Complementary to an online survey the district rolled out to the community, a handful of parents gathered in a public forum last week to provide insight on their ideal successor of the superintendent title for the Chagrin school district.

Parents highlighted key areas of pride in the district, such as small and personable class sizes, high achievement inside and outside the classroom and community involvement. They also talked about areas they want the next superintendent to improve on including diversity, inclusion and eliminating the stigma of being in “the bubble.”

Tom Ash and Karel Oxley of K-12 Business Consulting facilitated the Feb. 10 forum via Zoom where about 15 parents attended and offered up their suggestions on what the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Board of Education should consider when seeking candidates for the next superintendent, filling a position soon to be left vacant by Robert Hunt by the end of the academic year.

Dr. Hunt accepted a new position as superintendent of the Barrington 220 Community School District in Chicago, Illinois, last month. He said he will remain with Chagrin schools through the end of the academic year to ensure a smooth transition of leadership for the district.

The district hired the New Albany, Ohio-based consulting firm during the Jan. 25 meeting for $17,900 to facilitate the search for the next superintendent.

By soliciting input from the community, Mr. Ash explained, the firm will create a document that will be posted to the district website so the public and potential candidates can see what stakeholders are looking for in their next superintendent. He added that this will serve as the main recruiting tool for the district and will guide the interviewing process.

Mr. Ash asked the parents to name strengths and areas of pride in the district in which potential candidates should be interested.

Hans Rohr of Chagrin Falls highlighted the district’s sense of community and individual focus on students and how the two support each other.

Mr. Rohr, a father of five, explained that he appreciated calls from district teachers inquiring about his children’s wellbeing when some of them were out of school due to illness. The teachers reassured him that the children would not fall behind in class, he added.

Melanie Halvorson of Chagrin Falls added that small class sizes support stronger one-on-one connections between students and their teachers and allow more opportunities for involvement in the school.

“Having small grade sizes means that students get the opportunity to participate in athletics and different clubs at a much higher rate than at a larger school,” she said.

“That small grade size and small class size does not take away from the ability to be competitive with other different school districts,” Laura Hui of Chagrin Falls chimed in, noting that while the community is smaller than some neighboring districts, “the big fish in the little pond can still swim in the big pond.”

Beth Harbaugh of South Russell said the district also has a reputation in supporting students who may fall “in the middle of the road” academically, adding that the schools promote success in all students without focusing on just the high achievers.

In terms of what the district needs, more diversity in curriculum at the lower grade levels and developing a more welcoming atmosphere to those who may be new to the district were of top concern.

“I think diversity is a struggle being that we are a bubble,” Mrs. Harbaugh said. “I would like to see more introduction of different things that would introduce not just diversity of race, but gender, sexual orientation, all sorts of things.”

Parents said they were happy with the diversity of the curriculum at the upper grade levels, but this is something that could be introduced sooner and better at the lower levels.

Mrs. Harbaugh noted ties to bullying, saying that she knows of families with students who were new to the district or did not grow up here who struggled with this.

Mrs. Halverson cautioned Mr. Ash and Ms. Oxley against using “the bubble” from an advertising standpoint “because it has been seen as exclusionary.”

Several parents chimed in with anecdotes of their students being bullied when they moved into the district, noting the issue can also be seen amongst parents.

One parent noted that her group of friends within the school community are all individuals who moved into the district and were not those with longtime roots in the community.

The district is not unfriendly, Mrs. Harbough said, “and I don’t feel like people want to keep people at arms length, but I think that, especially with the students coming in, there’s a lot they’re just expected to know [about] how the school works without it really being told to them.

“This is not an easy district to move into,” she said.

Ms. Oxley said this is a concern in other districts that she has worked with, noting bullying and implementing diversity into schools is an issue that goes beyond the borders of Chagrin Falls.

“I want to just extend this thought to a new superintendent,” she said. “If a new superintendent moved into this community, would the community be welcoming?”

Mrs. Harbaugh said she thinks having administrators not from the community could be an asset to the district.

In addition to bringing in a “fresh perspective,” having more leaders from outside the community may help new students feel more comfortable moving into the district.

When asked what characteristics and qualities the parents would like to see in a new superintendent, they commended Dr. Hunt’s connection and communication with the district as well as his ability to advocate for Chagrin at the state level.

Mrs. Halvorson said she would like a superintendent to continue the district’s goal of hiring and retaining staff and administrators who seek out the community and who don’t shy away from hard conversations like bullying and implementing stronger diversity.

Mr. Rohr said in addition to a superintendent with high visibility, Dr. Hunt’s successor would need to withstand both positive and negative feedback from the district.

“You also have to be able to deal with a lot of very strong opinions about what’s best and what’s not,” he said.

In the chat, participants emphasized compassion, forward thinking and someone who is present.

Lisa Todaro said she is looking for “a leader who is willing to move the district forward and make strong relationships with teachers, students, staff, community and [at the] state level.”

“Compassion, professionalism, forward thinking, technology prowess, and [the] ability to [prepare] for college/career in a practical and open-minded manner,” Melanie Hoffmann wrote. “Dr. Hunt has always had a great vision.”

For those who were unable to attend the live forum, K-12 Business Consulting provided an online survey that was available to the public through Feb. 12.

Mr. Ash said the initial round of interviews will take place March 29 and March 31 with the second round expected to take place April 13 and April 14. He said the goal is for the board of education to select the next superintendent the morning of April 15.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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