State of Schools: Hamilton-area leaders share gains, woes during COVID-19

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The pandemic may have shut down a popular, annual event last year but it was revived Thursday with Hamilton-area education leaders taking a stage to tout their institutions.

“A lot has changed since we last had this event in February of 2020,” said Brian Pendergest, principal of Badin High School.

“We’ve lived through and continue to cope with a pandemic that has dramatically altered the ways in which all of us work. And the way students experienced learning … is completely different from anything you or I have experienced,” Pendergest told the full Marriott Courtyard by Marriott banquet hall – filled by school, business and community leaders attending the “State of the Schools Red Carpet Luncheon.”

“I’m sure none of the teachers here – and around the country – had ever taken a class in how to teach during a pandemic,” he said.

Despite the many and historical challenges of COVID-19, Pendergest – and the other event speakers – spoke on how their schools remain steadfast in their mission to raise the overall educational levels of the Greater Hamilton area.

Jon Graft, superintendent of Butler Tech, told the crowd his county-wide career school system continues to operate “with a sense of urgency” to advance the quality of the area’s workforce to better meet the needs of local employers.

“We are moving at the speed of business to meet the demands of the workforce,” said Graft.

But more funding and other resources are needed, he said, to help the Butler Tech, which is one of Ohio’s largest career schools, meet the workforce training and professional certification needed to fill open jobs now and in the future.

“There are almost 111,000 unfilled jobs in our region.”

“We have to expand the capacity of our campuses. But I’m sad to report that we had 2,270 (high school student) applicants this year but we could only (accommodate) 1,500 students … due to our limited capacity to expand,” said Graft.

Graft touted Butler Tech’s current expansion of its welding and EMT training and certification programs for teens and adults but said more funding is needed to meet the expanding job market in the region.

Ande Durojaiye, vice president and dean of Miami University Regionals, told the audience by 2050 more than 70% of jobs available will require a Bachelor’s degree.

“In our community here in Hamilton, only 14% of our population now have a Bachelor’s degree or higher,” said Durojaiye.

“We got a challenge of how will build that stronger (educational) pipeline … to meet our needs in the future,” he said.

Superintendent Mike Holbrook, who leads Ohio’s 18th largest school district, touted both his district’s size but also its focus during the upheavals since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020.

“We’ve had to tackle some really difficult decisions,” said Holbrook.

“We didn’t shy away from difficult decisions. We were leaders in those decisions with an eye out for what is best for our students and our community,” he said.

Holbrook spoke of the district’s recent and rare approach of spending the money to have two teachers in almost of the districts K-3 classes to help students make up learning losses due to the pandemic’s impact.

“We are starting to see some significantly exciting gains in our most recent testing,” he said. “And that is a huge compliment to our entire team.”

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