A lifelong dedication to education 

Gardner honored for his continued focus on creating positive learning environments across Wayne Township


Tom Hayes

Barry Gardner was recently recognized as a top CFO.

For four generations, Barry Gardner’s family has served as educators. The lineage runs back on his father’s side, he said, as his grandmother and great-grandmother were teachers. 

Gardner’s mother, Helen Gardner, was a first-generation college student and taught home economics. His father, Larry Gardner, first worked at Sunman Schools in St. Leon, Indiana, as a teacher and head varsity basketball and baseball coach. Later, he became the guidance counselor for Decatur County Schools before serving as an athletic director, assistant principal and then principal of North Decatur High School.

In 1998, Larry Gardner died of skin cancer when Barry Gardner was 19 years old. Many of Larry Gardner’s former students from his 35 years as an educator attended his funeral, Barry Gardner said, to pay their respects and share their memories about him. 

This resonated with Barry Gardner and led him to pursue the education field as well, he said, as he saw the lasting impact his father had on his students from the strong relationships he built with them.

“I grew up on stories about my dad,” Barry Gardner said. “Being an advocate or someone they knew they could count on — that was the biggest thing that came out of those stories. They knew he cared about them. That’s what education is about. Building those relationships with students is how we really have the opportunity to impact them. Those relationships I heard about through all those stories — that really stood out.” 

Supporting students at the building- and administration-level 

After graduating from Marian University in 2000 with his Bachelor’s of Applied Science in elementary education and teaching, Barry Gardner was a sixth grade teacher for Speedway Schools for eight years. During this time, he assisted coaching baseball, basketball and football at Speedway Senior High School, where he later served as athletic director for three years. 

To grow his impact on 30 students in a classroom to thousands of students across a school district, he transitioned into administration in 2011. He served as an assistant principal for Brownsburg Community Schools and then chief finance officer in 2015. 

Since 2019, Barry Gardner has helped create safe learning environments for the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township’s nearly 16,500 students as the chief financial officer. 

When Jeff Butts, the district’s superintendent, was looking at candidates for the CFO role, he said, he wanted someone with classroom experience like Barry Gardner, who could truly picture the effects his financial strategies and decisions had on teachers and students. 

“I think in many large school corporations — and I know this to be true through meetings I’ve had at the state and federal level — there are many large school chief financial officers that don’t necessarily understand the impact of slashing a budget, cutting positions or removing dollars for supplies,” Butts said. “For those individuals, it’s really just about making the numbers work on a spreadsheet. 

“Mr. Gardner is able to look at those numbers, and he can actually see the impact that it’s going to have on our teachers ability to teach our students, our students opportunities to learn and the overall operations of our facilities.” 

In 2022, Barry Gardner’s role as a problem-solver expanded when he became the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations. Now, Gardner oversees five of Wayne Township’s departments: finance, facilities, grounds and custodial services, child nutrition and construction. 

He leads more than 300 employees across these five departments to ensure each school’s classrooms and bathrooms are clean, buildings are at a comfortable temperature and students have a hot meal in the morning. That way, he said, teachers and students can focus on what truly matters: learning. 

“When our home is clean and well-kept, it’s a more positive environment,” Barry Gardner said. “We can do that for our students. We create a more positive learning environment for them. If a building’s too hot, too cold, and things aren’t working, that disrupts the flow of the day. Any time we disrupt the flow of the day for our students, we have potentially [hindered] their learning.” 

Helping leaders lead others 

While his typical day consists of strategic meetings, Bardner Gardner also visits schools to check-in on construction projects, such as renovations in buildings where carpets were last refreshed in the early 2000s. 

He also collaborates with Shenia Suggs, the assistant superintendent of human resources, to plan leadership retreats for the directors from the six departments they oversee: transportation, finance, facilities, grounds and custodial services, child nutrition and construction. Together, Bardner Gardner and Suggs provide the support these directors need in order to lead their departments’ staff. 

“Our organization is fairly large in that we have approximately 16,500 students and about 2500 employees — that’s a lot of folks in one space,” Suggs said. “For all of us to move in the same direction and provide support to all staff, we need to ensure that our leaders have what they need: the skills and the opportunity to collaborate with one another and to problem solve with one another. We put that group together so that they understand they’re not in it alone.” 

In early January 2023, Barry Gardner and Suggs led a professional development meeting with their directors about productivity, organization and goal-setting. Rather than creating New Year’s resolutions and feeling guilty when one doesn’t accomplish it, Suggs said, they asked their directors instead to come up with one word, like “truth.” They’ll use their word to guide them through their relationships and responsibilities in 2023. Then, they’ll share their words and progress as a leadership group in weeks to come. 

“He and I talked about it today — what’s lovely about leading other people is every time you do that, you walk away with learning something too,” Suggs said. “Everyone comes to that meeting with their own gifts and talents, and they share that.”  

Telling Wayne’s story 

In December 2022, Barry Gardner was honored as a top three finalist for the Indianapolis Business Journal’s CFO of the Year Award. When Suggs found out her colleague was a finalist for this award, she said, she first thought, “What took so long?”

Barry Gardner poses with Wayne superintendent Dr. Jeff Butts at a recent school board meeting. (Submitted photo)

“Not only does he do his job well, but he shares the knowledge,” Suggs said. “He does not keep it to himself. He will gladly help anyone who wants to know because he’s so passionate about his work. So the fact that he was being recognized for that is just amazing so early in his career, but it’s also very well deserved.” 

While the Indianapolis Business Journal’s recognition was an honor, Barry Gardner said, he also appreciated how it gave an opportunity for Wayne Township to tell its story about how taxpayers’ dollars are being spent, like Butts’. 

“It’s reaffirming for us and for the residents and taxpayers of Wayne Township — I happen to be one of those,” Butts said. “My taxes go to help pay for the operations of our schools. As a resident and taxpayer of Wayne Township, I also am very interested, outside of my job as superintendent, of what’s happening with district funds and the funds that our community so graciously is providing to us.” 

Problem-solving Wayne’s growing transportation services 

One of Barry Gardner’s accomplishments the Indianapolis Business Journal noted was his plan for replacing Wayne Township’s 50-year-old transportation center. 

In the 1950s, when Maple Grove Elementary School was converted into the current nine-acre transportation center, the school district had fewer than 30 buses. Now, Wayne Township runs 114 buses, transporting more than 10,000 students to and from school each day.  

Because the transportation center is landlocked by a railroad and businesses, Butts said, there is no room to expand. Not only does the district need a larger site to hold its buses, he said, but there is currently no space at the West Morris Street near Holt Road location to host trainings or professional development meetings for their bus drivers either.

Currently, they must use an auditorium at Lyndhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center, Chapel Hill 7th and 8th Grade Center or Ben Davis High School. It becomes tricky scheduling these meetings and trainings, Butts said, because they must bring drivers in at a time when not only are they not driving one of their 580 daily routes but also when school isn’t in session. 

Where the transportation center currently resides on the district’s south-east side isn’t a centralized location anymore either, Butts said. For 35 years, due to a federal court order, buses transported students in east Indianapolis Public School neighborhoods to schools in Marion County. However, this 1981 federal court order expired in 2016, and Wayne Township no longer transports students from the eastside. 

To resolve these issues regarding lack of space and an inconvenient location to distribute buses from, the proposed site for a new, centralized transportation center is at Wayne Township’s Emergency Services Education Center and will break ground this coming fall. Its nearly 60-acre campus is on North High School Road, where buses can have easy access to Interstate 465 off of 10th Street and Rockville Road. 

The transportation center’s construction will include a solar array, Butts said, that will generate enough energy to offset costs so that four of Wayne Township’s facilities will no longer have utility bills, adding onto Barry Gardner’s energy management plan that’s already saving the district $1.5 million. 

Communicating the vision

Sugg’s involvement in putting the new transportation center plan into action has allowed her to get to know Barry Gardner better, she said. While he is in constant communication with her and Butts about this ongoing project, they’ve learned about each other’s families, children and hobbies outside of work. 

Not only does this make the work environment a wonderful place because they care about each other professionally and personally, Suggs said, but they also support each other and guard one another’s time when they’re outside of the office to be with their families, so they can give everything they have at the administration office. 

“[Barry Gardner] is just an incredibly nice person, and that’s important — that’s what puts people over the top,” Suggs said. “It’s not just coming to work every day and doing your job well, but it’s, ‘How do you treat other people?’ ‘How do you bring other people along?’ ‘How do you help people understand the work you do?’ ‘How do you stay focused on the goals and the mission of the school district?’ He does all of those things in his CFO work, and that’s what sets him apart.”