Busy year one: Lakota school leader says more changes to come

Matt Miller has been an Ohio school superintendent twice before, but the massive size of Lakota Schools took some adjustment during his first year as head of the Butler County district.

The 16,500-student district, which is the largest suburban district in Southwest Ohio, is also the eighth biggest in the state.

As the classes end this week for Lakota’s 22 schools spread throughout West Chester and Liberty townships, Miller looked back on his first year at Lakota.

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“The obvious difference is size,” said Miller, who has also worked as superintendent at Mentor and Celina school systems, both less than half as big as Lakota.

Also obvious from his first day on the job in August, he said, was the local pride in the school system.

Miller, a native of Greater Cincinnati, said he did a lot of listening and looking around his first months here.

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“People take a lot of pride in their schools and people tell you the way things are, but until you see the way things are, sometimes it’s on a different scale. I had almost 50 total sessions, community conversations and coffee chats when you couple all those together,” said Miller.

“The rule of thumb traditionally is as a new superintendent coming into a new community, you don’t make any big changes your first year,” he said. “That lasted until about winter break for me when we made the building changes on grade re-configurations and bringing back the specials (physical education, music and art classes for elementaries).”

“It probably went a little bit faster than conventional wisdom would say but we don’t have patience because we don’t want to wait one year to start something if it’s important to kids, let’s figure out a way to do it now,” said Miller.

Lakota Board of Education President Julie Shaffer — top officer of the elected board that hired Miller last year — said “he has had a great first year.”

“Matt has been very visible in the entire school community and has made a lot of positive changes,” said Shaffer, citing among those the return of gym, art and music classes.

Both Miller and Shaffer said the 2017-2018 school year largely focused on revamping kindergarten through 8th grades, but that the coming school year will target changes in for grades 9-12.

“I’m looking forward to what he is planning to do next school year,” she said.

Miller, who within months launched a half-dozen new social media and technology programs, said “everybody realizes we need to do more with technology as a tool in the district.”

He pushed for the creation of the district’s first Twitter account and the production of a series of YouTube videos highlighting different aspects of the school system. Lakota now has a new mobile app for school parents.

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District officials and teachers now hold weekly Facebook chats on a wide variety of school subjects, allowing busy school parents to participate and tune in at times convenient to their personal schedules.

And his initial school year included the creation of a new labor contract with Lakota’s 960 teachers through the next three years.

New programs for students also included installment of one of the region’s first, student-participant suicide prevention teams at the district’s two high schools for next school year.

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“There are a lot of good ideas the teachers have had that we have not fully embraced yet, or are fleshed out yet, I’m going to do because they know what their kids need,” he said.

Looking back on his first year at Lakota, Miller said he is proud of “listening, then following it up by reacting to what people were telling me and what I was seeing.”

“We have a whole of things to do, but we have at least gotten started,” he said.

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