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Superintendent Steel set to prove his mettle

If he hadn’t changed his plan, Roger Steel would have spent most of his working life in an operating room, not a classroom.

But the thought of working with patients while never being able to communicate with them eventually lost its appeal for Steel, who entered the University of California-Berkeley as a pre-med student a bit more than 30 years ago.

So Steel figured he’d try the next best thing: teaching elementary school to 150 fourth- through sixth-grade students in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.



It was a Catholic school, and Steel and his wife were novelties as the only Yanks for miles.

Asked to reflect on his time there three decades ago, Steel smiles.




“They didn’t have very many textbooks, as I recall,” he said.

Steel, Nevada City School District’s new superintendent, worries not about textbooks but transitions now as the new school year rolls into its second month.

After former Superintendent John Halverson left in 2003 to take a similar job in suburban Modesto, the Nevada City School District took its time in selecting a replacement, naming special education coordinator Holly Hermansen to the position for the 2003-04 school year.

Steel, a longtime administrator with the Chico Unified School District, comes to the Nevada City School District after three years leading a one-school district in Gerber, in Tehama County, 107 miles northwest of Nevada City.

Steel isn’t entirely unfamiliar with Nevada County, having stopped here with his family at the National Hotel on their way home from the Tahoe ski resorts over the years.

After three years at the small school, Steel said coming to Nevada City seemed like a natural fit.

“To be honest with you, it’s the type of district I’ve always wanted to work at,” he said.

The Nevada City School District has 1,372 students at five campuses. Like many Nevada County districts, it has suffered from declining enrollment the past few years.

Nevada City School District board member Trish Gerving gives Steel high marks so far.

“He’s been everywhere since the school year started,” she said. Last year, soon after he was named superintendent, Steel showed up to Seven Hills Middle School’s annual Medieval Feast in a jester’s outfit.

Steel, who introduced himself formally to many teachers and parents during a recent back-to-school night, points to the district’s large contingent of parent volunteers and some of the programs unique within a Nevada County school district as an important selling point: Deer Creek’s chorus and band programs, the district’s frequent outdoor exploration trips to such places as the Marin Headlands and the aforementioned Medieval Feast, which draws crowds to the Miners Foundry Cultural Center each spring.

“My goal is to work with the parents to keep this place special,” said Steel, 55. “We need them to make that happen.”

Kathy Palmer, parent of a Seven Hills eighth-grader and a longtime volunteer, has high hopes that, with his help, they will.

“I would just hope that he looks at the entire spectrum of the needs of our students and makes allowances for them,”


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