A couple hours after dawn Friday nearly 2,000 packed into a Lakota school gym cheering and applauding as if the fall prep sports season had already started.
Instead of a sports rally though, it was Lakota Local Schools’ largest and most boisterous pre-school year kick-off in the district’s history.
Overseeing it all was new Superintendent Matt Miller, who wanted to make clear to the district’s 1,700 school employees, part-timers and volunteers their roles in the lives of the 16,500 students returning to classes Aug. 16 are appreciated.
“All of you are the heart and soul of the district,” Miller told the standing-room-only crowd from a podium on the gym floor. “And you can see the energy and the dedication here.”
The 8 a.m. rally at Lakota East High School in Liberty Twp. included a rousing entrance and performance by the Lakota East marching band and a heart-warming video of Lakota students giving positive shout outs to their favorite teachers from the past school year.
“All 1,700 of us in this room have in common a shared love, passion and pride in educating young students to be the best versions of themselves,” said Miller, who in his first weeks on the job has already been more active on social media than all previous district leaders combined.
Years before he became a member of the Lakota Board of Education, Ray Murray was a local school parent and volunteer in Ohio’s eighth largest school system.
Going back to the early 1990s, Murray said he has never seen such a pre-school year rally like the one he attended Friday along with other board members, all who voted earlier this year to hire Miller.
“This is awesome right here and things like this get everybody excited. The teachers are excited, the staff is excited, and people who aren’t even in the classroom are excited,” said Murray.
“Matt Miller is the person we were looking for all along. He is very smart, accessible and has a great sense of humor. The teachers and staff are going to love him. There are so many great things he has planned. Just watch them unfold,” he said.
Penny Musser, a veteran Lakota teacher at Creekside Early Elementary School, said she didn’t know what to expect when all district employees were invited to the rally. She left impressed and energized.
“This was really, really great for everyone in the room,” Musser said.
“I think we are up for a great year and for many years to come,” with new leader Miller, she said. “I’m very excited.”
Lakota Central Office staffer Andrea Davis said the rally “was very energizing and encouraging.”
Davis especially liked the video of student shout outs “on how teachers have impacted them.”
“It’s a great way to kick off the school year.”