Dr. Miller's Blog

Dr. Miller's Blog

Dr. Kimberly Pietsch Miller, EFCTS superintendent/CEO

A Graduation Message for Parents

May 19, 2022

It’s May. Graduation season. A time when we congratulate the students on a job well done, lessons learned, and accomplishments achieved. It is a time when we ask the graduates to reflect on their past experiences, anticipate their futures, and focus on achieving all that they can dream. And we should. Graduation is a time of celebration for the graduates.

But I want to send this message to the parents and guardians who have raised these graduates. This time is important for you too.

I know you are proud of your graduate. As I reflect back on my own children’s graduations - from high school, from college, from boot camp, and all the other milestones in their lives, I was bursting with pride for all that they had done and all that they would do. I wanted to see them enjoy the spotlight for just a bit of time before they continued on their journey. But I would be less than truthful if I didn’t think about what their graduations, especially from high school, meant for me.

My life was changing. Never again would I fill the same role as I had before they finished high school. Of course, they would always need me, and I would always be Mom. But my role was changing. And after 18 years as their primary caretaker, chauffeur, appointment reminder, meal preparer, homework nagger, and cheerleader, I was going to take on a different role - one of mentor and advisor. I had to learn to wait to be asked for my advice or opinion, when before I inserted myself because that was my job. There is a definite change when your child graduates from high school, and some of that change is difficult. I made plenty of mistakes; I still do. Parenting adult children is just really different.

But there are some great benefits to this time as well. You may find that you have a little more time for you. You might be able to get back to a hobby or career change that you have always wanted to make. Perhaps you just have a little more time to relax. Whatever changes your child’s graduation brings for them, remember that it brings changes for you too. Some are difficult. Some are frustrating. And some can be wonderful.

So congratulations to our 2022 graduates. And to you, the parents and guardians who loved and supported them to this wonderful time in their lives, enjoy their celebration and anticipate that you too, have a bright future ahead of you.


Don't Plan. Prepare.

May 5, 2022

Organizational health author and speaker Patrick Lencioni published a podcast in March entitled “Plan is a four letter word.” So, that title caught my attention. How does someone who coaches leaders to develop organizations that are healthy for their employees and communities as well as their bottom lines say that planning is somehow not a positive strategy. So of course, I listened. Turns out, I agree with Lencioni. In fact, I have been saying the same thing for years.


Here is the heart of the matter. In a world of constant and exponential rates of change in a multitude of arenas (Check out Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman), one would think that planning is the way to be successful…to stay in front of the change. But the reality is that we can’t plan for the future because it is changing so fast. We just cannot know what is going to happen in the six months or year, let alone five years down the road. 


“So what are you saying, Kim? We shouldn’t make plans? It’s all hopeless?” 


No, not at all. The key is shifting from a mindset of planning for the long haul to a mindset of preparing for the future with short-term planning based on core values and beliefs. That shift happened for me about 10 years ago. I was asked to speak to middle school students for their Career Day. At that time, I was the assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in that same district. So I started my talk by explaining to the students that when I was 18 and ready to start college, I had said that I would never be a teacher, was not getting married, and was not having children. But there I stood before those students 27 years after that proclamation, having been married for 22 years with two children, and a career that included other jobs that I was never going to do - like school administration.


My point then and now is that we can always prepare for the future, but we can’t really plan it because we just don’t know what will come along. In addition, if we plan too strictly, too rigidly, we might miss an opportunity. Had I stuck to my 18-year-old plans, I would have missed out on so many amazing experiences, relationships, and of course, my family. And when I learned to stop planning the future but enjoy the process of learning, that is when I realized that I was prepared for the future - both the good and the bad.


Preparing is what we do at Eastland-Fairfield. We prepare students for experiences after they complete their programs. We talk to them about their next E, not their forever future. We also prepare them to be problem-solvers, members of a team, leaders, and innovators by providing an environment that is not focused on destinations but on learning. We know that plans need to be part of our work, and so we have developed a strategic plan to guide our district’s work. But that plan is designed around four pillars that are grounded in our values: relationships, innovation, passion for learning, and accountability. Our strategic plan is a living document because what our students need today could be different in a year, and we are ready for the changes that will come. 


In fact, that might be the one thing we can plan on…change.


Scrabble tiles that spell out "prepared"



Wind Beneath Our Wings

April 22, 2022

There is a verse in Bette Midler’s 1988 hit, Wind Beneath My Wings, that goes:

It might have appeared to go unnoticed
But I've got it all here in my heart
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it
I would be nothing without you.


As we near the end of another school year, I can’t help but reflect on the many educators in my life who made a difference for me, who along with my parents and family, have made me who I am.

Mrs. Patterson, my kindergarten teacher kindly told me that I didn’t need my school supply box on the first day of school…or second, or third, or fourth. While I was disappointed each day that she told me I should take it back home, she never made me feel silly for bringing it each day…and that made a difference.

Mrs. Kirkpride taught me the value of experiential learning by bringing her knitting to school and teaching my friends and me how to knit during recess.

Mr. Harper, my elementary school’s custodian, gave me a hug and helped me dry my tears after I got into trouble with the principal in the lunch line. (I gave a “high five” to a 6th grader.)

Mr. Shansky, my high school history teacher, taught me that using my voice to speak up for the issues that are important to students is not just a right but a responsibility.

Dr. Rousmaniere taught me that having my thinking challenged is a gift that made me stronger and more confident.

I am fortunate to have had many educators from my early years through my doctoral studies who cared about me, my learning, and how I could use my learning to give to others. I have the learning that they gave me in my heart.

As we anticipate Educator Appreciation Week May 2-6, I hope that you will reflect on a teacher, coach, cafeteria staff member, custodian, secretary, school nurse, bus driver, or other school employee who positively impacted you or is making a positive impact on your child’s life right now. If you can, take a moment to send a note, an email, or a message on social media to that educator. Because appreciation doesn’t have to come in the form of a tangible gift; it just has to come from your heart.

For me, I want to thank and extend my heartfelt appreciation to all school staff members who put the students at the center of your daily work. You really are the wind beneath our wings!



Refresh

April 7, 2022

At times, we all have to take a moment to close our eyes and take a deep breath. The busyness of our daily lives, in addition to our involvement in the lives of our loved ones, at times can be taxing. Allow me to be transparent and vulnerable with you for a moment.

I love my job and Eastland-Fairfield, but spring is often the busiest and most involved time of the year in education. I am feeling it, and I know my colleagues, our teachers, staff, and even some of our students are feeling it, too. Senioritis may be creeping in; it’s budget season; we’re planning both how to send off our graduating seniors as well as welcome new students that have chosen to continue their education at Eastland-Fairfield. So much is happening all over our district, which is amazing, but like a cross-country road trip we eventually start approaching ‘E’ on the gas gauge.

I’m taking a moment for that deep breath, maybe a couple. If you are feeling stressed or tired, I encourage you to take one (or two), too. A Harvard health study shows that the simple act of deep breathing has many health benefits from destressing to helping regulate digestion. It’s simple. It’s free. And, it’s proven to work.

I wish I had more profound words for my regular readers, but I’m going to go back to my December 2 blog and ask for a little bit of grace on this week’s entry. It’s time for me to take a few deep breaths in between all the spreadsheets, forms, meetings, and other day-to-day work. My family also deserves a little bit of me, as well.

But the next time I take to the keyboard for my blog, I promise I will be refreshed and ready to bring it home in the final weeks of the year. I hope that, if needed, you will take some “you time” and come back refreshed, too. It’s simple. It’s free. And while it doesn’t take much, its impact will surely be felt.


Connection

March 24, 2022

In February 2022, I was fortunate to attend the National Conference on Education, which is the national superintendents' conference put on by the American Association of School Administrators. I was further honored to be asked to be one of the conference bloggers. I wrote one blog entitled The Power of Connection. I began with a definition of connection from Brene Brown: “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” 


As I traversed the convention center and hotel, I ran into friends and colleagues from across our state and county. It was so great to see folks that I had not seen in two years! And yet, it wasn’t until I saw them that it hit me just how many connections had been lost as a result of the pandemic. 


As I returned to our schools after the conference, I continued to reflect on the reality that even though we have been in school full-time this year, the pandemic definitely impacted connections. It disrupted schedules and impacted relationships in ways that we are only beginning to understand. The truth is that we not only want but we need connection. As Brene Brown indicated, we need to be “seen, heard and valued.” This truth is our strength!


At Eastland-Fairfield we know the importance of connection. In fact, fostering relationships is one of the four pillars of our new strategic plan. At our recent State of the Schools event, I explained that relationships and connections are the foundation of everything that we do. Connections make us stronger, smarter, and healthier. They lead to jobs, lasting friendships, mentorships, and exposure to different lifestyles and cultures. At  Eastland-Fairfield we are committed to making connections with our students, our families, our partner schools, our business partners, our alumni, and our communities.


In this school year alone we have invited stakeholders from all of those groups and turned their input into action in a variety of ways, and we will continue to do so in order to best serve our students, adult learners, and their futures. On May 11, we will be reconnecting with and recognizing the first four graduating classes from Eastland Career Center at our monthly Board of Education meeting. I invite all Eastland-Fairfield alumni to reconnect with us as we begin to build the EFCTS Alumni Association. Or, if you are a curious parent, local business, or community member, we’d love to connect with you, too, because connection provides everyone “sustenance and strength.”


More information regarding the May 11 alumni recognition event will be available on our website at a later date. 
 


The Overview Effect

March 11, 2022

When astronauts see the Earth from space for the first time, they often report a feeling of awe and increased perspective. The sense has been named “the overview effect.” Astronaut Ron Garan described his feelings in a book entitled The Orbital Perspective. He wrote:

“Seeing Earth from this vantage point gave me a unique perspective — something I've come to call the orbital perspective. Part of this is the realization that we are all traveling together on the planet and that if we all looked at the world from that perspective we would see that nothing is impossible.”

In almost every account of those who have had the very unique opportunity to experience the overview effect or orbital perspective, there is a sense that when you can get far from the Earth and can see it as a whole, you gain an understanding of the bigger picture. You realize that we are just a small part of a whole - but a very important part of the whole. These fortunate few gain a perspective on life and on their place in our world and universe.

As we enter the time of year in schools that can be especially tiring, I think that developing a big picture perspective is more important than ever. After all, we are desperate for an end to cold and snow. The annual arrival of the malady Senioritis has been making itself evident. It’s a strange illness that attacks 12th graders but causes discomfort for teachers and administrators. And, we are anxious for a rest and some time away. Can spring break get here any faster?

These stressors can cause us to be irritable and short. They can cause us to see little things as big things. They can cause us to make mountains out of molehills. It is at times such as these that we need to experience the overview effect. Can we step away from a situation and try to see the bigger picture? Can we see that there are really big issues in the world - things that should upset us and prompt us to action. At times of stress and weariness, we sometimes react to issues that don’t need to be issues because we are so close to the problem. It is the proverbial forest for the trees issue.

So what can we do? We can’t all take a trip to space so that we can see the Earth from afar - at least not yet. But we can gain perspective with some very manageable actions.

In a June 2020 Psychology Today article, the following 5 secrets to gaining perspective were shared:

  • Take control of your mind by breathing - intentionally and deeply.

  • Foster kindness. Performing an act of kindness for another person takes our focus away from our own concerns.

  • Regard all experiences as mere experiences. Try not to label experiences as good or bad but as experiences that teach you something.

  • Be creative. Paint, draw, build. Use your imagination to make something new.

  • Laugh. It not only feels good, but it is shown to improve oxygen intake and enhance your heart, lungs, and muscles.
    There will always be stress in life. But we can manage it and keep it from stealing our perspective. We just have to be willing to step away, far away, and let the overview effect take hold.


Reference: “5 Secrets to Gaining Perspective”
Psychology Today
June 3, 2020


The 'Blue Marble' image of Earth captured in 2012. NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Find the Open Space

February 24, 2022

When my kids were young, we didn’t go out to dinner all that much. It was just easier and less expensive to eat at home. But as a treat, we would occasionally take our two children out to dinner at a restaurant for a sit-down meal. Of course, the restaurant had to have a kids’ menu and usually there were crayons and a paper placemat on which we could play tic-tac-toe or do a word search puzzle.


While the kids would mess around with the games on the front of the placemat, they generally wanted to turn the placemat over to the open white space on the back and create their own fun. My son, always a Matchbox car in each hand, generally wanted some type of road and parking lot with plenty of spaces, including those for handicapped drivers. (My mom had one of those placards, so including a spot for Grandma was a requirement.) He would draw the roads and landmarks, creating a unique driving experience each time we were out for a meal. The open white space was so much more engaging and allowed for more creativity than those pre-printed games.


Last week I was fortunate to attend the National Conference on Education by AASA, the national superintendents association. I ran into a colleague that I have known since my days in Cincinnati. As we chatted, I asked if he was still with an organization that supports education across our county. He said that he was and amazed me when he said it had been 15 years since he joined the organization. I asked what he liked so much about it. He said he liked the open space on the white board. The opportunity to be creative with a blank canvas is not only engaging but inspiring to him as well.


I think one of the reasons that our young people feel so much stress at times is that we focus so much on completing the prescribed steps to success or following the path that someone else laid out. I think that sometimes we are stressed as educators because we feel the pressure of meeting deadlines and accountability measures put forth by someone else. Of course, standards are important and so is accountability. But maybe we need to also carve out the time to turn the placemat over, find an empty white board and create something new and engaging.  The promise of endless and open possibilities can not only engage and encourage us, it can make coloring inside the lines, when necessary, a little less burdensome.


Because things grow. Wherever there is air and light and open space, things grow.

— Helen Oyeyemi





February 10, 2022

The Makeover

February 10, 2022
I don’t purchase magazines all that often. For the most part, reviewing the front covers while I wait in line to check out at the grocery store feeds my appetite. However, I absolutely love Southern Living and have been a loyal subscriber for years. Maybe it’s because I really, really, really dislike winter. Perhaps it is because my family has vacationed at Folly Beach, South Carolina for years. Just about 10 miles outside of Charleston, it is the perfect location for relaxing and enjoying some of the best restaurants anywhere. Perhaps it is because one of my dearest friends is from the South. Whatever the cause, I love the South.

And so, each month I anxiously await the arrival of the next issue of Southern Living. The January/February issue just arrived and across the top of the page it reads, “The Makeover Issue.” The magazine features home makeovers, restaurant makeovers, even new ways to make old recipes. As I paged through the issue with a cup of hot tea on a cold day, I began to think about how the makeover concept is perfect timing for us at Eastland-Fairfield. This year, 2022, is our Makeover Issue.

Just like the makeovers in Southern Living, we are beginning with a strong foundation. For 53 years Eastland-Fairfield has educated, trained, and equipped students to enter the skilled trades, prepare for additional education, and develop employability skills that will serve them well into the future. But just like a 53-year-old house, it's time for a little makeover.

Therefore…

On January 12, the Board of Education approved a new and ambitious strategic plan that will guide us over the next three to five years. The plan calls for us to focus even more intently on fostering a culture that embraces and celebrates the diversity of our students and the communities from which they come. Serving 16 districts across a five-county and 700-square-mile region means that we have always been diverse. But we realize that learning to grow and thrive in an environment that values and celebrates our diversity does not happen on its own. It takes leadership, patience, listening, and action to create a culture that embraces each student, each staff member, each family, each alumnus, and each business partner.

Our strategic plan also will guide us to ensure that we are offering programs that meet the workforce needs of our region as well as the interests of our students. We will commit to strengthening our relationships with our students, staff, families, associate school districts, business partners, and alumni. Relationships are the foundation of education and the most meaningful part of our work. Finally, we are committed to maximizing our instructional effectiveness by investing in our teachers and staff to ensure that they are continually supported in their growth and by actively seeking and incorporating student voice and choice into our programming and course offerings.

And just as the designers featured in Southern Living make over an old house with new paint and new colors, we are also updating our look. With a new logo and a vibrant new color scheme, we are making a bold statement about who we are and where we are going.

When I arrived at Eastland-Fairfield in the fall of 2020, I learned quickly about the great bones of our house. But I was also told that we were the best-kept secret in Central Ohio. Not anymore! At Eastland-Fairfield, 2022 is our Makeover Issue!



For Parents

January 27, 2022

When my son was a baby he was fussy! My pediatrician never officially declared him a colicky baby, but he was fussy. And it was exhausting! 


When he was about two months old, I discovered that singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider calmed him. So, like any desperate and exhausted mom, I sang The Itsy Bitsy Spider over and over again. No Alexa then…just mom. I am not sure why the song worked so well. It was so simple.



The Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water spout.

Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Up came the sun and dried up all the rain, and

The Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the spout again.


Perhaps it was the very simplicity that was soothing. Four short verses and a little story that ends on a high note. That spider was not deterred by the rain. He just started right up that spout again. Grit. Perseverance. Focused.


And perhaps it was the very presence of being together that was soothing. The short song gave us both a moment to breathe and exist in each other’s presence without trying to solve the problem at hand. Togetherness might have been the simplicity we needed.


This past month has been a difficult one as over and over we are working to address the mental health needs of our students. Before the pandemic, our young people were facing anxiety and depression in record numbers, and at younger and younger ages. The past two years have only made it worse, I am afraid. Just today I heard a statistic that confirmed what I had been thinking, suicide and suicide attempts are on the rise among our kids.


We are committed to continue working hand in hand with our families, staff, partner schools, agencies, and the students themselves to address this crisis. We will continue to find ways to help our young people heal. And through it, I want to offer my encouragement to our parents and guardians who are loving and caring for their children. 


A children’s song is not going to calm these new and much more significant concerns. But I am hopeful that the message of that little song will encourage us. We will keep working. We will face the rain. But we will keep climbing with grit, perseverance, and focus … until all our kids are well.


If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, help is always available. Please contact the suicide hotline for trained support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255. As always, you can also reach out to your home school or career center counselor for ongoing support. 



Expectations

January 13, 2022

Expectations. They are everywhere. Expectations to be at work on time. Expectations for our children to pick up their toys or make it home by curfew. Expectations to achieve a certain weight, physique, or level of health. Expectations are just a part of our lives whether put in place by others or by ourselves.


In the world of education, school specifically, expectations are not just present but a key component of how we organize our schools and classrooms, teach content, and transition students from one year to the next then, eventually, to graduation. In fact, the word expectations may be used in schools more than in almost any environment.


A few years ago I was introduced to Project Zero at Harvard University. Project Zero began at Harvard’s School of Education in 1967. The goal was to focus on enhancing learning, thinking, and creativity. At the heart of the work is teaching deep thinking. In 2015, Project Zero staff member Ron Richhart published a book entitled Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. One of the chapters in the book addresses expectations. Richhart writes of the difference between expectations of students and expectations for students.


This distinction has been one that I have spent considerable time reflecting upon given the prevalence of expectations in the educational process. What I have come to realize is that when I have expectations OF students, I am focusing on what makes my life better because I have imposed my beliefs about how students should behave. I expect you to be on time to my class. I expect you to turn in neat work and on time. I expect you to raise your hand and wait to be called upon before speaking. Expectations OF students are about how I want them to behave - primarily for my benefit. And there is a place to have expectations of students. After all, we are running large schools with hundreds of students, and we need order; we are also teaching employability skills, which include elements of compliance and respect.


But when we add expectations FOR students, we significantly shift the focus from behaviors that I want to see to behaviors, attitudes, and skills that are meant to open doors of opportunities for students. My expectations FOR you are to learn how to write a clear and cohesive letter of application. My expectations FOR are you to understand mathematical problem solving so that you can manage your career and finances. My expectations FOR you are to be ready to embark upon a pathway of your choosing after graduation. Expectations FOR students are…well, they are for the student, not the instructor.


It is important to raise young people who can be productive members of society, which includes the ability to be at work on time, take pride in delivering quality work, and follow basic rules that allow us to work and learn productively together. But we must not stop there. We must consider what we want FOR our students and not just what we want FROM them. 




Mid-Journey Rest

December 16, 2021

One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. I think because he often writes of the journey of life. And that speaks to me because, well, life truly is a journey. Unfortunately, in the world of education, we often focus on destinations. The end of a school year; graduation, getting into the next school. The challenge is that life is not a series of destinations; it is a journey with a variety of stopping points. Points at which we are able to rest, reflect, and then move forward.

One of Frost’s poems captures this idea beautifully.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.  
His house is in the village though;  
He will not see me stopping here  
To watch his woods fill up with snow.  

My little horse must think it queer  
To stop without a farmhouse near  
Between the woods and frozen lake  
The darkest evening of the year.  

He gives his harness bells a shake  
To ask if there is some mistake.  
The only other sound’s the sweep  
Of easy wind and downy flake.  

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,  
But I have promises to keep,  
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.

As schools prepare for our mid-year winter break, I wish for you a time to watch the woods fill up with snow - even if symbolically. Take time to reflect on all that you have accomplished this past year. Take time to feel the losses you had to endure, and then focus on the joys. Life is full of both, and we can use both to motivate us to new growth and new goals.

Have a wonderful and restful winter break. I look forward to seeing you back in January to continue our journey...together!

As life's journey takes you through this holiday season, be sure to take time for rest.


Grace, Context, and Hope

December 2, 2021

We know the end of the year is near as we embark upon the holiday season. Last week we took time to give thanks for the many gifts in our lives. And now we look ahead to holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and of course, ringing in a new year. As we look forward to gathering, perhaps for the first time in two years, and celebrating, it is appropriate that we also take time to reflect on the past year, give thanks for our gifts, mourn our losses, and perhaps most importantly, identify the lessons that we have learned.

Here is what I have learned over the past year.

People need our grace now more than ever. It’s more important than ever to consider the “why” behind behaviors that we don’t expect or want to experience. It has been a tough year for many people, and we know that stress and anxiety impact our behavior. Consider that we may not understand all that a person is going through, pause to be thoughtful, and give others, and ourselves, a little extra grace.

Context matters. At a time when unwanted change has been forced upon us, it is natural that when someone is asked to make even more change that resistance sets in. But change cannot be stopped, and we have to continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of our students and one another. Therefore, leaders must take the time to explain the context of why even more changes are taking place.

Have hope! Despite all the challenges of the past two years, I believe in the future because of the young people that we serve. They are passionate, caring, and forward-thinking. One of the joys of my position is the opportunity to visit students at our two campuses, satellite, and adult programs. Our students never cease to amaze me with their kindness, their talents, and their goals for the future. We have spent much time over the past two years feeling loss and disappointment...both are appropriate feelings. But now it is time to hope, for it is hope that will fuel our actions to create a new and better future.


Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.
        - Christopher Reeve


Thanks and Giving

November 18, 2021

Thanksgiving: a national holiday established for the purpose of expressing gratitude. From the Pilgrims expressing their gratitude for bountiful corn crop, to George Washington calling for Americans to show their thanks for the end of the war for independence and finally, to President Abraham Lincoln for making Thanksgiving a national holiday during the Civil War, we have been setting aside a day for the expression of thanks since the 1600s.

But what if we separated and focused on each word, and lived out both principles each day? We should definitely give thanks. Taking time to express our gratitude reminds us of the gifts in our lives, especially the people. Now let’s add generosity and begin the season of giving now!

Giving to others shows an outward expression of our gratitude and fills us with joy. When we give, we gain. In fact, according to an article from the Cleveland Clinic, giving has health benefits:

  1. Lowers blood pressure
  2. Increases self-esteem
  3. Lessens depression
  4. Lowers stress levels
  5. Increases life expectancy
  6. Provides greater happiness and satisfaction

This Thanksgiving, I hope that you have a long list of gifts for which you are thankful. And then give to others. There are many ways you can do this, so I encourage you to find something special to you and pursue it. What you give away will come back to you and fill your heart...and then you can start all over again.

Happy Thanks and Giving!




Different is Good

November 4, 2021

I recently held our first Parent Advisory Committee meeting. The implementation of a parent advisory is new for Eastland-Fairfield, and something that we need if we are to truly meet the interests and needs of our students. The parents who attended our first meeting were engaged and ready to offer their help and their insight, for which I am very thankful.

At one point, one of the parents made the following statement (paraphrased):

Our kids see things differently; they learn differently; they adapt differently; they are just different than we were in high school.

She could not have been more accurate in her assessment. We talk often about the change in business and industry, the change in technological advancements, the change in climate, the change in demographics. And then...we keep teaching students using strategies and approaches that, in many ways, are not much different than what I experienced.

We ask today’s students to sit at desks in rows facing forward. We lecture and ask that they take notes that they will be expected to study for the “paper/pencil” test that will come (probably on a Friday). We ask that they manage their learning in 40-50 minute chunks of time and then respond to a bell, which signals that they may leave one class to go to the next - where they repeat the process. Sound familiar? It should. It’s how we’ve done school for as long as I can remember.

And let’s not forget to add that we have communicated to parents and students that you are “smart” if you can learn in the setting that I just described. We have been doing that for generations as well.

But let’s remember that our kids today are different. And the world is different. So why can’t or shouldn’t we be different as educators.

One of the things that I love about career technical education is that it is real world. Our students learn by doing. They are presented with actual problems that they must solve. They don’t take a written test on changing oil...they change it. They don’t take notes on how to write a computer program...they write it. They don’t take a test on how to draw blood...they draw actual blood from an actual person.

The key is to make the different instructional strategies of career tech available to more students in each class. We can create inquiry-based learning experiences in English, math, biology, and U.S. government. We can and we should.

Why? Because being smart has to stop being defined in a narrow way. My dentist recently shared a quote from one of her high school teachers: It’s not how smart you are. It’s how you are smart.

Our kids are smart. Our kids are different. Career tech is different.

Different is good!



Kids Need More Than Heroes

October 21, 2021

This summer I gave my administrative team a book to read entitled Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath. The basic premise of the book is that often we find ourselves reacting to problems, and sometimes we are reacting to the same problems over and over again. Heath’s point is that reacting is a downstream behavior. The problem is in front of us, and we have to do something. While there will always be emergencies and problems that pop up, he suggests that many of the issues we deal with could be diminished or even eliminated if we put into place structures and systems to head off problems. Developing and implementing structures and systems is upstream behavior.

Before delving into examples of upstream efforts by organizations, the author takes time to point out some of the barriers to upstream thinking. One of the barriers is tunneling, which is what happens when there are so many problems to solve that we have a scarcity of resources to address them all. So we get tunnel vision and just deal with one problem. It may not really solve the problem in the long run, but it buys us time and reprieve from worry, even if temporarily.

Tunneling can also be rewarding emotionally and leads to the concept of heroism. When someone steps in and saves the day, we celebrate that person - and that can feel good. So rather than address a systemic problem, we keep reacting when the problem pops up again.

I see this sometimes with students. They are in need of immediate help, and so someone steps in to provide it...as we should. However, are there ways that we can reduce some of the need to be a hero for our kids? If we know that going on extended school breaks is difficult for some students (and it is), can we put a system in place to provide counseling that prepares them leading up to the break? If we know that many students are struggling with mental health challenges (and they are), can we develop a system of programs and teams based on data to acknowledge and address those needs before they become emergencies for kids? I believe we can, and we should, because our kids need more than heroes; they need systems.

At Eastland-Fairfield, we believe so strongly in the power of systems thinking that we created a role to ensure that we are proactive in supporting our students rather than reacting when issues arise. We have added the position of Director of Student Support Systems. Further, we will be developing a system for dealing with “emergencies” so that we are not reacting in the moment but implementing a well-developed plan.

There are times when we need to jump in and put out the proverbial fire. And the accolades and recognition that come with that behavior can make us feel good. But let’s do as much as we can to keep that fire from starting in the first place.

I am glad that we have heroes; I just would like our kids to need them less often.

Kids Need More Than Heroes, They Need Systems.

Making Room

October 7, 2021
I was an English teacher for the first twelve years of my career. Why English? Because I love to read. I am one of those people who is always writing down the names of books that people mention so that I can buy them. And now with various apps on my phone, I often just buy them as soon as I learn about a new title.

One of my recent purchases was a book recommended by my colleague and friend, Dwight Carter. It’s entitled, Making Room for Life by Randy Frazee. The subtitle is “Trading Chaotic Lifestyles for Connected Relationships.” Sign me up!

Despite the calls to “socially distance” and reduce our outings and gatherings, I think most of us would agree that following that guidance didn’t make our lives any less full. In fact, chaotic is exactly how I would describe much of the past 18 months. Some of the chaos was due to the ongoing changes in guidance, orders, mandates, and recommendations. Some of the chaos was due to frustrations with quarantines, travel restrictions and now supply chain disruptions. Some of the chaos was due to uncertainty about when THIS all would end. And some of the chaos is just our own doing. We are a society of busy people running from event to event, responsibility to responsibility, and place to place.

And so I ordered Making Room for Life, and I started to read.

Chapter I - The Problem: Squeezing Living Out of Life. Frazee writes, “Simply put, many of us have squeezed living out of life. We don’t have time to soak in life and deep friendships. ...our busy lifestyles stimulate a toxic disease called crowded loneliness.” Frazee goes on to describe the typical American family: off to school and work, practices in the afternoon, dinner on the run, homework, and catching up on emails at night. Then off to bed to do it all again tomorrow. Trust me, I am not criticizing. When my husband and I were raising our children, I sometimes thought we should just leave the cars running as we were never out of them for very long.

But what I have come to understand from the distancing of the last year is that we need one another and we need to slow down long enough to truly enjoy our relationships. I think part of our busyness is that we crave connection and companionship. We are designed for it. I especially see this need in our young people. In recent conversations with school counselors, we have learned that the number one issue they are dealing with is the mental health needs of students. The good news is that our young people are seeking out their counselors, teachers, coaches, and trusted adults. They need connection.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I want to encourage you to take time. Linger a little longer at the coffee shop with a friend. Make a call to a loved one who might be lonely. Spend some time with a young person who just wants your attention. Make room for life!


Powerful Lessons

September 23, 2021
It has been an interesting week. One with moments of joy and one with moments of disappointment. It has been a week that has left me wondering, “What are we teaching our children?”

As a superintendent that question could easily be answered with lists of courses, specific content, academic and career skills. Most educators would also point to what we call social and emotional skills: self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and so on. But this week, I am still left with the question: what are we, all of us, our society, teaching our children?

This week I spent time in one of our cosmetology labs with a student who is learning how to massage a client’s hand as part of a manicure. I volunteered to let her practice with me. She had to check her notes for technique a few times but she was flawless in engaging me, her client, in conversation throughout the session. She asked about me and my day. She showed real interest. The adults in her life have taught her the power of connecting with others and taking an interest in them. Powerful lessons.

This week I was sent the video of a school board meeting. A friend is the superintendent in that district. I watched as public comments were made by community members. Those comments were not just expressions of disagreement with the board and superintendent, they were insults, criticism of character, and displays of disrespect. Unfortunately, there were students in the room. The adults in their lives are also teaching them. Powerful lessons.

Since March of 2020 I have watched as we have become more and more divided. We don’t just disagree, we disregard. I fear that we are teaching our students that the way to express themselves is with words of hate. I fear that we are teaching our children that when someone disagrees with them, that person is to be dismissed. I fear that our children will do as we do.

Luke Bryan sang the 2017 hit song “I Believe Most People are Good” and I, too, believe that people are good. The past 18 months, however, have been hard. Hard times can do one of two things; they can make us bitter or they can make us better. As I walk through our schools and interact with our students, I am encouraged. Many adults in our students' lives - parents, teachers, coaches, and family members - have taught them wonderful lessons of kindness and compassion. But as I watch the news, listen to my colleagues, and read some of my emails, I am also keenly aware that we are also teaching lessons to our children through our actions and words that are less than kind and compassionate.

I believe most people are good. I believe most people do care about one another. I believe many people are hurting right now. And I believe that we can let bitterness go and choose to be better. I hope that we can. Our children are watching us, and they are learning powerful lessons!



Priorities

September 9, 2021
With the arrival of September and fully settling into the school year, you may be feeling the stress of life that is getting busier and busier. Whether you have returned to the classroom yourself or your children are back to school, this is the time of year when our calendars seem to get fuller. Athletics are underway, events such as concerts and parent information sessions are being planned, and making space in our lives for homework after a summer off are just some of the demands on our time and attention. And let’s not forget the additional duties and committees that come with returning to school.

How do you fit it all in? After all, there are only 24 hours in a day, and we really do have to sleep at some point!

The answer is prioritization.

In my last blog, I referenced Jim Collins' book Good to Great. The book provides an explanation of how some companies and organizations become great while others remain simply good. One of the characteristics of great organizations is the ability to identify their hedgehog concept. The parable of “The Hedgehog and The Fox” illustrates that when we behave like a fox “pursuing many ends at the same time and seeing the world in all its complexity” we become scattered and fail to accomplish what really matters. When we identify our hedgehog concept, we are able to focus on the basic principle or idea and that focus is what unifies and guides us. In other words, we prioritize and go after only the most important goals.

Brene Brown also addresses the importance of prioritization in her book, Dare to Lead, writing about values. When presented with a list of values and asked which of those guide a person, many people will pick 10, 15 or even more. But if we are really going to live our values, we have to really prioritize that list down to 3 or 4.

Here is the point. If everything is a priority or a value, then nothing is. We simply cannot do everything and do it well. Life is complex and ever-changing. The way to succeed and thrive in a complex world is to prioritize.

At Eastland-Fairfield, we are well into our strategic planning so that we can focus our efforts and our resources. We have asked for and are using the input of many stakeholders, which has led to lots of great ideas and values to pursue; however, we have to condense that input into a focused and manageable plan that we can actually accomplish. Our plan will be ambitious. It will also be focused on the priorities that get at the heart of what we are about at Eastland-Fairfield: preparing and guiding our students to success through exceptional educational experiences. That is our hedgehog concept, that our priority is our students.

Image of Fox and Hedgehog parable


Good to Great

August 26, 2021


In 2001, Jim Collins published a book that was widely read by business leaders and eventually many educational leaders picked it up as well. The book was titled, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don’t. In chapter 1: “Why Good Is the Enemy of Great”, Collins explains that what keeps companies, schools, teams, etc. from being great is the fact that they are good. And good is, well…a good place to be. But is that where we want to be? 


At Eastland-Fairfield, we have decided that the answer is an emphatic NO!! 


In fact, we have established a theme for the year to guide us and keep us focused on our goal. Jim Collins wrote about it in 2001, and before that John D. Rockefeller said it:


Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great!


Again, good is a good place to be. But at Eastland-Fairfield, we are committed to more. We are committed to greatness. Not for us - our school or staff. Not for our own recognition. But for our students.


As we continue our strategic planning process, our goal is becoming clearer and clearer. From business partners to alumni, from staff to students, we desire to improve programming, delivery systems, facilities, and future opportunities in order to support each student on their journey to success. We have made helping each learner successfully take their next step into Education, Enlistment, Employment, and/or Entrepreneurship an important component of becoming a great educational provider. 


We also understand that going for the great means a willingness to change even if something is good right now. We understand that the interests and needs of the high school and adult students that we teach today are different from those we taught in the past. We know that the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow may be different. 


We know that making the decision to pursue greatness for our students is bold and ambitious. We know that we will have to endure some moments of discomfort and even experience short-term failure as we learn and grow. 


And we also know that our students, who motivate us to move toward greatness, are worth it.


Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. - John D. Rockefeller

Promise and Commitment

August 12, 2021


As we prepare to begin another school year amidst the continued presence of COVID and the growing divisiveness about how students and staff should return (masks or not, distance, etc.), it would be understandable if we put all of our focus on the logistics and politics of returning to school. But that would be short-sighted - something that our students cannot afford for us to be.

We recently held our new staff welcome and onboarding session; a committee of educators, administrators, and business partners spent time on the development of our strategic plan; and our building administrators worked with the district leadership team fine-tuning the processes and programming that we will implement this school year. At each of those gatherings, I am proud to say that the focus was on students and what we want to accomplish for them and with them. There were declarations of concern for students after a disruptive year in 2020-21. There were expressions of anticipation and excitement for new students and the new programs that they will experience. There were plans for helping our students become a community of learners. Put simply...there were promises and commitments made that this year will be a great one for our students.

Promise and commitment. Is there a difference?

According to Google, a promise is a declaration that one will take an action or do a particular thing. A commitment is the dedication to actually doing that particular thing. I think that it takes both for us to realize our goals for our students. After all, we have all had promises broken or even broken a few ourselves. That is likely because a declaration was made but the dedication to follow through just wasn’t there. We promise that we will get up early and exercise, but in the morning it is really easy to hit the snooze button. Promise, but no commitment.

As we embark on a new school year, it may be more important than ever to be committed to the promises we make to our students. There is so much uncertainty in our world today: COVID, climate change, social divisiveness, and exponential rates of change in so many arenas. Because of the current environment, our students need our clear promises that we will do all we can to equip them for life AND they need our commitment to take action each day even when it is difficult.

I am proud of the team of professionals who make up our Eastland-Fairfield family. From staff to students, parents/guardians to business partners, and our partner school districts, we will keep our students at the center of our decisions and we will make those promises actionable each day, in each class, and in each decision.

That is our promise and our commitment!



Life is a Highway

July 29, 2021


Life's like a road that you travel on,

When there's one day here, and the next day gone,

Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand,

Sometimes you turn your back to the wind.


These words were first sung by Tom Cochrane in 1991 in the song entitled, “Life is a Highway”. In 2006, the song was remade by Rascal Flatts for the Disney movie Cars. I remember that version well. My own children were in elementary school, and we not only owned the DVD once it was released, but we had the soundtrack CD as well. (For all those younger than me, we didn’t have streaming then.)


These past few weeks, I have been on our highways quite a bit with a few days of professional meetings in Northwestern Ohio, vacation to South Carolina, and another series of professional meetings in Illinois. I have not counted the miles, but I have spent close to 48 hours in a car this summer on America’s highways getting to and from locations. And I have enjoyed each minute (well, most minutes) of the journey. From the cities to farmland to the seashore - traveling the roads of our nation brings beauty that can be awe-inspiring, landmarks that make us want to Google the history of the location, and sometimes disappointment that some part of a city or the environment has not received the care that it should. The journey across our roads brings us ups and downs, twists and turns, and unexpected opportunities…


Just like life.


As we prepare to welcome new and returning students to our classrooms and labs in just a few weeks, I can’t help but think about their journeys and the highways that they will ride. They have already begun the journey of preparing for a career and a future of their choosing. They have chosen to take a bold step in their journey by selecting a career pathway and committing themselves to learning in a new environment. For some students, the decision to choose the career center was easy. For some, it was difficult due to their own concern about leaving their home school or because someone in their life told them it was the wrong decision. I am especially proud of those students!


The highway they have chosen to ride is going to be exciting, challenging, and rewarding. It will have those same twists and turns, ups and downs, and challenges of every road. But as the song goes...


There's no load I can't hold,

The road so rough, this I know,

I'll be there when the light comes in,

Just tell 'em we're survivors.


Life is a highway. A wonderful, scary, exciting series of locations and events. I am glad that we get to ride it together!


"Life is a Highway"

Just 'Be'

July 15, 2021


According to a survey completed by the e-commerce company Groupon, more than half of Americans have an unhealthy work-life balance.  “Sixty percent of respondents indicated that the pressures and responsibilities of the workplace and home life don't have boundaries. A third of Americans said they work too hard, with 40% responding that they work too many hours.” 


And that survey was completed in 2019 before the pandemic! 


The impact of an unhealthy work-life balance is stress that has an impact on both our mental health and physical health. We know the importance of rest and relaxation, but it can be difficult to actually take the time for it. 


We also know that work can be rewarding. As a provider of career and technical education for both high school and adult students, we value work and are committed to helping our students find career pathways that challenge and excite them.  And yet, we don’t want them to one day find that work stress prevents them from enjoying their career.


So what do we do?  How do we regain the balance that we need?  How do we ensure that we have the rest we need so that when we return to work, we are energized and ready to face the challenges of our jobs?


After some research and from my own experiences, I am convinced that we have to find ways to physically move to a place where we can truly disconnect from work for a time. For me, I have to spend time each year at the beach. The sound of the crashing waves, the taste of the salt air, and the warmth of the sun take me to a place of peace and joy. And there is even scientific research on the positive impact that a beach can have on our mental health and wellbeing.  I know that I most definitely benefit from beach time. It is a time where I can just “be” for a few days every summer.


At this midpoint of summer, I hope that you will find your beach. Whether that is an actual beach, a lake, the mountains, a local park or forest, or a destination. Take some time to disconnect from work, worry, and stress for a time. Take time to just be

The beaches of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Interdependence of Independence

July 2, 2021


As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day this week, I can’t help but reflect on all the images and ideas that come to mind every Fourth of July: fireworks, picnics, parades.


We think of the events of America’s independence: The Boston Tea Party, Valley Forge, Lexington and Concord. Of course, we also think of the people who participated in those events: George Washington, Paul Revere, Sam Adams. And you cannot forget the Declaration of Independence.


Independence and freedom are ideals that people have been willing to fight, and die for, since the beginning of time. It seems to be a basic human quality to strive for independence and freedom. In fact, from the time we are born, we begin the journey to independence. First, we learn to crawl or walk so that we have control over where we move. We learn to drive so that we have the freedom to leave our homes without parents or guardians. And finally, we leave our childhood homes to venture out on our own. We seem to strive for independence all of our lives.


But as I reflect on that desire for independence, I realize that true independence only comes about when we are interdependent...when we learn to lean on others for help, support, and connection. Those brave men and women who rose up to fight the British for freedom needed one another. They had to work together, each serving a different role. They had to trust one another. And they had to support each other when the times were bad.


As we grew from infants to adults, we also had to rely on the connections of others on our journey to independence. First our parents and caregivers and then our friends, teachers, and coaches. We needed relationships with others to get us to our sought after independence.


Image of the Declaration of IndependenceAs we approach the beginning of a new school year, we are preparing to bring students from 16 school districts together in new and exciting ways. Our students come to Eastland-Fairfield to prepare for a career pathway. Their preparation will give them independence, but they won’t get there alone. We know that the success of our students while they are with us, and when they leave, will be positively impacted by their interconnectedness with the students from our diverse school districts. They will learn to understand our similarities and celebrate the differences that enrich our relationships. They will learn that it is only through the ability to be vulnerable and accept the need for interdependence that they will fully find the freedom to make life choices that bring them the independence they look forward to upon graduation.


Toward the end of the Declaration of Independence, you will find these words:


“...these United Colonies are, and of Right, ought to be Free and Independent States…” 


United and independent. It takes unity with others to be free. As we approach this Fourth of July, let’s remember that unity is what truly makes us free.



The Arcade

June 18, 2021


As I talked with a colleague this week, I mentioned that for the last 16 months I felt like I was playing Whack-A-Mole. You may remember that game. You pick up a mallet and stand in front of a box full of holes and the mechanical moles pop out. The idea is to whack them on the head as they pop out. Of course, you rack up points each time you “whack a mole.” I actually used to love playing that game at arcades or fairs. It was fun seeing how fast I could react to those pesky moles popping up at me and even more fun to smash them, leading me to believe I was responsible for sending them back down into their underground lair.


But in the world of education, Whack-A-Mole is not the approach we want to take. It is too fast and too random. The thought of being in a state of constant tension focused on nothing but the next problem or challenge and trying to deal with it before the next issue arises is anything but fun. You may be skilled at reacting to things that “pop up”, it may make us feel good to smash our organization’s proverbial moles, and that is a good trait to have as a problem solver, but it certainly isn’t the most productive way to operate for sustained growth and progress.


But let’s walk over to Skee Ball. You get to pick up one ball at a time. Think about the ring you want to hit, consider your approach - speed, force, angle. Where Whack-A-Mole is about quickly reacting, Skee Ball is about strategy and planning. It’s managed, and if you play it right, you have a sense of control.


After more than a year of Whack-A-Mole, I think we are all ready for a little Skee Ball. 


In that same conversation, I told my colleague that I am looking forward to a new school year in which we focus on instructional excellence, planning for more student opportunities, and building relationships...the important work of educating our students. 

Coney Island arcade, skee ball game

We recently launched our strategic planning process that will lead to the development of a three- to five-year plan, which will guide our work at Eastland-Fairfield. On Monday, June 21, our first surveys will be launched in order to see how our partners view Eastland-Fairfield. We are using the upcoming months to review your thoughts, and to focus and plan because it’s time to get back to strategy and envisioning. It’s time to become more purposeful in how we educate and guide students for a future pathway of their choosing. And it’s time to leave Whack-A-Mole in the arcade where it belongs.


I want to thank all of our students, staff, parents/guardians, business partners, associate school colleagues, and communities for supporting us over the past year through the constant changes and challenges. But now it is time for Skee Ball.



The Countdown

June 3, 2021


180 days of school to go.


90 days of school to go.


50 days...25 days...10 days.


Last day of school!


The countdown to the last day of school has been an annual ritual of students probably since formal schooling began. And while, as an educator, I like to focus on the days between a starting date in August and an ending date in May, I can certainly understand the excitement over the end of the school year. The chance to sleep in, go a few months without homework or tests, and have a sense of freedom is something that we all long to experience. 


This year, the end of the school year may have been the most anticipated ending of all, and not just for students. Parents, guardians, and grandparents have been challenged to support their students through remote learning, hybrid learning, and finally a full return to school. Students too had to transition over and over again, and even the full return to school was anything but “normal.” Face coverings, distancing, and the emotional transition of going back to school took on a toll on our students. Teachers, administrators, and school staff have also had a roller coaster of a year. And so, we counted down and looked forward to the end of one of the most challenging school years of our lives.


Now that summer is here, I hope that the longed-for break will be a good one for all. I wish for you the rest, the downtime, and escape that we have all wanted for so long. 


Please know that our administrators and our staff will be working this summer to plan for the next school year. It’s what we do each summer. Of course, we also get a little break, and we are grateful. But more importantly, we are grateful for each student, parent, guardian, friend, and mentor who will once again support our students when we return in August. We are all looking forward to a more typical school year: one in which we can be social rather than socially distanced; one in which we can see one another’s faces and smiles; and one which we are not so ready to see come to an end.


Have a great summer! Only 69 more days until the first day of school!



A Different Graduation Message

May 21, 2021


If you have a graduate in your house, you have probably spent some time picking out a new outfit: a dress, a suit, new shoes. Something special for your graduate to wear on their special day. You may have planned a celebration with family and friends. You may have put together a video or scrapbook to remember your graduate from the first day of kindergarten until this moment. The focus is on the graduate - their accomplishments and their future.


But I want to take a few moments to focus on the parents, guardians, grandparents, and all those who have raised our seniors. This message is for you!


While graduation and moving on to the next phase of life for your graduate is exciting, and what you have looked forward to, it can be difficult too. Whether you are celebrating your first graduate, your second, or your last, graduation changes the lives of those of us who raised them as much as it changes life for the graduate.


If you are facing an empty nest come August, know that it is understandable to feel both sad and excited at the same time. You will miss your graduate if they are leaving for the military, additional education, or moving out and into their own place. But you will also have time that you previously gave to your student - time that you can “gift” to yourself. Read a good book. Take time to meditate. Pick up a new hobby or resume an old one. If you still have children at home, this may be the perfect time to establish new activities with them, even if it is just time to talk a little more often. 


Whatever your specific circumstances, the graduation of a child brings changes and opportunities for them and for you. So celebrate your graduate and all that they have accomplished. But take time to celebrate yourself too. Look forward with anticipation to see what your graduate will do next, AND enjoy some time for yourself. You deserve it!


Congratulations!


Thanking Our 'Educators'

May 6, 2021


This week is nationally recognized as Teacher Appreciation Week. And that recognition is important. Teachers are critical people in our lives from the time we begin formal schooling until we graduate or complete coursework. We should always take time to appreciate those who taught us to read, to calculate, to solve problems. And perhaps this year, more than any, we should be thanking our teachers for their creativity, innovation, flexibility, and concern for students. The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but engaging students via a computer or with a mask or while maintaining distance has been especially challenging for teachers. 


And so, thank you to our teachers! You are appreciated!


But I would like to expand this week of appreciation to everyone who works in our schools. Like teachers, every school staff member has put in long hours and extra effort to make educating our students possible. From our IT staff to our custodians; from our building secretaries to our central office teams, this year has put everyone to the test. Our staff has provided meals to students when they were remote learning. They have put in additional time to clean and sanitize our buildings to an even higher standard than before. They have created plexiglass barriers so that we could work in person. They have greeted students, been empathetic listeners, fielded calls from concerned parents, and supported all of us in even greater ways than before. 


I have often said that every person who works in a school district is an educator. While everyone doesn’t hold a teaching license and teach students in the classroom, everyone in a school district is making a positive difference in the lives of the students we serve. And for that, I am grateful.


If ever there was a time that the notion of “being in this together” was evident, it was front and center this past year. The African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child. I would suggest that it takes a village of educators - teachers, secretaries, custodians, counselors, administrators, food service staff, maintenance professionals, IT staff - to educate a child. In our district we have collaborated and worked together, keeping our students at the center of our work. So take time to thank your teachers, but let’s also thank each and every staff member who comes to work each day to enrich the lives of the students we serve.  It’s not just Teacher Appreciation Week on my calendar. It is ‘Educator' Appreciation Week - this week and every week.


Thank you!




Hope

April 22, 2021


As we near the end of another school year, I think it is clear that it has been anything but “another school year.” I recently shared with my team that this has been the most difficult year of my 32 year career in public education. The pandemic, social injustice, and divisiveness in our nation have made leadership even more challenging than ever. There are days when it seems we will never be through the pandemic. And if you watch the news, you can feel suffocated by the steady reporting of violence and hardship in our communities and our nation. Leading in such a time is challenging both professionally and personally.


And yet, I have hope.


I have observed and talked with our students who feel overwhelmed by all that is going on in our world. And why wouldn’t they? It is tough to process as an adult. But after a year of isolation and distance, processing and making sense of so much turmoil for a teenager or young adult while asking them to maintain a focus on their learning is a tall order. 


And yet, I have hope. 


Bishop, civil rights advocate, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1984), Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” Timely words for our current reality.


Of all the skills, mindsets, and knowledge that we strive to impart to our students, perhaps hope is the most important of all especially living in difficult times and when facing the difficult circumstances that come with life. The ability to see light and to move toward it is a powerful tool for those who thrive.  In her book, Rising Strong, author and researcher Brene Brown refers to the research of C.R. Snyder on the topic of hope. “Hope is not an emotion: It’s a powerful cognitive process - a thought process made up of ‘goals, pathways, and agency.’” The best part: Hope can be learned.


It would be easy for us to look back on the past year and just wish for it to end. But if we can see the future, a future in which we and our students take actions that make our world more safe, more welcoming, and more loving, than we have hope. As educators, parents, and advocates for young people, we have an awesome opportunity to hear their feelings and acknowledge the legitimacy of those feelings. But we also have an obligation to impart hope and to empower our students to be the change they want to see in the world. 


Because I have hope, I believe we can do that.


Let’s not forget that the world is not all bad, and there is much to celebrate from this past year. Our students and our staff have risen to the challenges of this past year over and over again. Students are learning, earning credentials, and preparing for their futures. Kindness and compassion have been shared with one another. New lives have come into the world. 


And there is much to anticipate as well. New students will join us and begin their journeys toward a future of their choosing. New staff will become part of our team. New supports and programs will be implemented to make us better and stronger.


Yes, it has been a year like no other. Yes, it has been challenging. But if we have hope, we can see past the darkness to the light. My wish is that you may see the light. I do...because I have hope!




Oh, The Places You'll Go!

April 8, 2021


A number of years ago I began writing a blog.  At the time I was the assistant superintendent of Loveland City Schools just outside of Cincinnati. The district’s public information officer suggested that I start a blog about the topic about which I am very passionate: developing students. I wasn’t sure how much I would have to say, but eight years later, I am still finding ways to share my thoughts. 


Since coming to Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools, I have put my blog on hold.  But after three months as the superintendent/CEO and with the addition of our new coordinator of communications and marketing, Mr. Ryan Gasser, we are ready to launch a bi-weekly newsletter.  That means I am ready to get back to blogging about education and helping students find their “what’s next.”


One of the things that I have noticed more and more over the course of my career is that increasing focus on destinations.


What do you want to be when you grow up?  Where are you going after high school? 


Those are not inherently bad questions, but I wonder if they put too much pressure on kids to have it all figured out.  I have watched students squirm when asked some of those questions because they think they are to have the right answer or an impressive answer. In my conversations with high school students over the past few years, they have expressed the pressure they feel to have answers that are prestigious, impressive, or noteworthy. That makes me sad because students should be guided to find the path that makes them happy, not the path that makes someone else happy.  But also, that focus on destination gives students a sense that life is linear and that they will “arrive” at some place at some point in the future and that will make them happy.  


The reality is that life is a journey with stops and starts.  We don’t stay at the same place.  We grow.  We learn.  We develop.  And when our kids understand that they make decisions for the next step and then will make more, there is less pressure to have it all figured out when they are still just kids.  I know that my own journey has taken me to multiple cities and roles and has allowed me to develop new relationships along the way.  And now my journey has brought me to be the superintendent/CEO of Eastland-Fairfield, a  role and a place that I had no idea were part of my future when I was 17 and trying to answer, “What do you want to be?”  and “Where are you going?”  But I am sure glad that my journey has brought me here. 


Oh The Places You Will Go!, Dr. Suess, book coverSo, let’s encourage our kids to think about their futures and make good choices.  But let’s also remind them that each decision is just one step of many.  Life and happiness come when we embrace the journey - the winding road, the hills, the valleys, the tears, and the laughter.  


“Congratulations!

Today is your day.

You’re off to Great Places!

You’re off and away!"


Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss
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