In the days leading up to USD 410 superintendent Max Heinrichs’ retirement at the end of June, his office walls were mostly bare – memorabilia, plaques and awards had been moved to boxes – but two items remained: a vintage Hillsboro pennant that will be left for the incoming superintendent, Clint Corby, when he begins his new role July 1, and a Trojan Proud sign made by Heinrichs’ wife Krista, hanging above the desk.
After 39 years in education, 29 of those working in some capacity for USD 410, the two remaining decor items seemed to echo an appropriate summation of Heinrichs’ career. Retirement doesn’t change that he’s “Trojan Proud” – a quintessential Heinrichs’ reply on social media – and a community man, through and through.
Though not born in Kansas, Heinrichs has lived in Hillsboro for most of his life and considers it his hometown. He graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1979 and from Tabor College in 1983 with a physical education degree. He received three additional master’s degrees: educational psychology from Emporia State University (1987); leadership/administration from Kansas State University (2000); superintendent from ESU (2008).
All of Heinrichs’ post-secondary education was built on a childhood dream.
“If you were to ask me as a sixth grader, I would have told you, ‘I want to be head football coach at Hillsboro High School,’” Heinrichs said, but with a smile added: “Now, I didn’t know you had to teach and all that, too, but that’s actually the best part of it.”
For Heinrichs, teaching came to fruition well before becoming the head HHS football coach, but not in the way he planned. There was a national economic recession when Heinrichs graduated from Tabor, and physical education jobs were hard to come by.
“I walked out of Tabor in 1983 kind of in the place we are now,” he said. “The economy was falling apart and I was going to get married in July and there were three PE openings in the state. And everywhere you’d apply there’d be 200 people applying. There were no jobs.”
Heinrichs worked construction until he was hired as a para in the USD 410 district, working for long-time educator Anne Janzen. During this time, he worked on getting his first master’s degree, eventually teaching what was then known as the PSA program – the beginning of the current Oasis program – now located in Marion, but then in the HHS building.
“I would say the best learning I’ve ever had in my life was teaching special education,” Heinrichs said of the five years he spent teaching the PSA program. “But you go to school for a dream, and that was to coach football, so I went to Minneapolis and accepted a job there.”
After nine years teaching PE and health, coaching football, wrestling and girls basketball, and instructing new drivers during driver’s education, Heinrichs and his family of five returned to Hillsboro where he taught high school PE, driver’s ed and coached football at Tabor.
“I wanted my daughters to have that opportunity I had,” Heinrichs said about moving home. “And you know what, I hope every person thinks like I do about their school. I’m not saying we’re the best, I’m just saying I know what’s here. I know there’s a high expectation put on our education system here and our teachers work very hard to hold that.”
When it came time to renew his teaching certification, Heinrichs decided it was time to go in a different direction and was encouraged toward administration and leadership by a building administrator.
“I had someone come and ask me, ‘So, did you grow up wanting to be a principal?’ Are you kidding me? Who grows up wanting to be principal?” he asked with a laugh. “But leadership pulled me that way and when Jim Thomas retired, I had a chance to move into there as the assistant principal and AD (activities director).”
Heinrichs said he learned a lot from fellow administrators in that role. From 2008-2015, Heinrichs served as the Hillsboro High School principal, followed by a year as an educational consultant for ESSDACK.
“That was a unique experience, too,” Heinrichs said of working for ESSDACK. “I got to travel and work with schools – New Hampshire, Washington state – wanting to do what we designed at Hillsboro High School.”
Heinrichs helped other schools implement the way HHS delivers its educational programming: core curriculum, college courses and technical education.
“We’re continuing to work on that and it will evolve as Clint and Tyler (new HHS principal) work into that,” he said. “Really at some point, we’d like to get kids in classes they want to be in instead of classes they have to take and do their learning in those classes. All the same standards will be met, but instead of going to geometry, you’re taking it in ag, you’re taking it in one of Creigh’s (Bell) building classes. So you’re getting the math, you’re learning to apply the math. It just takes time [to get programming in place].”
During his 6-year tenure as USD 410 superintendent, this curriculum development was an interest of his.
“We have a lot of schools come in and look at what we’re doing, and we’re very good at sharing,” he said. “I think we do it well and it’s programming that a lot of schools have changed to.”
Another piece, and something that will also continue with the next administration, has been to build social and emotional learning for students.
“We’re taking care of the requirements of the state, but we’re really looking at the needs of the students and the staff,” Heinrichs said. “It’s about our people.”
Though he had worked toward his superintendent degree, Heinrichs said there were times he wasn’t sure he would end up in the role, but eventually a spot opened for him.
“Finally at some point you’ve got to move on and try something and move toward what’s driving you,” he said. “And I still believe it’s probably leadership in the end. I don’t know if I’m any good at anything, but I will take that role on and take the good and the bad and the ugly, because there’s a lot of that. And you’ve got to learn how not to get too high when it’s good and too low when it’s bad, and just hang in there when it’s ugly.
“Look, I’m a Clint Eastwood guy,” he explained with a chuckle.
But what about that sixth-grade dream to coach Hillsboro High School football?
“In the end I finally did get to coach Hillsboro High School football and nobody wanted to do that position,” Heinrichs said. “I was with Len Coryea and we were fishing. It was summer and I was feeling pretty good, finally getting some time off from being principal. We were fishing at Wilson Lake and I get a call from the last guy who would possibly take it, and they said no.
“I was sitting there with the opportunity to do the thing I wanted to do, and I’m sitting there going, ‘I don’t want to do this’ because I know how important my job is as high school principal.”
But, Heinrichs finally said yes and simultaneously acted as HHS principal and HHS head football coach for three seasons.
“I loved the guys and I loved the coaches I got to work with,” he said. “It was a good experience.”
And that’s how Heinrichs feels about his time with USD 410 as he officially retires from public education:
“I’ve been blessed to be here. I’m thankful to the people and the students of our communities, and I’m Trojan Proud.”