The state superintendent of schools visited several Mahoning Valley districts on Friday. The goal was to get an idea of how students are learning. The visit could also signal a different approach to education in Ohio.
State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria makes a point to visit school districts around Ohio. He said getting out of his Columbus office keeps him connected to what’s happening across the state.
“Everybody’s different, so you might see one small district doing one thing, another small district doing something else and what we want is people to keep thinking about how can they keep getting better?”
He joined three districts — Sebring, Crestview and Leetonia — in round table discussions.
“Continuous improvement disposition is really something we all need to embrace because the world is changing, times are changing and we can always be doing things to get better,” DeMaria said.
This week, the Ohio Board of Education made changes to graduation requirements. It put less emphasis on standardized tests and is looking for ways to measure student achievement without them.
Since few students — and teachers — liked the tests, no one is upset to see a few of them go away.
“Almost to the point where the tests run the curriculum and run the day-to-day school operations,” said Leetonia Superintendent Robert Mehno. “I think that move is in the right direction.”
Mehno said standardized testing will always be a part of the program in Ohio schools, but he’s glad to see his teachers will have more leeway in what they teach.
“Kind of drift away from that, and still get back to teaching and still have accountability embedded in that.”
While in Leetonia, DeMaria visited several classrooms and heard about a community service project students put together.
Mehno said he hoped to show DeMaria how strong communities in Columbiana County support their local schools.
“The schools are at the center of that community and how important rural schools are in the state, as far as curriculum options and state funding.”
Even with schools having such a large role in the community, cutbacks and consolidation of buildings are happening more often.
It’s happening in Leetonia, too. Mehno said smaller enrollment means less money coming in, so the need to sustain funding is imperative.
Mehno wanted to show DeMario that rural districts can offer students learning that is on the cutting edge of technology, such as through the district’s virtual reality and robotics program. Another innovative program at Leetonia involves working with local businesses to supplement the science curriculum.
Mehno said the takeaway should be that these schools are at the heart of the rural communities they serve and state board leaders should continue to fund them appropriately.