Few people know South-Western schools better than Lee Schreiner.
Over a 38-year teaching career, he taught thousands of children from each of the district’s 17 elementary schools. Grateful parents repeatedly have thanked Schreiner for his dedication and his ability to make school interesting for their children.
It’s no surprise, then, that Schreiner has won numerous accolades, including South-Western’s Teacher of the Year and runner-up Ohio Teacher of the Year.
“It’s been a blessing,” Schreiner says of his long career with South-Western City Schools. “I’ve been able to see so many young people whom I taught go on to have successful, fruitful lives.”
Schreiner’s commitment to students didn’t end with his retirement from teaching. He is now in his 10th year as a member of the South-Western Board of Education. He is currently the board’s vice president and has also served as its president. Schreiner and his running-mate, Anthony Caldwell, are seeking to retain their seats on the school board in this November’s election.
The respect Schreiner has engendered among his peers across the state was evident when they elected him president 2020 of the Ohio School Boards Association. The association represents 700 public school districts and almost 3,500 board of education members.
Why is Schreiner so dedicated to South-Western and its students?
“Ensuring that children get a quality education is one of our society’s most important missions,” he says. “Public education is a foundation of our country. It’s one of the main reasons for our nation’s greatness. You can’t have a thriving democracy and a vibrant economy without an educated public.”
Careers often take unexpected twists and turns, but Schreiner didn’t expect one of those surprises to come so early. Schreiner had just earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Urbana University and was excited about his first full-time teaching job – fourth grade at Darbydale, an elementary school in a rural area of the South-Western district.
“It was my first week, and I wanted to get the students interested in the concept of gravity, so I did a headstand on my desk,” the former all-American soccer player recalls, with a laugh.
“As I was explaining that the blood in my body rushed to my head because of gravity, the principal walked in. He looked at me up there on the desk, then turned around and left without saying a word.”
The rookie teacher expected to be called into Principal Frank Shipley’s office for a stern lecture later in the day. But his no-nonsense boss never mentioned the incident during Schreiner’s entire 10-year stint at Darbydale.
At Shipley’s retirement party years later, Schreiner finally asked him about the head-stand episode. “Frank said, ‘I understood what you were doing, and I thought it was a good idea. You obviously got the students’ attention,’” Schreiner recalls.
Schreiner was born and raised around Buffalo, in upstate New York near the Canadian border. He came to Ohio as a recruit for the soccer team at Urbana University, 46 miles west of Columbus. Compared to frigid Buffalo, where winter storms can dump many feet of snow, Urbana was a warm paradise, Schreiner jokes.
Urbana’s soccer team was deplorable when Schreiner arrived. He and another high school standout player improved the team’s record.
“We weren’t great after that, but at least we were respectable,” Schreiner says. His record of 65 career goals still stands at Urbana.
Schreiner is now an Ohio State Buckeye fan through and through. In the NFL, he roots for the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. But Schreiner admits he still has a soft spot for the Buffalo Bills. At times, it’s been tough, though. The Bills’ four Super Bowl losses were heartbreaking, he laments.
Schreiner wasn’t always athletic. At age 5, he spent a year in the hospital suffering from a severe case of rheumatic fever. He also developed a heart murmur, which resulted in doctors prohibiting him from participating in sports.
As a teenager, Lee finally rebelled. He began running in a city park near his home. “I ran all the time, everywhere, and gradually built up my stamina,” Schreiner recalls. “Of course, I didn’t tell my doctor any of this.”
After a routine physical exam months later, his doctor glared at young Schreiner and asked, “What have you been doing?” The teenager confessed that he had been running every day. “The doctor smiled and said, “Well, keep it up. You don’t have a heart murmur anymore,’” Schreiner says.
One of his best friends in high school played on the soccer team. “You can run forever,” his friend told Lee. “You should try out for the team.” Lee took his advice and became a standout player on the high school team. “I could run from one end of the field to the other, back and forth for the whole game,” Schreiner recalls. “I could outrun everyone on the team.”
Because of his parents, determination and hard work came naturally for young Lee. His father, Chuck, was a carpenter and his mother, Marge, was a homemaker. “Dad was a proud member of the Carpenters Union,” Schreiner says. “He was a great motivator for all three of us kids.” Schreiner has a brother, Craig, and a sister, Kim.
As youngsters, Lee and Craig often accompanied their father to construction sites. “He wanted us to know how to do things with our hands,” Schreiner recalls. The elder Schreiner, a World War II veteran, taught his sons not only carpentry but also plumbing and electrical work. To this day, Schreiner is a handyman around the house. The many skills Craig learned from their father helped his brother become an architect, Schreiner says.
The craftsmanship and dedication that his father and his co-workers displayed greatly impressed young Lee. “I saw first-hand how hard they worked, the pride they took in a job well done,” Schreiner recalls. “Because of those men, I have a deep appreciation of working people.”
From his mother, Schreiner learned empathy and respect for others. “Mom was always hugging us,” Schreiner says. “She emphasized that we need to tell people how much we love them. Never forget someone’s birthday. Always send thank-you cards.”
Besides playing soccer, Schreiner was a member of his high school and college theater groups and was an Eagle Scout. Schreiner worked at a variety of jobs after classes and during summer vacations in high school and college. “Our family wasn’t rich,” Schreiner says. “So, we all had to work.” His jobs included being a cook and dishwasher at restaurants, lifeguard, airline steward and even playing on a semi-pro soccer team. Schreiner paid for college through student loans, part-time jobs, and athletic and academic scholarships.
After graduating college, Schreiner had trouble landing the right kind of job. “I wanted to teach fourth grade,” Schreiner says. “That’s an important time in youngsters’ lives. I thought I could really make a difference.
“But back then, very few men taught elementary school. Most school officials thought only women should teach there.”
He was offered jobs in middle and high schools at various districts, but Schreiner held out for an elementary school position. Finally, Shipley agreed to hire him as a fourth-grade teacher.
However, there was a drawback to being one of the few males at Darbydale. Whenever a strong extra body was needed to carry a heavy crate or piece of equipment, a call came over the school public address system. “Will Mr. Schreiner please report to the office?” the voice on the PA asked. “Before long, I knew what that call always meant,” Schreiner chuckles.
After his tenure at Darbydale, Schreiner became a teacher in South-Western’s gifted-student program. At various times, he was assigned to Pleasant View Middle and Prairie Norton and Alton Hall Elementary schools. Children from elementary schools throughout the district would come once a week to Pleasant View, Alton Hall, and Prairie Norton for enrichment instruction from Schreiner. He also coached soccer at Grove City High School and Ohio State University, where he earned master’s degrees in early/middle childhood education and gifted/talented education.
Cathy Johnson, a longtime member of the South-Western school board, has known Schreiner for decades. “Whether he’s working in the school district or in the community, Lee is tireless,” she says. “He doesn’t just join an organization, he gets involved, deeply involved.”
Schreiner’s many leadership roles with community, labor union, and professional groups include a levy coordinator for the Southwest Public Library; merit badge counselor for the Central Ohio Boy Scouts; board of directors for the Westside Area Business Association, member of Grove City Zoning Appeals Board; Ohio Education Association executive committee; board of directors of the South-Western and National Education Associations; and board of trustees of the South-Western Schools Education Foundation.
His other awards include Ohio PTA Outstanding Educator of the Year, Westland Area Business Association Community Service Award, Ohio School Boards Exemplary School Employee Award/ Central Region, Urbana University Athletic Hall of Fame, and Ohio High School Sports Association Soccer Coach of the Year.
Schreiner and his wife, Jane, have two sons, Damien and Sebastian, and two grandchildren. Both sons attended South-Western City Schools.