Most people who live in Goessel and those who have attended the Goessel Unified School District 411 in the last 24 years know who John Fast is. The soft-spoken man who clearly loves all things education as well as the town of Goessel, has spent most of his career teaching and being an administrator in the small town.
Fast worked in education for 38 years. He started his career teaching fourth-grade science in Wichita and taught there for two years. Fast then went to Halstead for 12 years teaching elementary and middle school science and working as a curriculum director.
In the fall of 1996, Fast made the move to Goessel where he started as the elementary principal. He added the role of superintendent in the fall of 2004. Fast speaks fondly of his 24 years working at Goessel.
“I have been so blessed by the people here and it has been such a wonderful journey,” said Fast.
Fast credits many things for his success at Goessel but he kept coming back to his contact with the students.
“Very often the superintendent is located off-campus someplace else, but because my office is located here in the building, I have had daily contact with the students. Anytime I’ve felt like I’ve been discouraged with policies or anything coming from the state levels, all I have to do is go out to the classrooms. I connect with the kids, remember what I am doing and what my focus is about. I think what has been able to keep me going in administration is having me be close to the kids and the staff,” said Fast.
Fast knew from early on that he wanted to be in the education field.
“I was working at a church camp and they asked me to teach science. I realized how much I loved seeing their eyes light up learning about nature, and I realized I could combine my love of science with enjoying working with kids,” said Fast.
While initially it was hard to leave the classroom after 14 years to move to the administrative side, Fast knew he could do it somewhere so small like Goessel where he could still be involved in the classroom. It helped that he got to teach a science class in the beginning along with being the principal. He also got to keep working with curriculum.
“I think it is crucial for any administrator—do we have that close contact with the staff? I have really appreciated when teachers invite me to the classroom to see what they are doing,” said Fast.
Fast admits that retiring the same year as COVID-19 hitting isn’t how he planned things, but he isn’t the only one who had the year go differently than planned.
“I contemplated for a long time on when would be the best time to leave. I felt like I did not want to stay on so long that I was not on top of things or handling things the best I could. I wanted to go out while I still felt like people felt like I was doing a good job. So I let the board know before Christmas. This semester being so different wasn’t just about me but everyone. All of the seniors, prom, sports, graduation, eighth-grade promotion, as well as the rightful kind of closure that students and staff need—none of it went as we had thought it would,” said Fast. “In the process of transitioning to the continuous plan of learning that the state had us do, I have been so impressed with how hard our teachers have worked, how hard our students have worked; the response has been tremendous in terms of being flexible and accepting of this is a different way of doing education.”
Fast seems to carry that motto through in everything. He is quick to give praise and point out who deserves it as he states, matter of factly, that he did what he had to do.
“For myself I simply have to accept new changes and challenges for me. I simply have to model for those around me how to adapt to that. Every year is unique and special,” said Fast.
There are a couple of things that stand out in the 24 years at Goessel that Fast is proud of. One is the approval of a 3.2 million bond project in 2015 that was able to get approved at the 11th hour before the legislature took away state aid bond projects for state aid districts.
“Our community approved it at 92 percent which is the highest level at the time. I owe a tremendous level to our community for that level of support to education. So with that we were able to add an Ag Ed wing, a new high school lab, a new FACTS lab and a storm shelter at the elementary school which serves as the community storm shelter and the preschool,” said Fast.
Another achievement Fast is proud of happened in 2010 when the House Committee had a proposal to shut down the smaller school districts and Goessel was on the list. Fast and then school board president Dan Miller went to Topeka and spoke to the House in front of three tv cameras and a packed house.
“Representative Don Schroeder said our testimony was what helped to turn the tide and closed down that proposal and was able to keep Goessel and the other small schools open,” said Fast. “Small schools are just so important so that felt really good.”
Fast couldn’t say enough about the community of Goessel.
“I couldn’t ask for better loyalty. The folks here are extremely loyal and supportive of our school and our community. I have to credit them. If I have been successful, it’s because of our community, our staff and our board. Our board has been visionary. They have been trusting. They have been supportive,” said Fast. “I have appreciated the close working relationships I have had with my school board presidents over the years Lynel Unrau, Mary Rosfeld, the late Dan Miller and presently, Kelly Booton. I appreciate all of them. They have been tremendous.”
At the end of the day, there is one thing that Fast hopes to be remembered for most of all.
“I always liked to position myself at the door to welcome the kids. When the kids walk in the door with a smile on their face giving you a high five and you give them a high five and they are happy, then you know good things are happening inside the building. Kids enjoy being in the building. I hope they remember the happy times we had.”
Fast does not have his next steps set in stone but he has a few plans.
He is currently working on a smooth transition for the new principal and superintendent, Amanda Lowrance.
“When I go off contract July 1, I will give myself some downtime to rest and reflect. After some time doing that, I will figure out what the next adventure is,” said Fast. “I am determined to do this.”
Fast admits that slowing down is hard for him especially after a long career of always being busy and attending constant activities.
“I always tell the kids there is a reason my name is Mr. Fast,” he says with a laugh.
Whatever he does next, he would like to use some of his strengths in another capacity. It is clear from the staff and students that he will be missed.