Meet Fritz Esch, Ph.D.

Spotlight highlights a National Charter Schools Institute team member. This month we highlight Fritz Esch, Ph.D.

Fritz Esch is an Associate with the National Charter Schools Institute. He was born in Battle Creek, Michigan and raised in Charlotte, Michigan. After high school, he graduated from Hillsdale College with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion. Esch also obtained a master’s degree in administration from Wayne State University and a Ph.D. in school administration and curriculum development from Michigan State University.

Esch started teaching in 1959 as an elementary school teacher at the Lamphere Schools, located in metro Detroit. He later became a principal at Lamphere then Director of Curriculum Development.

After 23 years at Lamphere, Esch became superintendent of Akron-Fairgrove Schools in the thumb area of Michigan before moving to Lowell, Michigan where he was superintendent for 11 years. In 1993, he was appointed superintendent of the Royal Oak Schools, where he remained for four years. In 1997, he became superintendent of Haverhill Public Schools, a large metropolitan school district in Haverhill, Massachusetts just north of Boston.

Esch returned to Michigan in 2001 and started working with charter schools. He first worked with National Heritage Academies (NHA), as the principal of Burton Glen Academy. He then became the principal at Holly Academy, a school chartered by Central Michigan University (CMU) in northern Oakland County, where he served for three years.

Esch then went to the CMU Center for Charter Schools to conduct facility reviews for approximately 20 charter schools in the Detroit Metropolitan area before accepting a temporary principalship at Woodland Park Academy. In 2006, he joined the National Charter Schools Institute and has been doing policy development with the Institute ever since.

Esch and his wife Sandy have worked and lived throughout Michigan’s lower peninsula and now call Grand Rapids, Michigan, home. The Institute values Fritz Esch’s knowledge and insight and we asked him a few questions about himself for this newsletter.

If you had a magic wand and could change the educational landscape in the U.S. what would you do?
Make sure there is equal per-pupil funding for all schools. And I would make sure that local boards of education have more control over the local educational program. Too much government control and paperwork detracts from a teacher’s direct instruction of students in the classroom.

Who was your favorite teacher? What was your favorite class and why?
I had two favorite teachers in high school. One was an English teacher and the other was the band teacher. In addition to my parents, both teachers gave me the confidence I needed to continue my education beyond high school. It was the mid-1950’s and many people were making good money in factories and not going to college but I opted for college.

What instrument did you play in band?
I played the euphonium and a little trombone and sousaphone in high school. Currently, I play the euphonium in two community bands.

What book are you reading now?
I recently picked up an old book called The Victors by Stephen Ambrose. Since I have always enjoyed history, I like to read about the leadership styles of those who made history.

Who was your hero?
Probably Dr. Jarvis Wotring, my high school English teacher. He had a unique relationship with students that gave us a sense of who we were, what we could do, and where we were going. Years later I had the opportunity to personally thank him for his teaching and leadership.

How did you get started in charter schools?
When I returned from Massachusetts in 2001, I wasn’t ready to retire and wanted to continue working in Michigan’s educational system. I applied at NHA, was hired, and enjoyed working with them.

Tell us something interesting about yourself.
Upon graduation from high school, I joined the Merchant Marines and was classified as a “coal passer” on a “hand-fired” Great Lakes steamship which sailed on the Great Lakes. I earned enough money that summer to finance my first year in college. I enjoy water sports and have sailed competitively with Sunfish sailboats. Today, we travel as much as possible and have been to South America, Alaska, Europe, and Africa. This fall we will be taking a travel trailer trip with friends to the New England states, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edwards Island.

What was the most interesting place you ever visited?
Africa was great but South America, and especially Machu Picchu, are at the top of the list. I like to experience different cultures and get a sense of how others live. In 2000, I was a guest lecturer on American education for two weeks at the University of Oradea, in Romania. That wasn’t too long after the Communist governmental system was replaced by a more democratic government. Internet connection was available for only two hours a day and Romanian soldiers were still checking identification before you were allowed on the university campus. That was my first experience with life in a third-world country.