipe systems.
Thalheimer explained that the total cost would be $112,143, but with a possible matching grant up to $50,000 from the state for school safety needs, Fairfield would only need $62,143 from local funds. The grant would be through a senate bill recently passed and signed into law by Governor Mike Pence. The parameters for the grant are not yet entirely clear, Thalheimer said, but if it looks like Fairfield would not qualify after all, he would return to the board for further direction on what funds to use and how to move forward.
If all goes as planned, Thalheimer hopes to have the new systems installed and ready for use by the start of the next school year.