Roy Exum: New Schools On Agenda

Thursday, October 19, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Hamilton County School Superintendent Bryan Johnson confirmed on Wednesday that a plan for several new public schools will be included on Thursday night’s School Board agenda. Hamilton County has fallen woefully behind other metro school districts in the state and, with an estimated $340 million in deferred repairs, upgrading facilities - that now average over 40 years old - was just one of the key topics he addressed in a “State of the Schools” address to area PTA officials on Wednesday.

Johnson, now in his third month, freely admitted the HCDE is in somewhat of a ‘neutral’ state right now, with so many needs that have not been addressed by the last three superintendents who all “left early.” With a solid transition team in place and “a fabulous team” just assembled to guide our weakest schools in what is called an “Opportunity Zone,” the energetic superintendent has made a remarkable start.

“We want the Hamilton County schools to become ‘the fastest improving district in the state,’ ” Johnson told about 50 PTA leaders. “Understand, it will take two or three years to build new schools but there are a lot of things we can change right now and the biggest change must be our culture.

“We have to take a comprehensive look at everything. If you change everything you change nothing so our approach is to take the bright parts of our school district and make them brighter. Too often you let your problems dictate your actions. We want to be pro-active. Sure, you’ve got to react when you must but I want our educators to aggressively build on a lot of good things that are going on in the schools.”

The ‘super’ pointed to a new computer system that will engage parents with the schools and the teachers. “We’ve got 46,600 students and we’ve already got 10,000 parents signed up. We’ve got to recruit parents and guardians to get involved. I’ve got a daughter who takes (honors) chemistry and my expertise definitely doesn’t include chemistry,” he laughed, “but I can still say, ‘Let me see your homework.’ She’s one of the greatest things in my life. I want to be part of that.”

Johnson toured all nine of Hamilton County’s political districts where he held “listening sessions.” From those meetings he formed the Four C’s of the 21st Century – “Collaboration, Communication, Commitment to Critical Thinking, and Creativity. If we can equip each of our graduates with these traits, we’ll be a success.”

At another point, Johnson quoted one of his favorite authors, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” he said. “Sure, we’ve got to have strategy – a game plan – both for now and long range but if we ever hope to change where we are right now, it will be by changing the culture of education in Hamilton County.”

No one should take Johnson’s belief that the HCDE is in “neutral” as a lack-of-action. “No, I’m excited over what we’ve done these first three months. We are moving forward, as you could see (Tuesday) when the ‘Opportunity Zone’ got its kickoff. Jill (Levine) has got an excellent staff but that doesn’t mean we have ignored the schools outside the zone, not at all.”

Johnson’s transition team is filled with ideas and the HCDE has found 14 “business partners” that will become actively involved with public education. “Each of these businesses is a huge success,” he pointed to Unum, Blue Cross, Erlanger, Volkswagen, McKee and others. “Their expertise will be invaluable to 21st Century education.”

“Within the next 10 years there will be 46,000 jobs available and it is imperative our students are properly taught so they can fill these jobs. Think about that. Today it has already started. We have to mold our culture in order to best equip the students for jobs that will pay somewhere around $60,000. That’s the goal.”

Thursday night's expected announcement for badly-needed schools in densely-populated areas will also require new district lines to be drawn. This means children will be in new zones at different schools. “I’m a big believer in patterns where a child knows exactly where he’ll attend middle school and high school when he’s still in elementary schools. I like a ‘family’ progression,” he said.

So when he says the school district is in neutral, what that really means it is being carefully steered on a far-better course towards the “bright spots.” And the view from here is that it’s picking up speed.

royexum@aol.com


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