Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Call to Action - The state of education in Ohio

During the season when many districts are preparing and delivering their “State of the Schools Address”, we must talk about the state of education in Ohio.  There is research from leading educators like Douglas Reeves that urges leaders to find their focus, concentrating on just a few priorities.  Within that focus, leaders must put aside the elements they cannot control (like poverty, ethnicity, home environment, etc.) and commit to the responses that are within their control.  Tim Kight and the R Factor illustrate what it means to have above the line responses.  With that being said, Mechanicsburg has taken the position that we would not belabor the things that come from ODE and the legislature that were outside our control.  We would take the new requirements/changes in practice, figure out how they fit in our system of teaching and learning, and continue to do what is best for kids.  

However, we have a unique opportunity in front of us now with the authorization on Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  As educational leaders and advocates, we have the chance to make our voices heard around several key issues - assessment, accountability, and teacher evaluation.  If we want Ohio to take advantage of the local control given to states in ESSA, we must communicate that need to those making policy.  We must do so early, often, and in detail.  

  • It is time for Ohio to go back to the federal minimums required in assessment.  Allow districts to continue to use their internal measures for growth and achievement and assess students/grades/subjects across the state only at the required grades in ESSA.  Urge legislators to listen and act, as our juniors and seniors over the next two years are facing a grave graduation situation.  
  • It is time to have an accountability system that is stable and allows for apples to apples comparisons of data from year to year.   Districts want accountability, but in saying that, our students deserve an accountability system that ACTUALLY produces adjustments in instruction aimed at increasing growth and achievement.  
  • It is time to embrace teacher evaluation  as a crucial piece of feedback for growth, taking away student growth requirements that make teacher evaluation more about a high stakes gotcha than feedback that improves practice.  Administrators and teachers are having powerful conversations around the teacher performance side of the evaluation tool.  Let’s put our focus where it is making a difference.  

If we want education to align to the educational model we know produces higher levels of student growth and achievement, we must seize the moment.  Our students, our teachers, and our communities need there to be action!  

The list below contains all the necessary contact information for the those that represent Champaign County and/or Ohio’s important political offices.  Share your talking points with these individuals and let our voices be heard for the sake of the students and communities we serve.  

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Danielle Prohaska, Superintendent of Schools
Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools

Contact information:

Governor John Kasich
(614) 466-3555
joe.andrews@governor.ohio.gov (Press Secretary)

Keith Faber, President of the Ohio Senate
(614) 466-7584

Andrew Brenner, House Chair of Education
(614) 644-6711

Cliff Rosenberger, Speaker of the House
(614) 466-3506

Keith Faber, District 12
(614) 466-7584

A. Nino Vitale, House Representative District 85
(614) 466-1507

Tom Gunlock, Appointed President of Ohio Board of Education
(937) 291-6318

Paolo De Maria, Superintendent of Public Instruction
(877) 644-6338

Ann E. Jacobs, Lima District 1 School Board Rep.
(419) 229-9800

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Press Release - District Report Card

In an effort to communicate on multiple fronts, I have included the press release related to our state issued report card below. With the authorization of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) at the federal level, we have an opportunity to refocus and create a stable and equitable assessment and accountability system in the state of Ohio. It is time for communities, district and building leaders, and boards of education to voice their concerns and bring solutions to the table. The staggering number of Ds and Fs across the state are not indicative of our education system. Students and teachers have not declined at such a rapid rate. Don't let this moment for change pass us by in Ohio. Make your voice heard!

The 2015-16 State Report Card should be released at some point today and will be covered by multiple media outlets over the next week or so. This year’s report card contains numerous changes including overall component grades for report card sections.  The 2015-16 report card results are generated from a new assessment system, which is the 3rd assessment system in three years.  What you may notice is that our ratings have declined in some areas.  To an extent, this was to be expected with so much change in the measurement system for us and districts across the state.    

The new assessment system is built on more rigorous standards and increased performance targets for students.  The accountability elements of the report card will challenge districts to meet those high standards for student growth and achievement.  However, adjustments to these higher standards will not happen overnight and reduced scores are more the norm than an anomaly throughout the state.  Though the state issued report card is an important part of the data we use to inform instruction, it is only one of the many measures that matter.  

Regardless of any changes to the state’s accountability measures, we are prepared to use this data to reflect on student instruction and implement instructional practices that will best meet the needs of all our students.  As we analyze what we know about students from a variety of measures, it is evident that students in Mechanicsburg Schools continue to grow as well rounded students.  We continue to have strong teachers, capable students, and a supportive community.  

In the meantime, our district leaders, alongside administrators from across the state, will persist in advocating for a more consistent accountability system.  This stability is necessary to allow our teachers and administrators to do what they do best for students day in and day out.  

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at prohaskad@mcburg.org or Mary J Huffman at huffmanm@mcburg.org should you want to discuss the report card further.  

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Danielle Prohaska, Superintendent

Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools

Thursday, August 25, 2016

2016.17 Opening Day Message

Welcome to the 2016.17 school year.  

Myself and some of the administrative team in Mechanicsburg have previewed the concept of Event + Response = Outcomes, that is best known from Urban Meyer’s book Above the Line. For those of you that know me, even a Michigan fan can appreciate a book that references the buckeyes.   

The E+R=O process begins with the 20 square feet of the organization’s culture and strategy that each of us owns.  Within this 20 square feet, you choose how you will think, interact, and behave in order to prioritize the learning of students.  These responses place us either above the line or below the line.  But wherever we choose to fall, our responses do have an impact on our students, our grade level team or our department, our own professional development, our building and ultimately the district at large.  This is both a powerful and scary notion.

What our team wants to stress throughout the year, is that when you feel the weight of that 20 square feet, you are still in the driver’s seat and we are here to lift you up.  Through our use of formative assessments, strategies for instruction, intervention and extension, knowledge of content standards, experience with state assessments, and collaboration with our TBTs and BLTs, we will determine the outcomes for our students.  Our above the line responses to events such as less than desirable state assessments results, online testing, etc, do have the largest impact on what happens in classrooms, buildings, and across the district.  This impact is even bigger than our students home environment and socioeconomic status.  

As we move through the school year, we will begin with a deep dive into our district, building, and student data.  It won’t take long to see that our data includes strengths, patterns and trends, and most importantly opportunities for adult action.  Remember that “great moments are born from great opportunity”.  All these events and ultimately our responses are crucial to where we must end up at the end of the 2016.17 school year......higher student growth and achievement outcomes.  

To define this year and our conscious efforts to manage our responses, the hashtag #LeadLikeaLifeguard seems most appropriate.  Dr. Reeves, a leading researcher and author, challenges educators to think about themselves as lifeguards.  Lifeguards have just a handful of priorities that they must remain focused on.  Like lifeguards, we are faced with many distractions and much is at stake if we don’t keep focused on those priorities.  All of us must commit to leading like a lifeguard in our classrooms, departments, and buildings.  

I know the work is hard, the reflection on adult strategies is often emotional, but most importantly, I know your commitment to leading like a lifeguard will be genuine and heartfelt.  Thank you for your service to our students and community.  I wish all of you a wonderful school year.  On behalf of myself, the board of education, and the administrative team, welcome back.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Is summer over already?

Welcome back to 2016.17
As Mid- August approaches you must be asking yourselves “Is summer over already?”.  Though the county fair and a few weeks of summer vacation remain, the start of the 2016.17 school year is just around the corner.  Whether you stayed local, traveled, or worked this summer, I hope you as educators have been able to spend quality time with family and friends.  I have spent the majority of my weekends and evenings at the ballpark, enjoying great baseball and softball with Alden, Avery and Brennan.  Their adventures and antics translate into family memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Great times with family and friends will help all of us find purpose as we reflect and plan for the work we will do for students when we return in August.  That work is important, challenging, and ever changing!

As I write this post, schools all across the state and nation pour over student data from last year.  Test data is just one piece of information that we use to inform our purpose.  Though the data may not be as strong as we are accustomed to,  it is crucial to remember that this “event” and our response to the data will determine our outcomes.  This is called the R Factor: E + R = O.  We must take the time and invest the energy to guarantee the outcomes our students and community deserve.  After all, our #1 goal is  Prioritizing the learning of ALL students.  As a district, our “above the line” responses will impact student achievement and growth.  

As an administrative team and in many buildings, we will be talking about Above the Line by Urban Meyer and discussing its implications for our organization. There will be more entries to follow, that is for sure! Good luck to those opening school and let it be another great year.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Halfway Where?

Halfway Where?

There are so many life experiences to choose from as I look for a personal connection in this edition of my superintendent’s blog. After setting aside my vanity :), I’ve decided to go for it and share with you my 40th birthday as the personal connection to what is going on in our educational lives. At the time that this blog will be published, I will have just celebrated my 40th birthday.  I could look at this moment as a signal that “it’s all downhill from here” or I could look at my 40th birthday as an opportunity.  

It is the opportunity to think about what is really working in my life and make an effort to continue those practices, Family, Faith, and Friends.  It is also the time to think about the things that have happened in those first 40 years that could have gone better and devise a specific plan to remedy those items on the list.

As I share with you my personal connection, we are at the halfway point to the 2015-2016 school year.   We have just received our 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee Fall administration scores, completed winter benchmarking using NWEA MAP, ended the 2nd quarter, and awarded high school class credit for block classes.  

This marks a time when we as educators should look at what  we are currently doing to benefit students and maintain the pace to keep those great practices moving forward.  But at this halfway point, we also have the opportunity for reflection.  We should be reflecting on the data with the sincere belief that we have the time and the skills to improve upon the results.  We must rely on our teams, colleagues, and support staff to generate ideas, share the workload, and foster the energy needed for the work ahead.  I believe we have the good fortune, with half the school year still in front of us, to make an impact on the academic achievement and growth of students.  

It’s sometimes hard to seize this moment, as we tend to get stuck on the things that aren’t working.  It is hard to believe in ourselves and know that significant growth can still take place.   But think back,  we have been here before and we have done TREMENDOUS things.  As educators we have to extend ourselves some grace, erase the missteps, and believe that what we do from here on out CAN and WILL make a difference like it has in the recent past.  Our team of staff, parents, and students can accomplish amazing things.

Take what you currently know about your students in stride, adjust your adult practices intentionally, and make the impact our students and community deserve.  I believe in our students and I believe in all of you!


Danielle Prohaska, Superintendent of Schools

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Power of the Hashtag

To open the 2015-2016 school year, I unveiled a hashtag for the purpose of documenting our district’s never ending adventure race.  This inspiration came from the work of Robyn Benincasa, and her presentation to school leaders at a Battelle for Kids event.  
Embedded in this hashtag is the belief that success comes from groups of ordinary people (teachers, students, bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, parents, food service, building aides, maintenance, and administrators) coming together to do extraordinary things.  

Those who spend enough time with me know that “I love it when a plan comes together”.  Yes, I did grow up wanting to be the newest member of the A-TEAM led by Hannibal Smith.  But I digress,  what I am trying to illustrate is how representative the hashtag has been since the halls filled with staff and students in late August.  Here are just a few ordinary yet extraordinary examples:  

  • The elementary, in conjunction with the PTO, hosted a Donuts with Dad and Muffins with Mom event.  During these two events, we welcomed over 700 people into the building to enjoy special time with those we cherish the most, the students!  The gathering of dads, uncles, moms, aunts, grandparents, and siblings was an extraordinary display of school spirit and support.  #OrdinaryisExtraordinary

  • The district recently suffered the loss of a student.  The outpouring of support for the family and the community was reassuring during a difficult time.   One ordinary team in particular exemplified what extraordinary acts can do for others.  One by one, the High School football team paid their respects to the family and then gathered together outside the funeral home.  The team prayed together before heading their separate ways.   In this moment, a bunch of ordinary HS students came together with their coaches to show strength and compassion to another in need.  #OrdinaryisExtraordinary

  • The district was honored to have Dr. Doug Reeves with us at the beginning of October.  During his time in the district, Dr. Reeves commented several times on how refreshing it was to be around educators that genuinely liked each other and liked what they did.  His research supports that strong teams, groups of ordinary people, coming together for the purposes of student learning, will have a positive impact on achievement and growth.  His observations only solidify that we have the team composition for what #OrdinaryisExtraordinary embraces.  

  • The Mechanicsburg HS Boys Golf Team made it to the state playoffs for the first time since 1991.  In order to make it there as a team, the number 3 -5 golfers had to post some of their personal best scores.  These boys, freshman up through seniors, had to come together as individual golfers to tackle one of the most difficult courses in Ohio.   As a collection of ordinary HS golfers, these young men did an extraordinary thing and made an appearance at the state tournament when few believed it was possible.  #OrdinaryisExtraordinary

Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools has created a compass that will no doubt lead to another successful adventure race.  We are a group of ordinary teachers, leaders, parents, students, and community members that are gathering together to do extraordinary things in the service of student learning.  I love it when a plan comes together!  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Time flies when you are having fun!

It is has been some time since I have sat down to craft a superintendent’s blog.  Not sure what has transpired between then and now, but I can tell you I have enjoyed every second of it.  I find it hard to believe that yesterday marked the first graduating class of my superintendency.  It seems like just last week I was stressing over my opening day remarks.  Fast forward 38 weeks, we are at the end of very successful school year.  

So what are some of the markers of success that we have seen this year?  Though we don’t have test scores in hand to judge the achievement and growth of our students, our hallways were filled with successes each and every day this year.  From artwork to student papers, data charts, trophies and awards, newspaper articles, and class constitutions, we can easily see the learning taking place within our walls.  

Our Vocational Agriculture “Department” opened a green house, repaired community tractors and other equipment, and saw many successes at the state level.  The Art Department hosted several community events, showcasing and selling framed works of art along with earning several awards at the OHC Fine Arts Festival.  Our newest addition to the course catalog, Zulama, has been a hit with students, and numbers indicate it is continuing to grow next year.  Our math classrooms explored deep learning through questioning and used TenMarks to prepare students for new online assessments.  “Google is a Go” in the district, with the Middle School Staff and Mr. Griffith leading the charge.  We have set ourselves apart from those around us with the infusion of technology in our classrooms.  Students read and wrote at a higher rate, with many of our grade levels writing research papers to end the school year.  4th grade students used the pen to gather a host of Ohio made products for another successful wax museum.  5th grade students spent the last day of school playing board games they designed around their most recent book studies.  And in the interest of my every long to do list, these are just the tip of iceberg when it comes to the learning I have witnessed this year.  Learning is Fun around here no doubt!

In addition to the successes of the 2014-15 school year, teams are already planning for additional fun in learning next year.  Our High School is embarking on a building wide book study, including all students and teaching staff.  What a great way to learn alongside each other!  Teachers have donated their summer hours to additional professional development in differentiation, Orton-Gillingham, technology, and gifted education to name just a few.  Already off to a great start for 2015-16 and it is only June 1!

I could not have asked for a more successful 1st year.  I feel very fortunate to have learned along a phenomenal administrative team and to have had the support of a tremendous board of education and staff.  Parents and the surrounding community have added to the quality of the school year and I only see that relationship growing in years to come.   Time to close the books on 2014-15 and gear up for the fun that awaits in 2015-16.  

Danielle Prohaska, Superintendent