Top local school leaders reflect on 1st year and look toward challenges ahead

For some area school superintendents, the closing down of classes for summer break also marks the end of their rookie years as leaders of their districts.

The four — Kathy Demers of Monroe Schools, Ed Thourex of Talawanda, Lisa Tuttle-Huff of Madison and Jon Cooper of Mason Schools — told the Journal-News they are both looking back at successes and forward into next school year’s next challenges.

Some of the school leaders have already been tested by historic circumstances.

Tuttle-Huff has seen her Madison Schools system in the spotlight as the district’s governing school board has taken the region’s lead in arming some trained school staffers to enhance security.

The actions have divided some in the rural Butler County community and fostered a legal battle that eventually saw Madison officials win initially in court — though an appeal is in process.

And Madison officials are still contending with another lawsuit concerning the freedoms of public speakers to comment during school board meetings largely brought on by the district’s armed staffer policy.

MORE: Judge rules in favor of Madison Schools’ arming staffers, appeal in works

MORE: Lawsuit: Madison Schools restricting public speaking at board meetings

But Tuttle-Huff, who is a public schools’ administrator veteran, said those contentious issues don’t overshadow the 2018-2019 school year accomplishments nor optimism about next school year.

MORE: Madison Schools to shift 6th graders into middle school wing next school year

Madison is gearing up to create a revised strategic plan that includes input from all parts of their school communities.

“Our district leadership team has worked tirelessly to strategically plan for the years to come,” said Tuttle-Huff. “We have decided on the best course of action for the district through meetings with business leaders, parent meetings and surveys, community input meetings and surveys, faculty and staff surveys, and student focus groups and surveys.”

Demers’ Monroe Schools recently got a boost in its district’s formulating a new strategic plan by landing a $5,000 grant from Duke Energy toward that effort.

MORE: Monroe Schools land Duke Energy grant to help with strategic plan

“The strategic planning process was the most significant accomplishment our district team attained this (school) year,” said Demers.

“Our Strategic Planning committee engaged the local community and the school district staff in an extensive series of focused dialogues and planning around the future of teaching and learning. Our Monroe Schools Strategic Plan will be our road map for the 2019-2020 school year,” she said.

In Talawanda Schools, Superintendent Ed Theroux is eager to put into effect his district’s new strategic plan starting when classes resume in August.

“Next (school) year it will be important to begin implementing the new strategic plan,and we are looking forward to working on the goals and strategies we have developed together,” said Theroux.

The Oxford-area school system will also continue its efforts to “focus on the under served population in our community,” including mental health supports, he said, through the district’s partnerships with Primary Health Solutions and Tri-Health “to provide school based health services to all of our students.”

Jon Cooper, superintendent of Mason Schools – Warren County’s largest district – touted his schools’ more than 70 community conversations during this school year.

“At nearly each one, neighbors shared how proud they are to live in Mason Schools, but also gave ideas for how we make big schools feel smaller and how we raise healthy kids,” said Cooper, whose district recently drew national attention for eliminating its valedictorian and salutatorian honors to lessen student competitiveness for those academic honors.

MORE: Mason Schools do away with valedictorian, salutatorian

The 11,000-student district in southern Warren County has for years featured southwest Ohio’s largest student population of Asian-American students.

“We love our community’s diversity and innovative spirit. It is exciting to lead a team of educators who care deeply about making sure everyone feels valued. We’re not looking at one-size fits all in Mason, rather we are building a personalized experience that honors each person’s story,” said Cooper.

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