Dr. Miller's Blog

Dr. Miller's Blog

More than Workforce Development

September 29, 2022

Over the past few weeks, I have spent quite a bit of time in meetings regarding workforce development. That is not surprising. As a superintendent of career and technical schools, a big part of my role involves connecting with businesses, chambers of commerce, and economic developers so that we can understand the in-demand careers in our region. In fact, offering in-demand programming is one of the objectives of our strategic plan.

I take seriously the role that career and technical schools play in supporting workforce needs. However, our real mission is to help young people and adults transition into work that engages them, excites them, and allows them to contribute to the greater good. There is so much more that we must do beyond developing career skills, and while it may not create workers for those in-demand careers immediately, it certainly contributes to the overall health of the businesses and organizations that eventually hire our students.

We continue to see mental well-being as a significant need for our students. At a recent meeting with our assistant principals and student support coordinators, they noted a continued increase in the number and intensity of student mental health needs. Therefore, we cannot and will not only focus on career and technical skills. As cliche as it may sound, we have to focus on the whole student - learner, future employee, and in our high school programs, child.

Therefore, we have made significant efforts to ensure that Eastland-Fairfield is more than a place to learn skills that will lead to employment, entrepreneurship, enlistment, or additional education. We do not only look to the future; we are working to meet our students' needs right now, “every day in every experience.”

First, we have increased support for students by creating a department focused on student support systems. We are scheduling monthly Town Hall meetings with guest speakers and activities that bring students together around the issues that are important to them. We have implemented SMART (Stress Management and Resilience Training) labs at each of our campuses to support students who may be having a difficult time emotionally. And we invest in our staff’s professional learning so that they are equipped to understand and support their students.

We are also reaching out to our communities to become involved in supporting students from elementary to high school. Recently I was invited by one of our lab instructors to attend a youth football practice at our Fairfield campus. High school football players, some of which are career center students, from one of our partner districts were there to spend time with the youth players. Connecting students from elementary to high school and across communities strengthens our connections and helps students of all ages to feel they belong.


Football players from the Bloom-Carroll High School varsity team line up for a friendly game against Carroll Youth Football players.
We are holding our second annual Tech or Treat event at each of our campuses on October 26. This event is open to children (up to 8th grade) from our 16 partner districts. It is another way to create connections and demonstrate to our young people that there are networks of adults and older students who care about them and want to provide a safe and fun way for them to be together.

We are expanding our partnerships with districts to include career exploration activities for elementary and middle school students. Part of supporting students’ mental well-being is helping them to explore different types of careers and problem-solving. We promote curiosity across all grade levels because we know it helps students. In fact, a UC-Berkeley study found that curiosity is linked to six psychological, social, emotional, and health benefits.

I so value the opportunity to be at the table collaborating with businesses to support the economic health of our region. And yet, I know that we must also support the emotional and mental health of those in our region. In reality, that is the foundation for all other types of growth and well-being. It is just so much more than workforce development.


About Dr. Kimberly Pietsch Miller

Dr. Kimberly Pietsch Miller, EFCTS superintendent/CEO
Dr. Kimberly Pietsch Miller is the superintendent/CEO of Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools; she was previously the superintendent of Bexley City Schools in Columbus, Ohio. Prior to earning positions as superintendent, Miller served as the Chief Academic Officer for Dublin City Schools in the Columbus area and assistant superintendent of Loveland City Schools outside Cincinnati, Ohio. Miller has also served as a principal, assistant principal and an English teacher. Miller earned her Bachelor of Science in English Education from The Ohio State University, her Master of Education in leadership from the University of Cincinnati and her Doctor of Education in leadership from Miami University (Ohio). Miller is a passionate advocate for students at all levels.

2022-23 Blogs


Stay the course

September 15, 2022

Perseverance. Grit. Commitment. Stick to it-ness. Staying the course.

Terms and phrases that we often hear when things begin to get difficult. When the newness or novelty of an endeavor begins to fade, we may be tempted to quit or change directions. And it is understandable. Beginnings are exciting, new, and engage us with the unknown. But beginnings are just that, beginnings. A beginning is a relatively short period of time. By definition, a beginning is “a point or space at which something begins.” Soon, it is just the way you are operating and it can become routine or mundane, or downright difficult.

Just a few short weeks ago, we celebrated the beginning of another school year. We updated lesson plans, installed new equipment, purchased new uniforms, or perhaps changed a hairstyle. We prepared to take on a new year and were especially excited about the fact that we could do it without the cloud of a pandemic mandating our actions.

But now we are a good five weeks into the year. We are just about halfway through the first quarter, and the beginning is over. We are now in the thick of academic lessons and skill development. We are setting into the routine of the school year. And if we are honest, it is not quite as exciting as the beginning.

And so it is now, and throughout the year, that we must encourage our students and our staff to persevere, to stick to it, to stay the course. For students who chose Eastland-Fairfield, this message is even more important. They have left the comfort of their home school to start anew. They have committed to a year-long or two-year long course of study that is the equivalent of post-secondary education. Some have long commutes to one of our campuses or satellite locations. When the routine of the year sets in, quitting might seem like a good idea. The aspirations and focus that brought a student to us may be fading. But don’t quit. Don’t give up.

Success goes to those who can fight through the mundane and the routine. Victory goes to those who endure difficult times and learn to value the challenge for what it will bring them at the finish.

Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the man in the arena. The man “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;”

As we settle into our year, take heart and take joy in the everyday learning that comes once we are settled. The beginning is exciting…but the success upon completion is even sweeter. Stay the course!

Two individuals digging a tunnel in pursuit of blue gems. The top individuals continues to dig toward the treasure, while the second miner quits and turns away mere inches from the treasure.


Engagement is in the Details

September 1, 2022

On August 10, the staff of Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools gathered for our annual convocation to kick off the 2022-23 school year. The theme this year was Reframe and Engage. After two years of operating through the frame of a pandemic, it is time to change our frame or lens and engage in our work in such a way that we make all of our decisions based on what is best for our students and their learning.

Interestingly, I have seen and heard this same concept of engagement across multiple venues lately. A sermon on re-engaging with people through service. A high school football team who has committed to engaging with their community. It seems that many of us are realizing that we can’t keep operating the way we have over the past two years. While we had to make adjustments in the face of a pandemic, it’s time to fully focus on engaging with one another in meaningful and supportive ways.

So what does that mean exactly?

Merriam-Webster offers the following definitions for the verb engage:


  • To pledge oneself: Promise

  • To begin and carry on an enterprise or activity

  • To do or take part in something

  • To give attention to something


At Eastland-Fairfield, engaging means that we are pledging ourselves to fully focus on living our vision, mission, and values. In addition, we have begun the work of implementing an ambitious strategic plan, and we intend to follow through with our full attention. We are moving away from planning learning activities that students can do from a distance to designing classroom and lab experiences that require students to analyze, synthesize, problem-solve, and create.

And as I told our staff on that opening day in August. This work can be hard and will require us to think from the big picture down to the smallest pixel. Designing learning experiences that engage students takes detailed work. Implementing the high-level goals of a strategic plan requires daily decisions and actions that bring us one small step closer to the larger objectives. Ensuring that “each” student is growing from “every experience, every day” takes commitment to think about each minute in a student’s day, not just the chunks of time that constitute English class or time in a career tech lab.

It is in the very small actions, words, and planning that demonstrate our own engagement and that leads to an environment and experiences that engage, enrich, and equip our students. Because … engagement is in the details.

A magnifying glass displays the word "details" in larger font.


It Doesn't Get Easier. We Handle Hard Better.

August 18, 2022

At our recent Convocation, held annually to welcome back our staff and prepare for the upcoming school year, I shared a video speech given by Kara Lawson, head coach of the Duke University women’s basketball team. The speech was entitled, “Handle Hard Better” and in it she addresses our propensity for thinking that things are eventually going to get easier. 


Once I graduate, things will get easier.


Once I finish this project, work will get easier.


Once the kids are grown, life will be easier.


Or this. It’s easier for other people. It’s too hard for me.


Lawson then goes on to tell her players, and us, what we already know. It - life, work, you name it - does not get easier. And people who are successful - people who have a meaningful pursuit in life - learn to handle hard better. 


Eastland-Fairfield is a high school of choice. We serve 16 school districts in Central Ohio. We offer career technical education at two campuses and through satellite programs housed at four of our associate school districts. The vast majority of our students who take part in one of our programs had to make a very hard decision to leave the comfort and convenience of their home school to attend one of our programs. It is not easier to attend Eastland-Fairfield. Yet,these students make that hard decision because they have a meaningful pursuit in life. 


Eastland-Fairfield is a provider of adult education in fields that are in demand in our region. It is not easy to return to school when you are an adult. It is not easy to sign up for classes when you also must manage a job,a family, or maybe both. But for the students who choose to pursue education and training in a field that will lead to a career and not just a job, they benefit well into the future.


And when our students, high school or adult, complete their programs and graduate, “it” still does not get easier. But they made a choice to pursue something worthy of their time, effort, and money. They learned that meaningful accomplishments and meaningful goals are not easier. And so, they learned to handle hard better. 



Anticipation

August 4, 2022

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved riding roller coasters. I grew up in Eastern Ohio and there were three or four amusement parks within two hours of my hometown, and a day trip to one of those parks was often my family’s summer vacation. Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh. Idora Park in Youngstown. Geauga Lake in Aurora. I looked forward to those park days excited that I would get to ride my favorite coasters.


Now getting to the coaster ride required negotiation. Neither of my parents would ride. My two younger brothers were too little at the time. So my big brother, David, was my ticket. (My parents wouldn’t let me ride alone.) And David did not like coasters. I had lots of ways to convince him to go with me, however. 


Sometimes I took the sweet little sister approach. “Pleeeeeeeeze! You’re the best big brother ever!” 


Sometimes I challenged his tough guy image. “Come on, Dave! What are you? A scaredy cat!?”


And sometimes I resorted to bribery. “I will give you all of my Halloween candy this year.” 


Once I convinced him to go on the ride with me, I was giddy with excitement. And I loved going over that first big hill, hands in the air, screaming with the rest of the riders. But I think that the best part was actually the anticipation. Waiting in line and counting to see how many more trains would run before it was our turn. Trying to determine if we could get the first or last car. And of course, slowly going up that first hill, the chain pulling us clinking and clacking all the way. And then that little pause just before we went racing down the hill. 


For me, this time of year is a little bit like that roller coaster going up the first hill. We have spent the summer planning for the new school year. From instructional planning to facilities maintenance; From hiring new staff to moving classroom spaces. The administrative team has met and prepared, new staff will arrive on August 8, and all staff will return on August 10. We are slowly climbing that big hill, and I am anxiously anticipating reaching the peak and welcoming our new high school and adult students during Back to School Night and orientation.  


I know the year is going to be another fast and exciting ride. There will be hills, twists, turns, and surprises. But at the end of it, we will be so glad we decided to ride this train! At the end, we may even look for the next coaster, the next challenge, and ride all over again.




With Opportunities and Education, For All

July 21, 2022
A colleague recently sent me a link to a podcast on the topic of special schools for advanced or gifted students. The podcast tackled some very complex social issues including class systems, race, and cultural norms. The podcast included interviews with a variety of people as well as the hosts’ input on the topics being discussed.

Toward the end of the podcast one of the interviewees, who was talking about the quality of public education in her city, made a statement that really summed up what we should be about in public education, and honestly, in our country. She submitted that if we truly want to improve our world, our communities, our schools, we have to care about all children as much as we care about our own children. That is truly powerful if you think about it.

Making a better world for our own children really requires that we care about a better world for all children. We should approach funding and supporting our schools with the belief that ALL children deserve a high-quality education - not just some students, not just those who “qualify” for something extra. All children deserve opportunities, experiences, and challenges that can propel them toward a future of meaning, success, and pride. These do not, and should not, be the same for all students, but all students should have equitable access to that which will engage, enrich, and equip them for their own unique opportunities, experiences, and challenges.

So often it feels as if we are in constant competition. With one another. With government agencies. With special interest groups. We have been conditioned to believe that if we ensure equitable opportunities for one group then we must take opportunities from another - as if success and life are like pies with a finite number of slices. I believe we can view education like love…a gift that we can give endlessly and in great supply to everyone.

As we prepare for the next school year, and as we continue to traverse this “last great experiment for promoting human happiness” (George Washington, January 9, 1790), I hope and I believe that we can move forward putting all of our students, mine and yours, at the forefront of our efforts to educate and develop them. After all, we are counting on them to lead our families, schools, our communities, and our nation one day. Let’s equip them - all of them - to do it well!

Eight children from different ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, and ability groups holding up a book.

Regret vs. Opportunity

June 30, 2022
I recently saw an image posted on Twitter. It showed a person standing along a continuum. On the left side, it read “Regret” and on the right side it read “Opportunity.” The continuum was not divided evenly. Regret was the shorter side of the continuum, and Opportunity was much longer. However, the person on the continuum was facing the Regret side with the thought bubble, “I wish I had started earlier…”

A stick figure person stands on a line continuum facing left, "regret" on the left and "opportunity" on the right, with a thought bubble reading "I wish I had started earlier.

Why do we so often look back at what we cannot change and lament actions that we did or did not take? Why do we choose to regret our past rather than focus on our future? I am not suggesting that we should not look back on the past. If there were times of regret, we should own them, reflect on them, and then turn around and consider the future opportunities that we can embrace. The issue arises when, as in the image, we continually face the past with a feeling of regret rather than consider what we can learn from it and turn into future opportunities.


My son attended a military college for one year after he graduated from high school. He made it through a physically and emotionally challenging year. And he decided that school was not for him. He decided, instead, to enlist in the military. During the time that he waited to report to basic training, he often apologized for “wasting” that year away at college. And I always replied, “No experience is a waste if you learned something from it.” And it is true. Life rarely goes as we planned (take a look at my May 5 blog on preparing vs. planning). Sometimes we contribute to our own struggles, and sometimes life just happens. Either way, it is what we do with those experiences that impact our future - whether as opportunities or more regrets.


As we take time to enjoy summer, I know that many young people are planning to head off to college. And some are deciding if they are heading back in the fall. Some of us are thinking about a career change or wishing that we could learn a new skill just for our own personal growth, for a hobby, or just because we like to learn. If you are at a crossroad in life, just know that it is not too late to take advantage of opportunities that are there for you. All you have to do is look for them. Don’t think of what you did or did not do as wasted time. Look at that time as something that taught you the powerful lesson of looking ahead. 



If you are interested in exploring adult career opportunities at Eastland-Fairfield, click here or contact us at [email protected] or (614) 836-4541, ext. 1537. 

Re-engage

June 16, 2022

Over the past two years I have heard the phrase “get back to normal” over and over again. I have even used it myself. In our culture, we seem to have a propensity for believing that the way things used to be were better. We regularly use phrases to suggest if we could just turn back the clock, life would be better or more comfortable. I’m sure you have heard or used expressions, such as: 


The good old days.


Return to a simpler time.


Once upon a time.


A pencil draws the outline of a chain link bonding two previously disconnected links in a chain.And I get it. Sometimes a return to the old ways of doing things or the old ways of living would be nice. To return to our childhood when summer stretched ahead of us with no end in sight. To only have three channels to choose from on the television (surely made deciding what to watch less stressful). To not have to manage so many passwords! There were things about the past that were “better.”


However, the reality is that we cannot go back. We must look forward and journey on. It is great to reflect on the past, to remember and to assess progress. But we cannot live there, and we should not waste the present or squander the future wishing for the past to return.


As I reflect on the last two years, I don’t see a need to go back to life before March 2020. However, I see a great need for us to re-engage in the work that many educators were doing before the pandemic. Prior to adjusting our educational strategies to online classes, posting of work in instructional management systems so that students didn’t miss out on content, and keeping our distance, many of us were working on developing more student-centered learning strategies. Whether you call those strategies problem- or project-based, inquiry-based, hands-on, real-world, or all of the above, we were focused on developing student-centered classrooms where students are “doing” the work. The teacher is the facilitator, and students grapple with the content in engaging and exciting ways. 


These learning strategies are designed to promote a more engaging academic experience for students - one in which they are active learners not passive recipients of information. As we look forward to the next school year, it is imperative that we engage our students in their learning, and that is going to require us educators to re-engage in the work that we were doing before we knew what COVID meant. 


In March 2020, we turned on a dime and figured out how to do school from a distance and without contact. And that was important…then. But now it is time to re-engage in our commitment to meet the needs of our students. The pandemic has not only impacted our students’ academic learning, but their mental wellness, and now is the time to commit to instruction that engages our students in exciting and meaningful ways. Now is the time to look ahead and create a new normal!


Engaging, real-world problem solving is what every career tech classroom is like every day. Students learning by doing; students learning by being presented with real-world, work-based problems and challenges. I invite educators of all grade levels to visit a career tech classroom this fall if you have never experienced one. You will be amazed and inspired.


Summertime

June 2, 2022

Frank Sinatra sang of the Summer Wind.

The Lovin Spoonful sang about Summer in the City.

The film Grease brought us Summer Nights.

Keith Urban told us about a Long Hot Summer.

And recently, Thomas Rhett sang what many of us are thinking each summer - Slow Down Summer.

Whatever your taste in music, chances are there is a song about summer that you love. I am not sure how many songs have been written about summer, but a quick Google search will yield results that list “25 songs with summer in the title; “40 great summer songs”; and “55 songs about summer to get you pumped for warm weather.” The point is…We Love Summer!

The days are longer; the temperatures are warmer; the pace is a little slower. Oh, and school is out - the official beginning of summer for many of us. Looking forward to the summer break is something most of us do…even school district superintendents. As the songs suggest, summer is a great time of fun for many.

It is also a time for us to reflect on the past school year. We identify the goals we met and the tasks or objectives that we didn’t quite reach. And then we look forward to the next year. What goals will we set for ourselves and our students? What new challenges will we encounter?

At Eastland-Fairfield, we are also taking that time to reflect and reset. On the high school side of the house, we are excited to bring new program pathways to our campuses and to our associate schools as satellite programs. We are sprucing up our buildings and making some moves to better serve our students. On the adult workforce side, we are preparing to launch at least two new programs (plumbing and facilities maintenance), and working diligently to add a Licensed Practical Nurse program in fall 2022. We are also in the planning stages for two exciting programs: robotics and mechatronics for high school and industrial automation for adults. It is busy, but the work is good, and the opportunities to serve more students is exciting for us.

I hope that your summer will be a good one. It seems we are already off to that Long Hot Summer, so I wish for the Summer Wind to keep you comfortable whether in the city, the coast, the country, or the mountains. And I know that with all the work we must accomplish before we welcome more than 1600 high school and adult students to our programs in August, I will be saying, “Slow Down Summer!”

Have a wonderful summer!


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