Talking success with the state

By Wayne Gates – 

Recent successes by the Georgetown school district are getting statewide attention.
In February, Ohio State Board of Education member Nick Owens invited a group of GEVS staff members, along with a student and Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler to address the state board on the successes of the Georgetown advisory period program.
The advisory period is a time during the school day where teachers concentrate on building personal relationships with students to make them feel more engaged in school.
The program has resulted in a long list of positive results, including lower discipline rates, higher academic and graduation rates and more consistent attendance.
Georgetown Superintendent Christopher Burrows, Jr/Sr High School Principal Jerry Underwood, teachers Chad McKibben, Heather Bertram and Tania Loudon addressed the state school board. Gusweiler and student Sosha Light also addressed the group.
“The presentation by Georgetown was very well received. I heard a lot of comments from my fellow board members after the meeting about how impressed they were regarding the things that Georgetown is doing and the level of community support,” Owens said.
“They were so impressed with the level of passion that the teachers and administrators showed for their school.”
Owens said that the Georgetown group talked about a concept that is also being discussed at the state level.
“Georgetown presented on what is essentially character education, which means that learning for our students is more than just academic content. Without a doubt, Georgetown’s successes are becoming part of the conversations in Columbus about how we can implement character education statewide.”
The concept that Georgetown employs involves teachers putting classwork aside for a few minutes a day and just talking with small groups of students.
The conversations are about personal responsibility, accountability and other concepts. As the students develop positive personal relationships with staff members, their behavior and classroom motivation begins to improve.
“What is created from our teachers knowing our students better is that the teachers have more empathy for the situations that the kids are dealing with every day,” said Underwood.
“Teachers begin to understand why a kid isn’t doing their work or why they want to lay their head down and sleep, or why a kid talks back to them. When they have meaningful conversations with the kids, the teachers feel what the kids are feeling and then they can get through to them and connect.”
Underwood said that positive results are beginning to show, both in data and in the classrooms.
“Kids are now attending class more consistently and they are being accountable for their grades. Fewer of them are out of school because of suspensions and expulsions. Our teachers are seeing that the benefit of the program is getting a more responsible student in the classroom.”
He added, “Our kids truly believe that our staff cares about them socially and emotionally and are trying to meet their needs so they can be a productive students in the classroom.”
Following the presentation, Georgetown staff members were all very pleased with the result of the presentation.
“It was a huge blessing and opportunity to not only share some of the great things we are doing at Georgetown, but hopefully have a positive impact on students across the state,” said McKibben.
Bertram said “It was such an honor to be able to take our story and journey to the State Board of Education. We strive to meet all of the needs of the student, not just the educational needs. Our staff is full of compassionate and loving teachers and I was humbled to be able to speak on their behalf to share all of the wonderful things that Georgetown is doing with our character education and mentoring.”
Loudon was pleased with the experience as well.
“We were so happy and excited to have the opportunity to share our story and success with the State Board of Education, that I believe it rubbed off on everyone in the room. The enthusiasm and engagement amongst everyone in the meeting was truly captivating. I was proud to be a part of this team, and to represent our District and Community as a whole.”
Student Sosha Light shared some of her personal background with board members, talking about she felt that her needs were not being met in other districts before she came to Georgetown.
“It was my honor and pleasure to represent my school and community at the Ohio Department of Education, as well as to share my life story and how #GirlStrong and Advisory have changed my life,” Light said.
GirlStrong is one of the activities that have grown out of the program. It involves high school girls serving as mentors to elementary school age girls.
Owens said that the Georgetown program can be implemented at other schools, but it requires more of an intellectual investment than a financial one.
“The type of things that Georgetown is doing can be replicated at very little cost. It does require a change in the school culture and a change of expectations and a change in the way a student is typically educated,” he said.
“I want the great things that have happened in Georgetown to spread throughout the state of Ohio. I think the first step was exposing those successes to a wider audience.”
Owens said that wider audience could include members of the state legislature.
“The (Ohio) Senate Education Committee chair is one of our ex-officio members of the board and she invited Superintendent Burrows to present to her committee in the future. We have board members from all over the state who saw things at the presentation that they have never seen before,” he said.
Burrows said that he hoped the larger exposure of the program would lead to more success, both in Georgetown and statewide.
“The biggest victory that came out of this experience was to give credence to the teachers that their work is very meaningful and is paying off for their students and is being recognized on a larger scale,” he said.
“The end game of public education is to respond to the needs of society. And I think we can agree that there is a need today to develop the whole child.”
Burrows also recognized Gusweiler for his efforts at getting the program off the ground.
“This whole thing would not be happening without the leadership of Judge Scott Gusweiler. I think he’s been monumental. He has offered to come in and talk to teachers or students. He took the time to travel with us to Columbus and try to make a difference on a grander scale,” Burrows said.