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Village Schools

YS principal finalists address community

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As the last of three candidates to be interviewed this week for the principal position at Yellow Springs High School and McKinney Middle School, Jack Hatert’s public presentation Wednesday evening, March 13, came after the News went to press.

The News attended each evening session, and a story in the March 14 print edition includes highlights from the other two candidate sessions: Monday, March 11, with Julie Taylor, currently curriculum supervisor for secondary education at Beavercreek City Schools, and Tuesday, March 12, with Ejovwokoghene Odje, assistant principal at Thurgood Marshall STEM High School in Dayton.

Nearly 30 people, including parents, students, teachers, district staff and community members, attended the final interview session with Hatert on Wednesday. The turnout was similar, but slightly smaller, than previous evenings. The sessions also were streamed live online and are posted on the district’s Youtube channel.

Interim principal at the high/middle schools since March of last year, Hatert has spent his 13-year educational career in Yellow Springs Schools. Most recently assistant principal at the high/middle school, he stepped into the head position last spring after former Principal Tim Krier went on leave in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct against a family member enrolled at the high school. 

He told the community members gathered Wednesday evening that while he knew the interim appointment was temporary, he committed to the job as though it were permanent.

“I committed to being principal until 2044,” he said, referring to the year he would be eligible to retire.

Each candidate had been asked to speak about themselves as well as their educational philosophy.

Hatert said that he grew up in the rural community of Ansonia, taking a job in seventh-grade working for neighboring dairy farmer before school each morning. He stayed with the job through high school graduation. A three-sport athlete — track, football and basketball — he joined “every club” and was class valedictorian, earning a full scholarship to Wright State University.

He said that while growing up he developed three basic values that remain foundational to his worldview:

• “Hard work is undefeated” is the first. Hatert said he might not be the smartest or most talented person in a room, but “I’ll work harder. … I have no problem asking questions or seeking resources.”

• “Happiness is a choice” is the second. “This profession is tough,” he said. “You have to have hard conversation with students, parents, teachers, colleagues,” and it’s important not to become burned out. As an administrator, he said he seeks to promote ways to keep teachers and staff feeling supported and appreciated.

• “How you treat people really matters” is the third. “You can have tough conversations in a gentle way,” he said.

At Wright State, Hatert earned a bachelor’s (2005) and master’s degree (2006) in middle childhood education and later a master’s in educational leadership (2011). He also went back and completed the principal licensure program there in 2017.

Hired by Yellow Springs Schools upon completion of his first master’s in 2006, he spent his first two years teaching fifth and sixth grade at Mills Lawn before moving up to McKinney Middle School. After teaching middle school math for three years, he spent a year as the half-time assistant to the principal and a half-time math teacher.

But he realized that year, he said Wednesday, that he wasn’t ready for the administrative position, and so returned to the classroom full time. He then taught seventh-grade math and science for three years, at which point he felt more prepared to return to the assistant principal role, taking the half-time position, while teaching PBL Foundations half time, in 2015.

Hatert and his wife, Renee, an intervention specialist with Cedarville Schools, live with their two children, Carson and Adley, in the countryside between Wilberforce and Cedarville.

Hatert said that while he is passionate about his work with Yellow Springs Schools, his family is the top priority in his life, and he believes strongly in maintaining and supporting a healthy work-life balance, not only for himself, but also for all teachers and staff.

As for his educational philosophy, Hatert highlighted an experiential approach.

“Education has to be an experience,” he said. “Our kids need to leave our schools with more skills than just learning content.”

A champion of the district’s PBL model, Hatert nevertheless believes there is room for growth. “When it’s hitting all cylinders,” all students are served, he said. “The work is to develop more inspiring projects and more inspiring instruction.”

He said he measures educational success less by test scores and more by “what our kids are doing five years after graduation.”

In terms of staff development, he wants to foster a work environment “that is challenging and equally rewarding,” according to a handout he distributed that listed his vision for students, staff and community.

Some of his goals for the school include engaging in more restorative justice work with students, introducing more experiential learning experiences and instigating deeper relationships with the community.

In addition to fielding more general questions asked of the other candidates, Hatert also responded to queries about the professional lessons he learned in the wake of last year’s revelations of sexual misconduct by a student.

Hatert said he has learned more about civil rights, Title IX law and Title XI law, and the importance of staff training to know and understand the best practices for student health and well-being.

“We have a responsibility” to make sure students’ rights are protected, he said.

Social-emotional learning is an important component of education, Hatert said.

“We have to take care of the whole kid,” he said. “They’re growing as people, not just as students.”

District Superintendent Mario Basora said earlier this week that he expects to come to a decision about the new principal during a school board executive session Thursday, March 14, immediately before the regularly scheduled board meeting that evening. There is no anticipated action, however, during the public meeting.

Basora said the district’s plan is to make an offer to the chosen candidate on Friday, if one is named. Once the offer is accepted, the board will hold a special public meeting during which Basora will officially recommend the candidate for board approval. If approved, the new administrator’s contract will begin with the 2019–20 school year.

Basora said Tuesday night that if there is a widespread feeling after the final session Wednesday that none of the candidates is viable, then the district will continue its search.

“We want the best person for the job of leading McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School,” he said.

In lead up to the final decision, the three candidates — out of a field of 22 original applicants — each participated this week in day-long individual interviews that included sessions with teachers, students and community members.

Basora said each interview day began with a professional development meeting for faculty and continued with interviews by separate groups of teachers and students. The candidates also observed a teacher in the classroom and then gave personal feedback, with Basora observing the interaction. In the midst of the day, was a meeting with an “unhappy parent,” role-playing distress about a real-life-based scenario in which an assistant principal had told the parent’s child that his one-act play, titled “Cat Calls,” could not be performed that weekend.

One community member on Monday noted that the candidates must be exhausted by the time they got to their evening sessions and likely not at their best.

“This is what the life of a principal is like” Basora said. The days are long and include many different kinds of interactions, he added.

The public sessions gave a glimpse not only into the candidates’ backgrounds and educational philosophies, but also some of the issues that are important to the community.

Each session was divided into three 30-minute segments: a presentation by the candidate, a question-and-answer period and a followup time when the candidate wasn’t present and community members shared their thoughts and reactions. 

The candidates fielded questions about handling racial incidents at school, the meaning of a safe environment, electronic devices, social media, educational engagement and project-based learning, or PBL, among others.

Julie Taylor, who has been with Beavercreek Schools since 2016, titled her presentation “Leading with Integrity.”

She opened by thanking the district for the hospitality shown her throughout her visit Monday, adding that “the highlight” of her day had been spotting comedian Dave Chappelle downtown.

In a power-point presentation, she explained that her educational philosophy “begins with character qualities.” And she listed those qualities as authenticity, integrity, and transparency.

She described herself as a good listener as well as a strong collaborator, adding that she appreciates the Yellow Springs community’s involvement in the schools.

“The inclusion that this school system has with its community is [second to] none,” she said.

In addition, she said she wanted to join the Yellow Springs school district in large part because she is “so passionate about PBL,” which forms the foundation of the district’s curriculum.

A resident of Centerville, where she lives with her three children, Taylor worked for over six years with Springfield City Schools, as an assistant principal and curriculum coach, before joining Beavercreek. Prior to that she taught math through the ECOT online school while her children were small. She also has taught math in the Vandalia-Butler and Northmont school district.s

A native of Greenville, Ohio, she has a bachelor of arts degree in secondary mathematics from Wilmington College, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Dayton, She earned superintendent certification from Miami University last year.

In response to the final question of the night — “What haven’t we asked you that you think we should know?” — Taylor replied that “100 percent, my philosophy when coming to a new situation is building relationships. One of the strengths I have is building relationships, not only with teachers and students, but also fellow staff and administrators. I also welcome the input of community members. Nothing gets done if you don’t have strong relationships.”

Ejovwokoghene Odje, in his evening session Tuesday, also stressed the importance of relationship building.

He said he had been impressed by his day spent in the middle/high school.

“Everybody’s so personable here. Everyone is so happy,” he said.

He also observed “some great teaching,” he said.

A life-long resident of Xenia, Odje has spent the past six years in education at Thurgood Marshall STEM School in Dayton, the first four as a teacher and the last two as an administrator. Prior to joining Dayton Schools, he said he worked for over seven years with Greene County Juvenile Courts as a counselor and counselor trainer at the juvenile in-treatment center.

He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science and government, licensure in AYA integrated social studies and a master’s of education in instructional leadership/instructional technology, all from Central State University. He also completed the secondary school administration/principalship licensure program at Wright State in 2016, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He said he enjoys bicycling, reading and traveling with his family. An early career dream was to be a chef, and he learned cooking and baking skills from his mother and aunts.

He said that before the beginning of each new school year he reads “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” by Paulo Freire.

He identified three main principles of his educational philosophy — which he called “purposes.”

• “The purpose of school is a vehicle to deliver a relevant education.”

• “The role of the teacher is the facilitator.”

• “Students best learn when these elements are aligned.”

Expanding on those fundamental purposes, Odje said, “Students need to feel safe, need to feel encouraged, [that] what [they] say matters.”

Odje also spoke about his support for the district’s PBL model, and said that he wanted to help the district take PBL to the next level.

He said he believes in high standards, but also meeting students where they are. He values developing an authentic rapport with students, “talking to students about what’s going on in their lives.”

Contact: csimmons@ysnews.com

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