“It always comes back to the students”: Retired superintendent opens up about a lifetime of service and leadership

Dr. Gerald Huesken poses for a headshot as superintendent of Conestoga Valley School District. Photo Credit: Conestoga Valley Education Foundation

By Evan Zimmerman ‘24

Over forty years ago, Dr. Gerald Huesken was just another high schooler, unsure of what to do after graduation. That is, until his English teacher pulled him aside one day.

“I really had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Huesken, looking back on that time. “And I had an English teacher come up to me who said, ‘Have you thought about education?’ They thought I’d be good at it.”

And so, Huesken started his career in education. He followed the footsteps of the one who inspired him, becoming an English teacher himself. However, he quickly found a different calling.

“I felt I could have a bigger impact moving into administration,” said Huesken.

Dr. Huesken started his new path by becoming the assistant principal of the middle school that’s now named after him. Despite his quick rise through the ranks, Huesken was hesitant to rise further.

“I want to work more closely on a building level; I don’t really want to go to the district level,” thought Heusken at the time. “But I felt I had something to offer to the next step.”

That urge to make a bigger impact led Huesken to put his reservations aside and enter his work in the district office. Not long after entering the office, Huesken found himself with his final promotion – superintendent of Conestoga Valley School District. 

Even as he began his work running the district, Huesken didn’t forget his roots, nor the ideals that brought him up.

“I always wanted to keep contact with the students,” Huesken stated. “I wouldn’t be this foreign face that people didn’t know.”

Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Huesken always made time to visit the schools he was in charge of, ensuring that he was always aware of each school’s needs.

Huesken commented, “there’s a theme that’s still alive today that we tried to champion at the time. It’s to try to personalize education for students.”

“It always comes back to the students, whatever you decide to do,” stated Huesken. “That’s our business. That’s why we’re in this.”

Dr. Huesken has served the students of Conestoga Valley for over forty years. A large portion of his effectiveness as an administrator was his open attitude toward change and differing ideas.

“That’s one direction we need to take,” Huesken said. “Always being open to new ideas, because we don’t always have the right ones by ourselves.”

Although his policies and ideas may have changed since first becoming an educator, Dr. Huesken’s core values have stayed true.

“I was [at the High School] on opening day. One of the things the superintendent talked about was making that personal connection with all our students,” remembered Huesken. “The more students that have a personal connection with the school, the more students are going to be successful.”

Even now, four decades later, Dr. Heusken pushes for that same goal, although he’s very happy about the changes he’s already seen occur.

“There might’ve been some students that weren’t interested in sports… or music… that never really had anybody connected with them,” Huesken said. “And now, I think we’re purposefully reaching out to all those students to make sure that nobody’s left behind.”

Part of the problem, he believes, lies with the rising class sizes.

“If you’re lucky, it’s a class of twenty kids,” Heusken stated. “When class sizes get too large, that’s when teachers have real challenges in trying to get to know all their students and provide a personalized plan for each of them.”

The age-old problem of school funding makes it far more difficult to bring down the class sizes. Perhaps that’s why Dr. Huesken didn’t consider his work finished when he retired from being superintendent in 2017.

“I was thirty-eight years in education,” Heusken said. “Just to go cold turkey, I think would’ve been tough.”

That’s why, when a vacancy arose in the Conestoga Valley Education Foundation, Dr. Huesken stepped in to become the Foundation’s Executive Director.

“I felt an obligation to help with the Foundation, because they’ve helped us so many years,” said Huesken. “In retirement, you can’t just sit in a rocking chair, you have to do some things.”

Huesken certainly stayed true to his promise of aid. During the COVID pandemic, the Education Foundation, led by Dr. Heusken, gave over $150,000 in grants and financial aid to support the district’s shift to virtual learning. 

When asked about his future plans, Huesken simply said, “As long as I can make a difference, I’ll stay involved.”

Dr. Huesken has spent over forty years serving and learning. He’s taught and led countless students and instilled massive changes into the Conestoga Valley School District. Even in his retirement, he still continues to serve the community and students of his district.

But all that would never have happened if one teacher, forty years ago, hadn’t decided to make a personal connection with one of their students. If that teacher hadn’t been willing to go the extra mile, to strive for community and personalization in the classroom, Conestoga Valley would be an extremely different place.

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