Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Grappling with Changes in Education

Grappling with the Changes in Education

It has been quite some time since I have taken to blogging about education.  I remember thinking and saying that I would have more time after the November 4, 2014 levy campaign ended, but here it is December 16th and I am just now getting random thoughts onto “paper”.  For those of you in the moment with me, you can identify with the speed at which time has passed.

This entry is centered around grapplers - otherwise known as wrestlers.  I have recently been introduced to wrestling with my youngest child.   He is the one I referred to in an earlier blog as a mix of Pig-Pen and Denise the Menace.  Brennan has been “grappling” for just a few weeks now.  He is learning a progression of moves, starting with neutral position and building to several other moves of which I don’t know the technical name.  So why does my son’s grappling really matter?  There are several connections to education that I want to share.

In his quest to become a grappler, Brennan has been scaffolded in the learning process.  He did not go to practice on the first day and get tossed to the ground, face shoved to the mat by a fellow wrestler.  He is being taught step by step how to approach wrestling, learning one small move at time.  Boy did it seem like an eternity to get him to understand that grapplers don’t stand tall, they have to get low!  From there they worked on making a move and wrapping low around the opponent's legs.  It goes on and on until last night when they finally sequenced a series of smaller moves introduced over time.  

As Ohio’s new learning standards face off with our students in the circle, we as their coaches scaffold their learning as they grapple with the new content, strategies, and methods entwined in the new standards.  We as educators have to plan for that teaching, plan how we will introduce the hierarchy of content and have a vision for what it looks like as a final product.  This takes time and experience, which we will all gain together as the years go on.  In the meantime, we have to show ourselves some grace, make decisions based on what we know right now, and be willing to continue to grow our knowledge base as we move forward.  

Brennan’s experience as a grappler is supported by several knowledgeable wrestling coaches, student models, as well as many helpful parents.  Each session, wrestlers watch as moves are demonstrated in the center of the circle by older wrestlers in the Marysville program.  They are then asked to practice those moves around the circle under the watchful eyes of the coaches. After several attempts, reteaching, and more modeling, the boys are sent off to grapple with the new move.  The coaches, parents, and older wrestlers actively monitor the practice and give individual feedback to boys as needed.  At the end of practice, Brennan leaves there knowing exactly what he was suppose to learn that night because he can reproduce the moves when showing and explaining it to his siblings.  

As I watch practice after practice, it is like I am smack dab in the middle of any classroom in Mechanicsburg.  We have worked so hard to master the notion of gradual release in the learning process.  Teachers begin each lesson with an “I can statement” to anchor the learning for the day.  From there, teachers introduce content, model, practice, reteach, and provide feedback to students.  These best practices are evident in the weekly lesson plans we review as an administrative team.  Principals are reinforcing these practices during OTES evaluations.  It is the expectation not the exception that students leave class being able to explain the daily learning target(s).  

Last week, Brennan must have been tossed to the ground 20 times.  Each time, I winced at his 45 pound little body bouncing off the mat.  But on the ride home, we talked about his partner and the mismatch in size (probably a good 15 lbs).  Rather than looking at the situation as a no win match, we talked about what he could have done to prolong the eventual toss to the mat.  Brennan came up with the solutions, not of all which would be legal I’m sure!  Doesn’t matter.  He was learning as a result.  

With our students facing online testing and new state standards, we must model for them the reflective process.  Students need the opportunity to discuss what they are learning about themselves, to problem solve, and to experiment with their strategies for learning.  This requires us to intentionally provide them opportunities for testing online and then time afterwards to share what worked, what didn’t, and what can be done differently next time.  Online assessments (online anything) are the platform that our students will soon know as customary.  We must decide what can we do to make the customary comfortable in the limited time we have with them each day.  We have to allow them to grapple with the unknown now, in order to get them to that level of success later.

Many of the “moves” in education this school year are new.  As educators, teaching teams, and buildings we must commit to “grappling”, scaffolding the learning of these new educational “moves” and gradually releasing teachers and students to learn, problem solve, and reflect.  

I love to learn from others, so if something strikes a chord with you, please share!

Danielle Prohaska
Superintendent of Schools
Mechanicsburg EVSD

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ohio’s New Assessments

As you know, Mechanicsburg had a Waiver Day/Professional Development Day on Monday October 27, 2014.  During this time, the teachers attended sessions focusing on Ohio’s New Learning Standards in  English Language Arts and Math, as well as preparing for Online Assessments in all content areas.  It was a jam-packed day of learning.  Boy were our brains exhausted!  

With Ohio moving to new learning standards and state assessments this year, teachers spent time understanding the features of online testing, exploring practice questions and  watching tutorials to assist in preparing students for new/revised content and online testing.  

Parents can access the following sites to explore what online testing includes as well as practice at home. (English Language Arts)

There have been many changes in testing for this school year.  Instead of taking OAAs this year, students are now taking Ohio’s Next Generation Assessments (except for 3rd grade which will still take a paper pencil reading OAA in the fall).  These assessments are all online.  

Here is a list of this year’s Next Generation Assessments
  • Grade 3: ELA and Math
  • Grade 4: ELA, Math and Social Studies
  • Grade 5: ELA, Math and Science
  • Grade 6: ELA, Math and Social Studies
  • Grade 7: ELA and Math
  • Grade 8: ELA, Math and Science (Algebra 1 if enrolled in course at Bunsold)
  • Grade 9: If currently enrolled in the following courses - Algebra 1, Geometry, English 9,
  • English 10, Physical Science, American History, U.S. Government

OGTs (Ohio Graduation Tests) not the Next Generation of Assessments are in effect for students in 10th-12th grade unless they are currently taking American History and/or US Government.  Those students currently enrolled in American History and/or US Government will take the Next Generation Assessments in those courses this school year.  

The Next Generation of Assessments consist of two sections taken at different times during the school year.  Individual grade levels and buildings will be sharing those exact dates with you as testing times approach.  

Mechanicsburg is preparing for Ohio’s New Learning Standards and Next Generation Assessments in a variety of ways.  This is a learning experience for all of us and a challenge that we are prepared to address.  You may see changes in how students take classroom assessments, taking online tests created by the teacher to become more familiar with the skills of online testing.  There will be changes in the timing of when content  is presented to better match the timelines for each section of the test.  Our students are also using devices more frequently in the classroom to increase their comfort and skill level in demonstrating learning via technology.  

The more practice your children have in “dragging and dropping” answers using the cursor, typing answers in sentences, scrolling and highlighting words on the screen, and completing online tables, the more comfortable they will be when they take the new state assessments.  

Please feel free to talk with your classroom teachers, building principals, or myself if you would like to know more about online state testing.  Our hope is to keep you informed so that you can talk with your children about online testing and help us in preparing them for testing this year!


Danielle Prohaska
Superintendent of Schools
Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Do you like Pickles? Get your jars ready!

Supt Blog Vol. 1 No. 4

I would suggest taking a few minutes to check out the Empty Pickle Jar video.   Whether or not you are an avid follower of Simple Truths messages, this one is worth watching, re-watching, and reflecting on as an mother (parent), spouse, leader, and educator.  We recently watched this video as an administrative team.  During that activity, the administrative team was asked to write their priorities on a golf ball.  What are the major things in your life?  Family, Friends, Church, and Community.  The BIG things in life!  

From there, we talked about the pebbles in the jar.  The pebbles are the things that matter to us at our place of work - the students, the instruction, the programs, the families, and the community we serve.  The pebbles fill in around the golf balls and help us feel whole, give us a focus for our work, and provide us with feedback on our worth as educators.  With golf ball and pebbles in place, one may say the jar is full.  But as the video goes on, we see that there is always room for sand.....pesky sand.  

Sand is what bogs us down, gets in the cracks, and even fills up the jar leaving less room for pebbles and golf balls.  Sand represents the trivial things that won’t help us shine the pebbles or drive the golf balls in our lives.  As the video shows, if begin with sand in our jar, we won’t be able to add the golf balls and pebbles later.  You have to START with the golf balls.  

We cannot be lead learners, coaches, spouses, parents, friends, mentors, and team members if we don’t know what our golf balls and pebbles symbolize.  We have to embrace the big things, the critical elements of focus, address the sand that fills in the cracks, and then brush away the excess sand that may bog us down.  As administrative team members, we must help each other when we focus more on the sand and less on the pebbles.  

It is a challenge to let go of sand even as it slips through our hands because little grains are ALWAYS left behind.  However, our strength and impact comes when we stand up at the tee and drive the golf ball down the fairway.....Or if you play more like me, when we take the time to find it in the trees and toss it back into the fairway.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Do you have your clean slate?

It was my pleasure to open the 2014-2015 school year on August 18th.  We celebrated many things including 10 new staff members, 9 internal shifts, positive preliminary district data, and revamped district initiatives.  

My welcome back message centered around the theme - clean slate.  This is not the traditional clean slate - erase the old and start fresh.   Its the type of clean slate that lets us ride the tide of change and reinvent ourselves, building upon the things that work while starting fresh in areas that need refinement.  This reinvention allows the border or frame of the slate to embody our great skills, work, and talents, while the center of the slate is our new opportunity for growth and professional risk.  This is what we do as educators, continually reflect on how to make the good even better.  Working tirelessly to leave our mark on the hearts and minds of our students, families, and community.  

I'm energized with the opportunity a clean slate presents.   I control what is written on my slate as the Superintendent of Mechanicsburg Schools.  My actions, my communication, my leadership, and my commitment to students will dictate the  words and images that will symbolize who I am as an educator in Mechanicsburg.  When I reflect back on this year, I want those words to characterize Mechanicsburg’s #1 priority - Achievement of all students as well as the district’s other goals.  

Jim Mahoney, Executive Director of Battelle for Kids, recently wrote about “August and September as the season of hope”.  You can find his blog here.  This blog reinforces our notion of the clean slate, rewinding the clock to continue what works, all the while adding in the new things that will move the hands of time.  

As educators and leaders, we should challenge ourselves and our staff to find our voice, craft our message, and continue to impact students positively each and every day.  We should also model for others the true spirit of a clean slate.  The events of previous school years, the disagreements, the miscommunications are in the past!  If we commit to a clean slate, we have to commit to leaving those things behind in the chalk dust.  If we carry them forward, we only limit the fresh space we have to reinvent ourselves and craft our new message.  
Take the challenge.  Don’t limit your potential!  Rewind only to pull forward what will have a positive impact on what you do!


Danielle Prohaska
Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools

Friday, August 22, 2014

Required District Posting - Please Read

Federal Court Instructs Ohio Districts to Post Information for Parents 
Concerning Data Release

A U.S. District Court has ordered that 2013-2014 school year records from the Ohio Department of Education’s Educational Management Information System be turned over to Disability Rights Ohio as part of an ongoing lawsuit.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, families of students whose data will be released must be notified and given the opportunity to object. The court is instructing all local education agencies to post notice about this opportunity to object on their district websites and in a central location, accessible to the public, in each building that is open to the public.

A copy of the notice – which includes instructions on how parents may object to the data release – can be found here. The court must receive objections no later than Sept. 12.

  • Students’ names, addresses and social security numbers are not part of the information to be released. Ohio is one of only three states that do not allow their departments of education to collect this data, to protect student privacy.

  • Data to be released for each student include student ID number, school name, grade, gender, race, age and disability category. 

  • The records also reveal student performance on the state’s Ohio Achievement Assessments and Ohio Graduation Tests, as well as tests related to Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee. 

  • Student suspensions and expulsions also are listed.

The data is subject to a protective order, which means Disability Rights Ohio cannot publicize it.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Making Personal Connections

It has been 8 days since I became the superintendent of “The Best Small School in Ohio”.  I have learned so much each day.  Some of those things have NOTHING to do with education but have EVERYTHING to do with supporting the district in fulfilling our educational vision.  Each day I have made a personal connection with someone on staff or in the community.  Asking about their new baby, checking in on the aging parent, visiting the fair, wondering about summer vacations or sharing stories about my own family adventures.....believe me with 3 children we have many especially since our  youngest is a mix of Pig-Pen and Denise the Menace :)  

I have met with the Mechanicsburg Public Library, Bicentennial Committee for the Village, and new teachers to the district as well as every supervisor, director, or administrator in the district.  Busy but important work!

This is not something that I am trying to do but something I want to do.  I am many things in addition to the district’s superintendent.  I am a mother, wife, friend, daughter, sister, runner, gardener, and shoe lover.  When we can connect with each other, share a piece of our lives outside of the job, we are more likely to build the trust needed to do the important work ahead of us inside our profession.    

“When you care about others, you are CONNECTED, which builds trust.”  -Ken Blanchard

I look forward to the connections that I will make as the superintendent of schools in Mechanicsburg. I challenge the administrative team, teachers, and support staff to go out on a limb and do the same. The gain is worth the risk we take when we open ourselves up to others.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Meet the Superintendent

Hello and welcome back to the 2014-2015 school year.  This is my first official message as the Superintendent of Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools.  For many of you, this introduction is not needed as I have spent the last 7 years navigating teaching and learning alongside a dedicated and talented staff.   However, I feel it is important to build trust and understanding during times of change, which will come as we all learn more about each other.  

My name is Danielle Prohaska and I became the superintendent of schools effective August 1, 2014.  On this journey to becoming superintendent of schools,  I have had the good fortune to have studied and learned from three different but talented and experienced superintendents along the way.  Each leader brought strengths and successes to the district which I will strive to capture as my tenure in the district grows.  In addition to working with knowledgeable superintendents, I have grown alongside several administrators who have been instrumental in the success of our district.  Additional partners include the Board of Education, PTO, Public Library, Battelle for Kids, BASA, and Madison Champaign County Curriculum Directors.  

I began my educational career as a speech pathologist for Triad and Mechanicsburg Schools in 2001.  From there I spent a brief time in Marysville as speech pathologist working with students with Autism before coming back to Mechanicsburg as the Director of Teaching and Learning.  I have 3 wonderful children ages 10, 9 and 5 and a very kind husband.  I enjoy watching and playing sports with my family, gardening, and running.  I am blessed with a strong network of family and friends.  

Since 2007,  the district has been VERY busy refining instructional practices, managing finances, and responding to changes in state legislation.  If I listed it all, you would never read another message from me again!!  This year will be just as exciting, opening a “new” middle school, piloting one to one Chromebooks in 6th and 7th grade, staggering the student start date K-5th grade to better assist student transition and assessment, and taking online assessments to measure student growth.  

Our efforts will continue to reinforce 4 critical questions we began asking ourselves five years ago:
  1. What do we want students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know they are learning?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t get it?
  4. What will we do for those who already get it?

As the year begins, I do not claim to have all the answers.  However, I do promise to:
  1. Always put kids first
  2. Ask the right questions and search out the information that is needed
  3. Make decisions based on the most accurate and timely data that is available
  4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  5. Listen first
  6. Be kind to myself and those around me as we learn and grow together
  7. Continue the excitement and passion for education that is the tradition at Mechanicsburg

Please understand that I have an open door policy and welcome your conversation and feedback.  I look forward to seeing teaching and learning in action in the classroom and watching our students and community grow as a result.  Follow me on Twitter @DanielleMProhas and my blog for important updates and trends in local and state education and additional ways to connect with me.  Also contact me at

Yours in Education,

Danielle Prohaska


Monday, July 14, 2014

What can we learn when we unplug?

One of my favorite questions to ask potential candidates during the interview process is how they find balance between their personal and professional lives.  As the next superintendent of Mechanicsburg Exempted Village Schools (17 days and counting down) and a mother to 3 children under the age of 10, balance is something I work very hard to find and maintain.  I owe that to both my job and my family and I strive to model it for those around me.

In preparation for the new position, I decided to unplug from work, spend time with family and friends, catch up on some unfinished projects, and recharge for August 1st.  I spent a fabulous week in the Traverse City Michigan area and as I reflect on our fun, I found some important lessons to pass along.  Modeling reflection along with the balance I mentioned earlier, is something I hope will characterize my leadership.

#1 BMX bike racing with the kids.  This is something we had not done before.  But instead of just watching, I strapped on a helmet and rode the course along side my kids.  How could I challenge my kids to do something new and different if I weren't willing to do it too.  As a bystander, we miss out on far too much, failing realize that we my have hidden talents or passions because we are too afraid to try something new. As an educator and leader, I shouldn't ask for things that I myself am not able to model.  

My kids LOVED racing.   They rode and rode until their little legs couldn't pedal fast enough to get up the hills.  I LOVED racing. We raced, laughed, watched more skilled racers and studied their patterns of riding. Education is a race, but if we all strap on helmets, study the practices of highly effective schools and ride the course together, I have no doubt we will all be better for it.

#2 4th of July Race.  My sister in law has started running and wanted to run a 4K on July 4th.  I decided to run also, as I find balance through running.  Some may say I am a competitive person, and that's not a total lie :)  So, as the race started, I set my target on a runner up ahead and used him to keep pace through the course.  As we got closer to the finish line, I began to close the gap on my target up ahead.  I ended up finishing 2nd in my age bracket and was mad that I didn't run faster and close the gap sooner....yes the competitive side of me.  

But think about it.  In education we have to set targets for our students, buildings, and districts and then have laser like focus on those targets.  Even with a 2nd place finish, I could have run faster down the incline, lengthened my stride more, and pushed harder at the end.  I want to model the attitude and mindset that there is always room for improvement or refinement in our educational practices and building operations.  We owe that to our students, families, and community and just as importantly to ourselves.  

#3 Goldfish at the fair.  My youngest approaches EVERYTHING he does with enthusiasm and 110% commitment.  He decided to try to the goldfish toss, tossing a ping pong ball into small fish bowls to win a free fish.  He used every ticket he had, adjusting the arch on his toss and the angle of his body position over and over again, getting closer with each attempt.  In the end, he never made a ping pong ball in the bowl.  He lipped it in and out, hit the edge, and had some roll off the rim.  

And then it happened, the kind girl behind the table REWARDED HIS EFFORT and gave him not one but TWO fish!  She saw his commitment and rewarded his growth rather than his mastery of the task and she MADE his year.  For a boy that loves everything, he is over the moon for these two an aside the fish traveled 7 hrs home in a solo cup and now have a lovely Sponge Bob Pineapple Home :)  We should all learn from the girl behind the goldfish stand.  Reward the growth of your students, educators and administrators for growth is just as important as mastery.  Growth sets the stage for future learning and eventual mastery, continued commitment, and excitement for learning and doing new things!

#4 The Blue Angels.  On July 5th, we sat along Traverse City Bay and watched the Blue Angels fly.  If you have watched the Blue Angels in person before, you know that you see the planes before you can hear them roar by.  You have to rely on anticipation and vision to predict where the jets will pass by next.  In the journey we call education, you have to have vision, anticipate trends in education and make adjustment before the "noise" is heard.  Once the noise settles in, we have missed the opportunity to impact education for the betterment of students.  

I am so excited to lead a district that has vision.  Mechanicsburg set out on a course of assessment practices, data analysis, systematic intervention, and formative instruction long before the 3rd grade guarantee or OTES came into effect.  It is that continued vision and anticipation to adjust to the changing landscape of education that will allow us to impact the lives of our students.  

I hope that those of you charged with leadership in your grade level teams, buildings, and districts have a chance to unplug, reflect and recharge for the important work that lies ahead in education.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

OTES and OPES "Re-calibration"

Updates from ODE on credentialing procedures

Teacher and principal evaluator training for “re-calibrating” credentials is delayed

Training and tests will be available in June, rather than mid-May as previously announced, for educators who need to update their credentials as evaluators for the Ohio Teacher or Principal Evaluation Systems. The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), which will administer the re-calibration process, will send notification of the training’s opening date to evaluators who have valid email addresses in the institute’s registration system.

Successful re-calibration is required every two years to maintain credentialed evaluator status. Re-calibration requires teacher evaluators to take three hours of online training and principal evaluators to take two hours of online training. Both teacher and principal evaluators also need to pass the appropriate tests. More information is available on thedepartment’s website.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Update on PSAT requirement for Fall 2014

UPDATE:  Following is helpful information in planning assessment timelines for 2014.2015

Last fall, Ohio schools were informed that they would be required to give PSAT assessments to high school sophomores beginning in October 2014. The Ohio Department of Education will not require that the PSAT be given in October 2014.

Currently House Bill 193 is pending in the Ohio legislature. This legislation may affect Ohio graduation and testing requirements. As a result, the department has chosen to postpone the PSAT to avoid any potential graduation or testing conflicts. When we have a clear picture of what graduation and testing requirements will be, we will share that with you.
We realize that this is a significant change for districts and appreciate your continued patience as we work through a changing system. Our goal is to ensure that we develop an assessment program that gives us a full and accurate picture of our students’ knowledge and skills, while avoiding unnecessary or duplicate testing.