In trying to repair its relationship with the community, the Wellington board of education is looking for inspiration from other school districts.
At a special work session March 30, Greg Ring, superintendent of the Educational Service Center of Lorain County, shared ways he helped Firelands Schools overcome comparable hurdles as its district chief from 2010 to 2012.
He also served as the Wellington Schools’ acting superintendent last summer between the departure of Dennis Mock and arrival of interim superintendent Tom Tucker.
At Firelands, it quickly became evident there were levy issues the board had to face. “I got out and talked to the community and just listened to how they felt,” Ring said. “I knew few people in Firelands personally. You have to go to them. It was in informal process in a district not very much different than Wellington.”
He urged the board to reach out to staff and parents.
“I sat down with every staff member, assistant principals, math teachers, bus drivers, every employee in the district one-on-one,” he said. “I’d set up a day at a certain place, be there from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and just let them come in. There’s nothing like a one-on-one conversation like that to talk about moving a district forward, and that’s always the goal of strategic planning.”
“You have to go to the people here,” he added. “It’s a mistake to take input from just a select group of people in a district this size. It’s small. You have the chance to talk to the vast majority of the community here. That’s the heart and soul of the success I had in Firelands.”
Ring said one-on-one meetings were also a crucial part in building his own relationships with board members in Firelands.
“I just wanted to discuss dreams and goals with different members,” he said, “not all together and not in executive session, but face-to-face at lunch. The feedback I got there made a huge difference when we came together for work sessions.”
Through this communication with board members, Ring set up about 40 “evening conversations” at residents’ homes.
“The board members helped me make up the list of who to visit,” he said. “They’d come with me on the calls. I’d lead the conversation, but they were there. They weren’t there for every one, but there was always an open invitation.”
Ring said Firelands hadn’t passed a levy in the 16 years before he arrived. After coming up short on a first attempt, voters approved it by a 58 percent margin in 2011.
“I was out there planting seeds, he said. “Once you speak to everyone, you find that opinions begin to cluster together in the community and that’s where your focus needs to be.”
Speaking later in the meeting was Desiree Caliguire-Maier, coordinator of business and community partnerships with Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools.
She said even though her district is substantially larger than Wellington’s, it has seen a proportionate drop in enrollment over the past 10 years.
“We’re still around 5,000 kids and used to be third largest in Cuyahoga County but that is declining,” she said. “A strategic plan when facing problems like this is a big monster but it’s not to be feared. I commend all of you for taking the initiative here.”
Board member Ayers Ratliff asked Caliguire-Maier about the importance of forming partnerships with churches and religious organizations.
“We put a committee together with Catholic presence, Jewish presence, a bit of Muslim presence, and all of the Christian denominations,” she said. “The superintendent and the principles of our buildings were responsible for reaching out and maintaining this presence.”
She said the board needs “complete uniformity” in how it shares information about present and future plans for the Wellington Schools.
“Be mindful of what you share,” she said. “Don’t be limited, but mindful. What’s put out there is seen as set in stone by the public but we all know things can change. Legislation from Washington or Columbus can change things.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.