By: Paolo DeMaria
As we welcome the new year, it’s a great time to reflect on last year’s accomplishments. I’m proud of what Ohio’s education system achieved in 2018 and excited for 2019! Perhaps the best place to start is with an amazing undertaking that brought our state and local education systems together to set the direction for our future. Ohio’s new strategic plan for education, titled Each Child, Our Future, reflects the honest analysis and best thinking of Ohio Department of Education leaders, the State Board of Education, 120 Ohio-based organizations with direct interests in education, and 1,200 local teachers, administrators, community members, business leaders, parents and state lawmakers.
The Ohio Strategic Plan for Education
The five-year plan will enable our education system to organize its work around three core principles and 10 shared strategies that can ensure a high-quality educational experience for all children, promote equity and high-performing schools, and nurture the physical, social, emotional and intellectual child in each of our students. Each Child, Our Future can put us on a pathway to our goal: increasing annually the percentage of Ohio high school graduates who are experiencing education or career success one year after commencement.
I’m happy to say that so many of our other 2018 achievements aligned in one way or another with Each Child, Our Future. Here are a few highlights:
We have so many great teachers in Ohio, we wanted a way to honor and thank more of them. In 2018, the Department launched its #OhioLovesTeachers campaign to promote appreciation and recognition for our first-line educators. We asked people to share their favorite stories about teachers or teacher teams they admire on Twitter and Instagram, then shared our favorites on the Department’s social media channels.
A few months ago, we borrowed the 2018 Ohio Teacher of the Year, Jonathan Juravich, from Olentangy Local Schools to serve as the Department’s teacher-in-residence until the end of this school year. We plan to continue the residency with each annual Ohio Teacher of the Year. Here’s more exciting news: we’re now developing an ongoing Teachers of Ohio Representing Character and Heart (TORCH) recognition program in which each Ohio Teacher of the Year and that year’s finalists will evaluate TORCH nominations from the field and select winners.
Launch of the School-Based Health Care Support Toolkit
This year, the Ohio Department of Education and several state-level partners developed a School-Based Health Care Support Toolkit that offers guidance and resources to help districts bring these services to school campuses. Ohio already has inspiring, local success stories in this area. Pioneering districts like Alexander Local Schools in Athens County, Lima City Schools in Allen County, and Manchester Local Schools in Adams County have forged partnerships with local health care providers that have improved student health and led to fewer disciplinary problems, less absenteeism and higher graduation rates. Read their stories on our School-Based Health Care Support Toolkit webpage.
Grants to districts to promote literacy among Ohio’s highest-needs children
Ohio granted $33 million of a $35 million federal Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant to 46 school districts or partnerships of districts to drive literacy improvement for children from birth through grade 12. The three-year grants to these ambitious districts will help them improve learning prospects for their students living in poverty, students with disabilities, English learners and students with reading disabilities.
The Department also worked with a devoted group of literary educators and specialists from around the state to publish Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literary Achievement. The plan sets forth the ongoing work Ohio will do to improve language and literacy development in our children.
SuccessBound and inauguration of the OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal
Launched in 2017, Ohio’s SuccessBound initiative strives to bring schools, businesses, students, families and communities together to adopt practices that move students seamlessly from school to postsecondary education or training and jobs. In 2018, the Department developed and posted toolkits for each of these partners to help them take active steps to become SuccessBound.
Ohio also initiated the OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal, a designation high school students can earn on their transcripts by demonstrating they have the personal strengths, strong work ethic and professional experience businesses need. The OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal gives a student the district’s endorsement that the student is ready to pursue work experiences.
Educators don’t need Ph.D.s in statistics to learn about data-driven evidence of successful teaching practices and bring about powerful change for their students. Ohio’s Evidence-based Clearinghouse, launched this year, can help districts and schools identify critical student learning needs; research and select evidence-based strategies; examine, reflect on and adjust those strategies; and support efforts to improve student success.
The powerful source for evidence-based teaching practices brings together resources from many clearinghouses and will continually change to meet the evolving needs of Ohio educators. Every evidence-based strategy in the clearinghouse meets one of three levels of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s criteria for evidence-based instructional practices. Users can find strategies aligned with the focus areas of the Ohio Improvement Process, which include curriculum, instruction and assessment, school climate, and supports.
Ohio's Arts Education Data Project
All Ohio students can benefit from a high-quality arts education to help them develop important skills needed to succeed in today’s competitive workforce. Ohio’s public education laws call for one credit hour of instruction in fine arts — music, visual arts, dance or drama — as part of the prescribed curriculum.
Because we know the arts are so important to our children’s development, the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Department of Education felt parents, educators, school administrators, and local and state policymakers need to know what arts education Ohio’s individual schools and districts are offering. Users can see the number and percentage of students enrolled in each type of fine arts education in Ohio schools and the number of students who have no access to arts education. The dashboard is searchable by county, school district, school type and location.
Ohio is proud to be one of the first few states in the nation to provide an online arts education data system available to the public.
Growth of the Purple Star Award program
If Ohio’s schools are to be sensitive to the cultural and circumstantial needs of all their students, a focus of Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education’s “whole-child” approach, we can’t ignore our 34,000 Ohio students from military families.
To recognize schools that are doing an exemplary job of serving students and families connected to our nation’s armed forces and inspire more schools to follow their examples, the Ohio departments of Education, Higher Education, Veterans Services and Adjutant General, created the Purple Star Award. Purple Star schools must meet specific criteria to demonstrate that they engage in practices that support students of military families. These schools receive a special Purple Star logo to display in their buildings.
In 2018, Ohio recognized 134 new Purple Star schools. What makes me even prouder is that six other states have adopted or are planning to adopt the Purple Star Awards program verbatim.
High school graduation requirements
The State Board of Education recommended and the General Assembly adopted a proposal that the alternative options for graduation be extended to the class of 2018, the class of 2019, and, with modifications, the class of 2020. Based on the experience of the class of 2018, thousands of students, particularly those who are challenged to demonstrate what they know and can do using standardized tests, were able to graduate and start a new chapter in their lives. These options will have a similar impact on the classes of 2019 and 2020.
Ohio, however, needs a permanent solution to this issue. In fact, during 2018, the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee for High School Graduation Requirements developed and the State Board adopted a proposal for a new graduation requirements approach. This approach gives students options to demonstrate what they know and can do through a variety of means — including both test-based options and non-test-based options. You can learn more about the proposal here. In the upcoming year, the Department will be working to support the adoption of this proposal. It may go through further revision during the process, but the fundamental objective of giving students the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do without relying on tests makes a lot of sense and will benefit many students.
Looking toward 2019
Though 2018 has been a strong year of achievement, Ohio Department of Education staff and I have more in mind for 2019. Look for another ExtraCredit blog soon that highlights what we plan to undertake this year.
Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.
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By: Steve Gratz
Editor's Note: Our colleague, Steve Gratz, is retiring after many years in education. Steve’s blogs have challenged many education concepts and provided sage advice for innovation in education. Thank you, Steve. We wish you luck as you transition to your next opportunity.
I’m retiring from the Ohio Department of Education on Dec. 31, 2018, after 36 years in education and 10 state superintendents of public instruction — including two interims. Seven of those years were spent as a teacher of agriculture, and the remaining 29 were with the Department in various capacities — the last five serving as one of the agency’s senior executive directors.
When I started my career as a teacher of agriculture in 1983, I never envisioned the path my career would take. I’ve had the opportunity to teach thousands of students at the secondary and postsecondary levels and coach more than 200 Ohio FFA state officers. I love the teaching and learning process and will always consider myself a teacher and learner.
During my 29 years at the Department, I visited hundreds of schools — mainly high schools and career centers. I enjoyed visiting with students, teachers, administrators, board members and community members. Coupled with my teaching experience, these visits helped frame and solidify my teaching philosophy. At one time during my career, I thought I wanted to be a school administrator and went back to the classroom, but I soon realized I could have a greater impact back at the Department.
I have delivered hundreds of presentations throughout my career, including a few commencement speeches. During some of my recent presentations, I’ve shared a list of items those looking to redesign a school should consider. A few people asked for my list, so I felt it would be appropriate to share in my final blog.
These are not in any particular order of importance sans the first one. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather thought-provoking. This list is fluid, and I’m sure I’ll revisit it often.
- Transition all students to something and not out of high school. For too many years, we have been focusing on transitioning students out of school simply because they have met graduation requirements. It is time for us to adjust how we envision student success, and graduation alone is not the right measure. Graduation rates out of high school are not nearly as important as student success rates out of high school.
- Make your district the economic driver for your community and region by identifying in-demand sectors in your region — keep your talent local but don’t prevent students from pursuing their career aspirations. Some students may need coaching on differentiating a hobby and a vocation. The recently released OhioMeansJobs Workforce Data Tools website is an excellent resource to help start the process.
- Develop in-demand pathways beginning no later than grade 7, and show the progression of advancement. These begin as broad pathways and narrow as the student progresses. At a minimum, start a Personalized Professional Pathway program. This can be a quick win for students and the community.
- Blur the lines between technical and academic content. I firmly believe this will result in more meaningful teaching and learning. The burden shouldn’t fall on educators alone to make these connections. Employers, communities, and industry leaders should reach out and support educators in making academic and technical concepts real for students.
- Increase the number of integrated courses offered so students receive simultaneous credit. Integrated coursework and simultaneous credit can redesign the school day. If you don’t believe me, ask any STEM school.
- Increase the percentage of students completing Student Success Plans through OhioMeansJobs. Currently, this is only required for at-risk-students, but I encourage all students to have Student Success Plans.
- Ensure every school employee knows the career aspirations of every student. By knowing students’ career aspirations, teachers can contextualize their teaching to students’ interests during the “formal” teaching and learning process and help advise students during the “informal” teaching and learning process. I believe this would have positive impact on the ethos of the school.
- Embrace personalized learning for ALL students. Coupled with competency-based learning, personalized learning will allow students to progress at their own pace. The Future Ready Framework is a great resource to assist with developing personalized learning.
- Provide ALL students with the supports they need to succeed. This will look different from district to district; school to school; and student to student. A good place to begin is the Department’s webpage for Ohio’s Social and Emotional Learning Standards.
- Utilize the Literacy Design Collaborative and the Math Design Collaborative to ensure students are learning literacy and numeracy skills across all disciplines.
- Increase the percentage of students earning industry credentials, where applicable. Please make sure the credentials being earned align to students’ career aspirations.
- Increase the percentage of students participating in work-based learning experiences. There’s ample evidence-based research on the benefits of experiential learning not to mention the embedded work readiness skills.
- Increase the percentage of students earning the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. The OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal is for ALL students, and research indicates that students who have the attributes aligned with the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal are more persistent in their postsecondary endeavors.
- Provide counseling to students for two years after graduation. I realize there are additional costs associated with this concept, but I truly believe this strategy would be extremely impactful to student success. This should be combined with the Career Advising Plan required of every district.
- Work with the Business Advisory Council and regional partners. Students need to learn skills that businesses require, so they can get well-paying jobs as adults. And who can do this better than business? Be sure to involve teachers with the Business Advisory Council too.
- Blur the line between secondary and postsecondary education. Schools need to increase work toward a system that eliminates grades, both student grades and class grades. Competency-based education is an excellent model for school redesign to help accomplish the elimination of grades.
- Encourage participation in all advanced standing programs when students are ready. College Credit Plus is one of the most robust dual-enrollment programs in the country. Districts with limited access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses can encourage student participation in Modern States' “Freshman Year for Free” program, where students can enroll and take tests in AP and CLEP courses for free.
- Start collecting longitudinal data on high school graduates. This data will prove invaluable when sharing the success of graduates. Data should include, but is not limited to, uninsured employment data and college persistence and graduation rates (National Student Clearinghouse).
- Establish metrics with your local board of education that define school and student success. These should be the metrics that are most important to the community.
- Continuous improvement is fundamental to ensuring students are prepared when they transition. This is imperative at all levels of the educational system.
- Communicate ad nauseum with school employees and the community members on the school’s or district’s vision and progress toward that vision.
- Maintain outreach to school and district alumni. One of my favorite ways to engage alumni came from a district that has a class reunion every year, including a parade spotlighting classes in five-year increments. After the parade, all alumni enjoy a picnic together at the community park.
- Share quick wins and promising practices on the SuccessBound webpage.
- Think big, start small, scale fast.
- Move forward with a sense of urgency.
No one should look at this list and feel compelled to try to implement too many at one time. Ideally, school leaders would collaborate with instructional staff to prioritize new initiatives.
Those familiar with Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education will see a strong correlation with my philosophy, especially with Strategy 10, and that makes me smile.
It has been a great and rewarding career in education, and I am looking forward to transitioning to my next career. Starting in early January, I will be helping a good friend with a program he founded — AgriCorps. AgriCorps focuses on ending generational poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. We’ll be traveling to Ghana, Liberia and Kenya to kick off 2019. Additionally, I’ll be assisting a few educational service centers and districts with school improvement and redesign.
I’m active on LinkedIn, so please reach out and stay connected.
Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.
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By: Guest Blogger
As the superintendent of Alexander Local Schools, I am proud to tell you about our success providing students with wraparound services. Wraparound services are additional supports for students that help them meet their basic needs so they can focus and do well in school. The wraparound services offered in Alexander include mental health counseling and health care services. Some people may wonder if mental and physical health care have a place in school, but I firmly believe they do.
Alexander Local Schools is located in Athens County. It is a rural, Appalachian district. All the school buildings are located on a single campus. Unemployment, poverty and drug addiction affect many families in our schools. As superintendent, I became aware of the number of children who needed medical or counseling services. The teachers and I were running into situations where some children were not receiving proper medical attention. In many cases, it appeared the parents were not following through with planned appointments. Even when families recognized the need for these services, they still had to pull children out of school and travel to appointments. Parents worried about losing their jobs as a result of missing work to take their children for services. Some families did not have transportation or money for gas.
There are many challenges in our community, and I wanted to help address them. The other educators in my district and I began speaking with various agencies about how we could help families get the services and supports they needed. We decided to pilot a wraparound program by inviting one counselor from Hopewell Health Centers to put an office in our building for one year. We referred children to this counselor when they needed deeper, more intense counseling than what the school alone could offer. We worked with teachers and the counselor to build a positive rapport and buy-in with the staff, parents and community.
What began as a one-year pilot has grown. Our campus now houses offices for four different service agencies. Currently, we have Hopewell Health Centers, Health Recovery Services, Athens County Children Services and Holzer on our campus. We give them space in our buildings for free so they can provide their services to the children. We also meet with the agencies annually to talk about what is working and what needs improvement. We encourage them to build their clientele in our community. During the summer months, they can continue using our facilities.
These services have become a part of our school culture. Counselors are honorary staff members. They attend staff meetings, parent-teacher conferences and Intervention Assistance Team meetings. We embrace their knowledge and expertise. By providing services on our campus, we have seen improvements in our school and our community. The most significant improvements have been increased attendance and graduation rates, reduced behavioral issues and better scores on state tests.
Here are a few other benefits to implementing these programs on campus:
- Convenient primary care and preventative medical services are offered to district staff, students and the community.
- There is increased access to health care providers without the need to travel to a larger facility.
- We have streamlined care from a community health and specialty care perspective. This keeps students in the classroom and student athletes on the playing field.
- Students and families have an increased awareness of available services. Many may not have sought care otherwise.
- Student athletes receive athletic training support in partnership with Ohio University.
- The school’s ability to make direct referrals increases productivity and improves service agency caseloads.
- Barriers such as transportation, accessibility and parental time off work are eliminated.
- Having agencies on campus increases the attendance rate, and the agencies are experiencing fewer canceled appointments. Agencies are working closely with the district to meet insurance billing requirements.
- Support agencies report that partnering with the schools in some situations has helped them improve parental engagement.
- Being in the school building provides immediate access to communication with teachers and staff who see the students daily and often are the first to encounter behavioral issues. This helps the clinician take a comprehensive approach to treatment. Once a treatment plan is in place, educators and clinicians can monitor interventions and assess treatment success.
- Being part of the school reduces the stigma attached to seeing a counselor. Clinicians often wear school badges to help them blend in with school staff.
- The district has increased the number of professional counselors on staff.
- An outside agency can complete risk assessments for children who make threats. This allows for an immediate intervention.
- Students receive medical treatment immediately.
- We are able to provide free sports physicals and a staff doctor for the football and basketball teams.
The greatest benefit, and the thing that I am most proud of, is that we are now addressing the whole child. Addressing the whole child allows children to have necessary supports, enhances wellness and fosters learning and development. Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education, Each Child, Our Future, recognizes how critical it is to meet the basic needs of the whole child, and we are working hard to do just that. Thanks to partnerships built within our own community, our small district is making a big impact on each student and our community.
Lindy Douglas is the superintendent of Alexander Local Schools. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and master’s degree in Educational Administration from Ohio University. She has been an educator for 29 years, working in public schools in Southeastern Ohio to better the lives of children by increasing their knowledge and improving their education.
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By: Virginia Ressa
I always enjoy going to conferences. Spending time with colleagues, discussing content and pedagogy issues and debating the latest concerns always renews my commitment to education. As a social studies teacher, I looked forward to the Ohio Council for the Social Studies conference every year. I looked forward to having lunch with old friends and talking about our shared struggle of making ancient history interesting to seventh-graders. I really enjoyed participating in this conference and similar conferences, like the Ohio Council for Law-Related Education’s Law and Citizenship Conference, each year. I knew people and was comfortable in those settings. But, looking back, I wonder if I was really learning anything new. I heard updates from the Ohio Department of Education, learned about new resources and maybe picked up some ideas on how to teach certain topics. There was a great deal of value in the renewal and re-energization those conferences provided, but was I really stretching myself? Did these conferences really challenge me to grow professionally?
My last blog post was about attending the Future Ready Ohio conference. I chose to write about that conference because I got so much out of it. Maybe it was because the content was new to me, and I didn’t know what to expect. I ventured out of my comfort zone and, as you might expect, I learned a great deal. This month, I attended all three days of OCALICON. Do you know about OCALICON? Some quick background: Here in Ohio, we are lucky to have a nationally recognized organization that works to improve achievement for students with disabilities. OCALI (formerly known as the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence) holds an annual conference that attracts more than 2,000 participants from across the country and even internationally. Since 2007, participants have come from all 50 states and 17 countries.
This year, the Department’s Office for Exceptional Children partnered with OCALI to hold its Special Education Leadership Institute in conjunction with OCALICON. It was a great pairing and allowed Ohio’s attendees to participate in some Ohio-specific events and access all OCALICON’s rich content. Participation was up to about 2,900 attendees! I was one of the new attendees, and I felt the mild tension of being in new territory.
When I was a content area teacher, OCALICON wasn’t on my radar. None of the special education conferences were. Yet, all my classes included students with disabilities. I had their individualized education programs (IEPs) and knew what kinds of accommodations I was supposed to make. That seemed like enough. I never realized how little I knew about students with different disabilities and how to support them in accessing grade-level content. By attending conferences only related to my content area, I was limiting my learning and my ability to improve my practice and meet the needs of all the learners in my classroom. At OCALICON, I found myself outside of my comfort zone — and it was great. There were a few familiar faces and session topics, but most were new to me.
Of this year’s 2,900 attendees, only 60 were general education teachers. This number grew slightly from last year’s 38. Still, the majority of attendees are special education teachers or intervention specialists and special education directors. I’m beginning to think we are approaching conferences in the wrong way. I’m a social studies teacher and know a lot about history because it is something I’m interested in. I read books and watch movies about history all the time. What I don’t know enough about is how to support students with multiple disabilities. What I don’t know enough about is how to use technology to provide students with intellectual disabilities access to grade-level content. About 80 percent of our students with disabilities can, with accommodations, access grade-level content. This would be much more doable if our intervention specialists were not the only ones who knew how to do it.
So, what have I learned? I’ve learned I should attend conferences that focus on content I don’t know a lot about. This is one of those “aha!” moments when I realize I’ve been looking at something the wrong way for years. I wouldn’t sign up for a course on something I already know, so why keep going to the same conferences? I know our content area conferences are valuable for networking and refueling, but I would argue that attending conferences outside of our comfort zones has a great deal of benefit as well. Conversely, for special education teachers and intervention specialists, that would mean attending a few social studies and mathematics conferences.
My challenge to you is to open your mind to a new, authentic learning experience by finding and attending a different kind of conference this year. For instance, you might consider attending the next Ohio Council for Exceptional Children conference. Without a doubt, you also will want to save the date for OCALICON 2019.
Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.
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