After forty years in education, Portage Township Schools Superintendent Mike Berta is set to retire at the conclusion of the school year. Berta has made it a priority to build relationships with teachers, students, parents, school employees and fellow administrators throughout his time in education. Those relationships were apparent on Sunday afternoon as a large number of people turned out to bid Berta farewell at his retirement Open House.
“I’m blessed that the folks in this community, as well as the community of Merrillville, gave me the opportunity,” Berta said. “I’m blessed for the relationships in education. Relationships mean giving and taking. They mean listening. They mean understanding and sacrifice.”
The event was fittingly held in the Myers Elementary gymnasium since Myers was the school where Berta got his start as a teacher. The gym was decorated with signs made by the students from each of the elementary and middle schools in the district. At Portage High School, Berta was recently honored as principal Caren Swickard announced that a road adjacent to the school would be named after Berta in his honor.
Portage Association of Teachers President Jack Rowe presented Berta with an award on behalf of the teachers. Rhonda Nelson of the Portage Township School Board surprised Berta with a blanket that includes logos of each of the schools within the district. Associate Superintendent Ric Frataccia, who will take over Berta’s position for the 2012-2013 school year, presented his good friend with an engraved PTS lamp.
Since Berta is all about the students, the presentation during his Open House appropriately included several student performances. The Ballet Folklorico dance group led by Willowcreek Middle School teacher Marissela Lynch entertained the crowd. Lynch said that Berta was instrumental in helping the group win a $10,000 Pepsi Refresh grant last year. Many of the dancers in the group attend a school within the district.
Berta’s family was in attendance to help celebrate his retirement. He was happy to have his wife Tina there along with two of his children and his grandson.
“Believe it or not, not everyone agrees with the Superintendent’s decisions,” Frataccia said. “And believe it or not, sometimes they make it known. So you’ve got to have somebody to talk to. Somebody to put a Band-Aid on your emotions. Mr. Berta is fortunate to have a wonderful family, many of whom are with him this evening.”
Cindy Laingren, Berta’s secretary in the administrative building, helped organize the Open House for her boss and friend.
Berta said he has trouble expressing exactly what is going through his mind as he wraps up his final year in education.
“Forty years is a long time, but I’m telling you, as many of you who are retired already know, it’s a heartbeat,” he said. “I can’t describe to you what’s going through my mind, other than to tell you I keep coming back to- I’m a blessed man.”
Berta feels more than comfortable turning his position over to Ric Frataccia, a man that he considers a brother.
“You are in good hands with that man. He will take good care of Portage children,” he said.