New Brookville Superintendent Has Taken Unique Path to Top Education Spot

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W. Va. (EYT) – It didn’t take longer than about two minutes of talking to new Brookville Superintendent Erich May to realize he isn’t your typical school administrator.

May’s day was a busy one with meetings throughout the day and a banquet in the evening, but he was gracious enough to give a little over a half hour of his time in the late afternoon.

May was hired as the next Brookville Superintendent where he will replace Robin Fillman on July 1.

Currently finishing up his second year as the Superintendent of the Morgan County Schools in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., May has a life story that is anything but what you would expect from a top administrator.

After all, how many top administrators were responsible for laying out not one but two newspapers on 9/11?

May did. Working as an editor at the Evening Sun in Hanover, Pa., that fateful day he put together two papers – the regular afternoon edition and then a special edition – about the tragic events.

“We made two front pages on 9/11,” May recalled. “One on our deadline and then a second special edition the same day.”

The job at the Evening Sun was May’s second foray into journalism, as the 1991 DuBois Area High School graduate and Penn State graduate – he rode his Honda 360 motorcycle back and forth from State College when he came home to visit – started his career covering local news in the Curwensville area for the Clearfield Progress in the mid-1990s.

“I had a great editor at the time in Clearfield,” May said. “Michelle Moyer.”

In addition to his journalism background, May also taught some college classes in Georgia after his stint at the Progress when his wife, Holly (Plauny) May, was finishing her degree. Holly, a 1994 DuBois graduate, then got her dream job working at a state forest on the Eastern Shore.

After a couple of years on the Maryland shore, the couple decided they wanted to start a family and wanted to do so closer to home, and that is how Erich’s education career in eduction got started.

“It was 30 years having worked in journalism and a cabinet shop,” May said. “I went to St. Francis to get a teaching certificate. It was a program designed for non-traditional students. I student-taught at Central in Martinsburg and got a job as an English teacher in Bellefonte. Holly got pregnant and was at home with the kiddos for a couple of years.”

After teaching at Bellefonte for a few years, May’s next stop was an assistant principal position in the Allentown area and then he held two principal jobs in South-Central Pennsylvania, one in Hyndman and then another in McConnellsburg.

“I had a friend in West Virginia who said they had this superintendent job open,” May said. “I was like you are crazy. But that is how things happen. You get flattered into applying, and the next thing you know you are going. I guess it worked out. I came to West Virginia to get experience as a superintendent, and the Brookville job was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.”

According to May, what he was looking for was a job that “checked all the boxes.”

“We have two kids, Henry and Owen, who are in sixth and fourth grade (respectively),” May said. “Not only was I looking for a good fit for me, I was also looking for a good school district for them. And a good place for my wife, who loves to trout fish and bird hunt. Brookville checked all the boxes. It is good for the kids, it’s good for me to get back to Pennsylvania and it’s good for the wife for hunting and fishing. It really feels like a great opportunity for everyone in the family.”

As May put it, his family is looking for put down roots in Brookville.

“Everything we have done in the last 10, 20 years, contributed to this,” May said. “It feels like we have arrived. We are getting an opportunity to put down roots in a great town with a great school district. We are coming up to Brookville looking to buy a place, hopefully in the country, and put down roots. Hopefully, that includes social opportunities for the whole family as well.”

While he has only been a superintendent for two years in West Virginia, May believes those two years have well prepared him because they were a jam-packed two years with a lot of experiences.

“When I first got there, we had to win a big tax referendum,” May said. “That was a massive undertaking. We took a county that was suspicious of the school district and won that vote by a wide margin. We won in all 13 precincts. I am very proud of that.”

In May’s first year in West Virginia, the 2017-18 school year, he was confronted with a nine-day statewide work stoppage by teachers protesting low pay. Unlike in Pennsylvania, where teachers in each district negotiate their own salary structure, in West Virginia teachers’ salaries are set at the state level and all funding is spelled out by the state, according to May.

“I got caught up in the statewide work stoppage,” May said. “I had to manage the decision on whether to close the school or not. It wasn’t just about the teachers. You can’t have school without cooks and bus drivers. If you don’t have bus drivers coming to work, you are up a crick. The bus drivers here are full-time employees.”

May also talked about having unused property in the Morgan County School District that he had to work through selling and some other challenges he faced.

“A lot has happened,” May said. “I feel I am really well prepared for the Brookville job. It may have only been two years, but it feels like it has been three or four years because so much has happened in the last two years.”

May’s ability to handle a lot of the things that have been thrown at him in his short time in West Virginia may be traced back to his management style, which he describes as “flexible”.

“In some situations, you need to be deliberate,” May said. “Safety is an area were you need to be a decisive leader. In other situations, you need to be more distributive. For example, textbooks and curriculum call for more collaboration. Different situations get different approaches, and different groups get different approaches. You lead a (school) board differently than faculty.”

Having a chance to reconnect with people who he and his wife used to know is something May is also looking forward too.

“As an educator, I have shunned Facebook,” May said. “As a side effect of being an educator, I felt it was best not to be on social media. So, everyone I went to high school and college with are in touch with each other more than I am in touch with them. I am curious to whom we will run into. I know word will get out (that I am back in the area) and we will see people around here we know.”

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