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A Message from the Superintendent

April 2016
 
Dear Students, Parents, Staff Members, and Residents,
 
It is hard to believe there are less than two months remaining in the 2015-2016 school year. What a year it has been already! It is amazing how much our students, teachers, staff, support staff and administrators have accomplished since I wrote you in January after our winter break. Their outstanding work truly makes Shaker Heights the first choice school district for all students, both locally and around the globe.

On a daily basis, our graduating seniors are receiving exciting news about colleges and universities, and it is no surprise that Shaker graduates are sought out by the top institutions around the world: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Naval Academy and the Julliard School, to name just a few. These young people deserve our congratulations, as do the parents, mentors, teachers, administrators and counselors who prepared them for continued success.

There has been much news coming out of our District. After several months of constructive negotiations, we reached a collective bargaining agreement with our Support Teachers. The agreement addresses issues such as a career ladder, job sharing and professional learning for our Support Teachers, and provides additional salary incentives tied to adoption of the International Baccalaureate philosophy, meeting the social and emotional needs of our students, and the additional time needed to meet professional learning objectives. It recognizes the hard work and dedication of these education professionals and provides a strong foundation for the continued success of our instructional staff and the students and families they serve.

Since winter break, we have held six well-attended community meetings designed to gather ideas and feedback about development of a Master Plan led by our assistant superintendent of business and operations, Mr. Stephen Wilkins. This Master Plan will address options to update and maintain the eight Shaker schools and four nonschool facilities (administrative building, data and technology building, service center and transportation depot). Additionally, the District became eligible for matching grant funds provided by the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) under the Classroom Facilities Assistance Program (CFAP). The District master plan will assess the optional use of state matching funds to leverage available funding to update its facilities. The insights of the community and staff have been appreciated and will help the Board of Education determine what path the District will take in the near future.

Just before spring break, we announced that Jonathan Kuehnle accepted our offer to become the next principal of Shaker Heights High School. Mr. Kuehnle, currently Campus Director at Springfield High School in the Springfield City School District in west-central Ohio, emerged as the strongest of more than 100 applicants from 24 states, the District of Columbia and India. He will begin this summer. I know that you will join me in welcoming him and his family to Shaker. We would be remiss, of course, if we did not express our sincere gratitude to our interim principal, James Reed, who provided us strong and steady leadership at a crucial time of transition and change.

With summer just around the corner, excitement is building around the District's new Summer, Exploration, Learning and Fun (SELF) program, which will provide a wide array of summer program options for all students in our District. It is the first time our District has partnered with museums, the Great Lakes Science Center, the Shaker Heights Recreation Department and other community assets to give our students challenging and enjoyable summer opportunities right here is Shaker! SELF addresses barriers that currently exist and focus on equity, excellence and exploration by providing differentiated services and enrichment opportunities for all Shaker students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Programs will have a focus on the arts, STEAM, world languages, career and personal development. All of our programs offer a robust curriculum that includes a focus on the Literacy and Math Standards.

There are only a handful of seats remaining in Shaker's First Class, the only preschool program in the state of Ohio to incorporate the prestigious International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme philosophy with continuation in K-12. This fall, we will offer two full-day Pre-K classes for children beginning at age 3 through a two-year cohort. The classes, which will be taught by degreed teachers, will be based at Mercer and Onaway but will serve students from all throughout the District. A component of the program will be supported by Family Connections and SPARK Ohio, and participating families will experience family field trips such as outings to University Circle museums and nature centers. Thanks to our philanthropic partners for their commitment to this groundbreaking program!

We will soon present a white paper to the Ohio Department of Education reflecting our thoughts and recommendations around implementation of the new federal Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA). Through our ESSA Task Force led by assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Dr. Terri Breeden, we have been working with community leaders as well as educators to ensure Shaker is an important advocate and voice for all public school children across our state. One of our main priorities is to make sure our state utilizes multiple data points and differentiated ways to determine mastery of state learning standards to ensure that our students progress every year.

I would like to acknowledge the tremendous work our principals have done with our teachers and staff to refine and improve the Action Plans for our schools. We are now in our third cycle of work this year, and it is exciting to see how each school plans to meet our Strategic Goals. Our quarterly meetings with the principals, teachers and staff provide valuable insight that can be shared throughout the District and assist with making informed district-wide decisions.

Likewise, input and feedback from our teachers have been the basis for amendments and revisions to our math and English curricula. We are now turning our attention of science and social studies to ensure that we have the resources we need to support the curriculum and deliver high-quality instruction. Additionally we are surveying our K-4 parents and teachers about homework practices, and we are working with all K-4 teachers to ensure that our report cards reflect recent curriculum changes and are easy to understand.

Our District Calendar Committee led by our chief of staff, Dr. Marla Robinson, which consists of students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community members, continues its important work of developing calendars for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years. Through a survey, hundreds of stakeholders provided feedback to inform the Committee's work. The Committee is now in the process of developing two or three draft calendars for the community's consideration. It will present a final draft to the Board in June and a final recommendation this summer. The Committee has been studying a wide range of issues, ranging from the best placement of professional learning days to determining an appropriate high school start time.

Finally, our Communications Advisory Council led by the executive director of communications/public relations, Mr. Scott Stephens, is helping us craft a comprehensive communications plan that will enhance our communications efforts for years to come. The Council, which consists of a dozen communications professionals who reside in Shaker, has also assisted us in refining Measuring What Matters, our web site redesign and other communications issues. Their advice and counsel have been invaluable!

As you can see, there is quite a lot happening in the Shaker Schools. We continue to engage all stakeholders in our work and will continue to strive for excellence, equity and exploration through collaboration and transparency. As we continue to embark on our efforts to continue our tradition of excellence, it is imperative that you participate in our community engagement opportunities and advocate for all young people in Shaker. A community is known by the schools it keeps and your voice is power. I wish you a happy and productive remainder of the school year!

Sincerely,
Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., Ed.D.
Twitter: @DrHutchings
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