Dr. Miller's Blog

Dr. Miller's Blog

Dr. Kimberly Pietsch Miller, EFCTS superintendent/CEO

Powerful Lessons

September 23, 2021
It has been an interesting week. One with moments of joy and one with moments of disappointment. It has been a week that has left me wondering, “What are we teaching our children?”

As a superintendent that question could easily be answered with lists of courses, specific content, academic and career skills. Most educators would also point to what we call social and emotional skills: self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and so on. But this week, I am still left with the question: what are we, all of us, our society, teaching our children?

This week I spent time in one of our cosmetology labs with a student who is learning how to massage a client’s hand as part of a manicure. I volunteered to let her practice with me. She had to check her notes for technique a few times but she was flawless in engaging me, her client, in conversation throughout the session. She asked about me and my day. She showed real interest. The adults in her life have taught her the power of connecting with others and taking an interest in them. Powerful lessons.

This week I was sent the video of a school board meeting. A friend is the superintendent in that district. I watched as public comments were made by community members. Those comments were not just expressions of disagreement with the board and superintendent, they were insults, criticism of character, and displays of disrespect. Unfortunately, there were students in the room. The adults in their lives are also teaching them. Powerful lessons.

Since March of 2020 I have watched as we have become more and more divided. We don’t just disagree, we disregard. I fear that we are teaching our students that the way to express themselves is with words of hate. I fear that we are teaching our children that when someone disagrees with them, that person is to be dismissed. I fear that our children will do as we do.

Luke Bryan sang the 2017 hit song “I Believe Most People are Good” and I, too, believe that people are good. The past 18 months, however, have been hard. Hard times can do one of two things; they can make us bitter or they can make us better. As I walk through our schools and interact with our students, I am encouraged. Many adults in our students' lives - parents, teachers, coaches, and family members - have taught them wonderful lessons of kindness and compassion. But as I watch the news, listen to my colleagues, and read some of my emails, I am also keenly aware that we are also teaching lessons to our children through our actions and words that are less than kind and compassionate.

I believe most people are good. I believe most people do care about one another. I believe many people are hurting right now. And I believe that we can let bitterness go and choose to be better. I hope that we can. Our children are watching us, and they are learning powerful lessons!



Priorities

September 9, 2021
With the arrival of September and fully settling into the school year, you may be feeling the stress of life that is getting busier and busier. Whether you have returned to the classroom yourself or your children are back to school, this is the time of year when our calendars seem to get fuller. Athletics are underway, events such as concerts and parent information sessions are being planned, and making space in our lives for homework after a summer off are just some of the demands on our time and attention. And let’s not forget the additional duties and committees that come with returning to school.

How do you fit it all in? After all, there are only 24 hours in a day, and we really do have to sleep at some point!

The answer is prioritization.

In my last blog, I referenced Jim Collins' book Good to Great. The book provides an explanation of how some companies and organizations become great while others remain simply good. One of the characteristics of great organizations is the ability to identify their hedgehog concept. The parable of “The Hedgehog and The Fox” illustrates that when we behave like a fox “pursuing many ends at the same time and seeing the world in all its complexity” we become scattered and fail to accomplish what really matters. When we identify our hedgehog concept, we are able to focus on the basic principle or idea and that focus is what unifies and guides us. In other words, we prioritize and go after only the most important goals.

Brene Brown also addresses the importance of prioritization in her book, Dare to Lead, writing about values. When presented with a list of values and asked which of those guide a person, many people will pick 10, 15 or even more. But if we are really going to live our values, we have to really prioritize that list down to 3 or 4.

Here is the point. If everything is a priority or a value, then nothing is. We simply cannot do everything and do it well. Life is complex and ever-changing. The way to succeed and thrive in a complex world is to prioritize.

At Eastland-Fairfield, we are well into our strategic planning so that we can focus our efforts and our resources. We have asked for and are using the input of many stakeholders, which has led to lots of great ideas and values to pursue; however, we have to condense that input into a focused and manageable plan that we can actually accomplish. Our plan will be ambitious. It will also be focused on the priorities that get at the heart of what we are about at Eastland-Fairfield: preparing and guiding our students to success through exceptional educational experiences. That is our hedgehog concept, that our priority is our students.

Image of Fox and Hedgehog parable


Good to Great

August 26, 2021


In 2001, Jim Collins published a book that was widely read by business leaders and eventually many educational leaders picked it up as well. The book was titled, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don’t. In chapter 1: “Why Good Is the Enemy of Great”, Collins explains that what keeps companies, schools, teams, etc. from being great is the fact that they are good. And good is, well…a good place to be. But is that where we want to be? 


At Eastland-Fairfield, we have decided that the answer is an emphatic NO!! 


In fact, we have established a theme for the year to guide us and keep us focused on our goal. Jim Collins wrote about it in 2001, and before that John D. Rockefeller said it:


Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great!


Again, good is a good place to be. But at Eastland-Fairfield, we are committed to more. We are committed to greatness. Not for us - our school or staff. Not for our own recognition. But for our students.


As we continue our strategic planning process, our goal is becoming clearer and clearer. From business partners to alumni, from staff to students, we desire to improve programming, delivery systems, facilities, and future opportunities in order to support each student on their journey to success. We have made helping each learner successfully take their next step into Education, Enlistment, Employment, and/or Entrepreneurship an important component of becoming a great educational provider. 


We also understand that going for the great means a willingness to change even if something is good right now. We understand that the interests and needs of the high school and adult students that we teach today are different from those we taught in the past. We know that the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow may be different. 


We know that making the decision to pursue greatness for our students is bold and ambitious. We know that we will have to endure some moments of discomfort and even experience short-term failure as we learn and grow. 


And we also know that our students, who motivate us to move toward greatness, are worth it.


Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. - John D. Rockefeller

Promise and Commitment

August 12, 2021


As we prepare to begin another school year amidst the continued presence of COVID and the growing divisiveness about how students and staff should return (masks or not, distance, etc.), it would be understandable if we put all of our focus on the logistics and politics of returning to school. But that would be short-sighted - something that our students cannot afford for us to be.

We recently held our new staff welcome and onboarding session; a committee of educators, administrators, and business partners spent time on the development of our strategic plan; and our building administrators worked with the district leadership team fine-tuning the processes and programming that we will implement this school year. At each of those gatherings, I am proud to say that the focus was on students and what we want to accomplish for them and with them. There were declarations of concern for students after a disruptive year in 2020-21. There were expressions of anticipation and excitement for new students and the new programs that they will experience. There were plans for helping our students become a community of learners. Put simply...there were promises and commitments made that this year will be a great one for our students.

Promise and commitment. Is there a difference?

According to Google, a promise is a declaration that one will take an action or do a particular thing. A commitment is the dedication to actually doing that particular thing. I think that it takes both for us to realize our goals for our students. After all, we have all had promises broken or even broken a few ourselves. That is likely because a declaration was made but the dedication to follow through just wasn’t there. We promise that we will get up early and exercise, but in the morning it is really easy to hit the snooze button. Promise, but no commitment.

As we embark on a new school year, it may be more important than ever to be committed to the promises we make to our students. There is so much uncertainty in our world today: COVID, climate change, social divisiveness, and exponential rates of change in so many arenas. Because of the current environment, our students need our clear promises that we will do all we can to equip them for life AND they need our commitment to take action each day even when it is difficult.

I am proud of the team of professionals who make up our Eastland-Fairfield family. From staff to students, parents/guardians to business partners, and our partner school districts, we will keep our students at the center of our decisions and we will make those promises actionable each day, in each class, and in each decision.

That is our promise and our commitment!



Life is a Highway

July 29, 2021


Life's like a road that you travel on,

When there's one day here, and the next day gone,

Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand,

Sometimes you turn your back to the wind.


These words were first sung by Tom Cochrane in 1991 in the song entitled, “Life is a Highway”. In 2006, the song was remade by Rascal Flatts for the Disney movie Cars. I remember that version well. My own children were in elementary school, and we not only owned the DVD once it was released, but we had the soundtrack CD as well. (For all those younger than me, we didn’t have streaming then.)


These past few weeks, I have been on our highways quite a bit with a few days of professional meetings in Northwestern Ohio, vacation to South Carolina, and another series of professional meetings in Illinois. I have not counted the miles, but I have spent close to 48 hours in a car this summer on America’s highways getting to and from locations. And I have enjoyed each minute (well, most minutes) of the journey. From the cities to farmland to the seashore - traveling the roads of our nation brings beauty that can be awe-inspiring, landmarks that make us want to Google the history of the location, and sometimes disappointment that some part of a city or the environment has not received the care that it should. The journey across our roads brings us ups and downs, twists and turns, and unexpected opportunities…


Just like life.


As we prepare to welcome new and returning students to our classrooms and labs in just a few weeks, I can’t help but think about their journeys and the highways that they will ride. They have already begun the journey of preparing for a career and a future of their choosing. They have chosen to take a bold step in their journey by selecting a career pathway and committing themselves to learning in a new environment. For some students, the decision to choose the career center was easy. For some, it was difficult due to their own concern about leaving their home school or because someone in their life told them it was the wrong decision. I am especially proud of those students!


The highway they have chosen to ride is going to be exciting, challenging, and rewarding. It will have those same twists and turns, ups and downs, and challenges of every road. But as the song goes...


There's no load I can't hold,

The road so rough, this I know,

I'll be there when the light comes in,

Just tell 'em we're survivors.


Life is a highway. A wonderful, scary, exciting series of locations and events. I am glad that we get to ride it together!


"Life is a Highway"

Just 'Be'

July 15, 2021


According to a survey completed by the e-commerce company Groupon, more than half of Americans have an unhealthy work-life balance.  “Sixty percent of respondents indicated that the pressures and responsibilities of the workplace and home life don't have boundaries. A third of Americans said they work too hard, with 40% responding that they work too many hours.” 


And that survey was completed in 2019 before the pandemic! 


The impact of an unhealthy work-life balance is stress that has an impact on both our mental health and physical health. We know the importance of rest and relaxation, but it can be difficult to actually take the time for it. 


We also know that work can be rewarding. As a provider of career and technical education for both high school and adult students, we value work and are committed to helping our students find career pathways that challenge and excite them.  And yet, we don’t want them to one day find that work stress prevents them from enjoying their career.


So what do we do?  How do we regain the balance that we need?  How do we ensure that we have the rest we need so that when we return to work, we are energized and ready to face the challenges of our jobs?


After some research and from my own experiences, I am convinced that we have to find ways to physically move to a place where we can truly disconnect from work for a time. For me, I have to spend time each year at the beach. The sound of the crashing waves, the taste of the salt air, and the warmth of the sun take me to a place of peace and joy. And there is even scientific research on the positive impact that a beach can have on our mental health and wellbeing.  I know that I most definitely benefit from beach time. It is a time where I can just “be” for a few days every summer.


At this midpoint of summer, I hope that you will find your beach. Whether that is an actual beach, a lake, the mountains, a local park or forest, or a destination. Take some time to disconnect from work, worry, and stress for a time. Take time to just be

The beaches of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Interdependence of Independence

July 2, 2021


As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day this week, I can’t help but reflect on all the images and ideas that come to mind every Fourth of July: fireworks, picnics, parades.


We think of the events of America’s independence: The Boston Tea Party, Valley Forge, Lexington and Concord. Of course, we also think of the people who participated in those events: George Washington, Paul Revere, Sam Adams. And you cannot forget the Declaration of Independence.


Independence and freedom are ideals that people have been willing to fight, and die for, since the beginning of time. It seems to be a basic human quality to strive for independence and freedom. In fact, from the time we are born, we begin the journey to independence. First, we learn to crawl or walk so that we have control over where we move. We learn to drive so that we have the freedom to leave our homes without parents or guardians. And finally, we leave our childhood homes to venture out on our own. We seem to strive for independence all of our lives.


But as I reflect on that desire for independence, I realize that true independence only comes about when we are interdependent...when we learn to lean on others for help, support, and connection. Those brave men and women who rose up to fight the British for freedom needed one another. They had to work together, each serving a different role. They had to trust one another. And they had to support each other when the times were bad.


As we grew from infants to adults, we also had to rely on the connections of others on our journey to independence. First our parents and caregivers and then our friends, teachers, and coaches. We needed relationships with others to get us to our sought after independence.


Image of the Declaration of IndependenceAs we approach the beginning of a new school year, we are preparing to bring students from 16 school districts together in new and exciting ways. Our students come to Eastland-Fairfield to prepare for a career pathway. Their preparation will give them independence, but they won’t get there alone. We know that the success of our students while they are with us, and when they leave, will be positively impacted by their interconnectedness with the students from our diverse school districts. They will learn to understand our similarities and celebrate the differences that enrich our relationships. They will learn that it is only through the ability to be vulnerable and accept the need for interdependence that they will fully find the freedom to make life choices that bring them the independence they look forward to upon graduation.


Toward the end of the Declaration of Independence, you will find these words:


“...these United Colonies are, and of Right, ought to be Free and Independent States…” 


United and independent. It takes unity with others to be free. As we approach this Fourth of July, let’s remember that unity is what truly makes us free.



The Arcade

June 18, 2021


As I talked with a colleague this week, I mentioned that for the last 16 months I felt like I was playing Whack-A-Mole. You may remember that game. You pick up a mallet and stand in front of a box full of holes and the mechanical moles pop out. The idea is to whack them on the head as they pop out. Of course, you rack up points each time you “whack a mole.” I actually used to love playing that game at arcades or fairs. It was fun seeing how fast I could react to those pesky moles popping up at me and even more fun to smash them, leading me to believe I was responsible for sending them back down into their underground lair.


But in the world of education, Whack-A-Mole is not the approach we want to take. It is too fast and too random. The thought of being in a state of constant tension focused on nothing but the next problem or challenge and trying to deal with it before the next issue arises is anything but fun. You may be skilled at reacting to things that “pop up”, it may make us feel good to smash our organization’s proverbial moles, and that is a good trait to have as a problem solver, but it certainly isn’t the most productive way to operate for sustained growth and progress.


But let’s walk over to Skee Ball. You get to pick up one ball at a time. Think about the ring you want to hit, consider your approach - speed, force, angle. Where Whack-A-Mole is about quickly reacting, Skee Ball is about strategy and planning. It’s managed, and if you play it right, you have a sense of control.


After more than a year of Whack-A-Mole, I think we are all ready for a little Skee Ball. 


In that same conversation, I told my colleague that I am looking forward to a new school year in which we focus on instructional excellence, planning for more student opportunities, and building relationships...the important work of educating our students. 

Coney Island arcade, skee ball game

We recently launched our strategic planning process that will lead to the development of a three- to five-year plan, which will guide our work at Eastland-Fairfield. On Monday, June 21, our first surveys will be launched in order to see how our partners view Eastland-Fairfield. We are using the upcoming months to review your thoughts, and to focus and plan because it’s time to get back to strategy and envisioning. It’s time to become more purposeful in how we educate and guide students for a future pathway of their choosing. And it’s time to leave Whack-A-Mole in the arcade where it belongs.


I want to thank all of our students, staff, parents/guardians, business partners, associate school colleagues, and communities for supporting us over the past year through the constant changes and challenges. But now it is time for Skee Ball.



The Countdown

June 3, 2021


180 days of school to go.


90 days of school to go.


50 days...25 days...10 days.


Last day of school!


The countdown to the last day of school has been an annual ritual of students probably since formal schooling began. And while, as an educator, I like to focus on the days between a starting date in August and an ending date in May, I can certainly understand the excitement over the end of the school year. The chance to sleep in, go a few months without homework or tests, and have a sense of freedom is something that we all long to experience. 


This year, the end of the school year may have been the most anticipated ending of all, and not just for students. Parents, guardians, and grandparents have been challenged to support their students through remote learning, hybrid learning, and finally a full return to school. Students too had to transition over and over again, and even the full return to school was anything but “normal.” Face coverings, distancing, and the emotional transition of going back to school took on a toll on our students. Teachers, administrators, and school staff have also had a roller coaster of a year. And so, we counted down and looked forward to the end of one of the most challenging school years of our lives.


Now that summer is here, I hope that the longed-for break will be a good one for all. I wish for you the rest, the downtime, and escape that we have all wanted for so long. 


Please know that our administrators and our staff will be working this summer to plan for the next school year. It’s what we do each summer. Of course, we also get a little break, and we are grateful. But more importantly, we are grateful for each student, parent, guardian, friend, and mentor who will once again support our students when we return in August. We are all looking forward to a more typical school year: one in which we can be social rather than socially distanced; one in which we can see one another’s faces and smiles; and one which we are not so ready to see come to an end.


Have a great summer! Only 69 more days until the first day of school!



A Different Graduation Message

May 21, 2021


If you have a graduate in your house, you have probably spent some time picking out a new outfit: a dress, a suit, new shoes. Something special for your graduate to wear on their special day. You may have planned a celebration with family and friends. You may have put together a video or scrapbook to remember your graduate from the first day of kindergarten until this moment. The focus is on the graduate - their accomplishments and their future.


But I want to take a few moments to focus on the parents, guardians, grandparents, and all those who have raised our seniors. This message is for you!


While graduation and moving on to the next phase of life for your graduate is exciting, and what you have looked forward to, it can be difficult too. Whether you are celebrating your first graduate, your second, or your last, graduation changes the lives of those of us who raised them as much as it changes life for the graduate.


If you are facing an empty nest come August, know that it is understandable to feel both sad and excited at the same time. You will miss your graduate if they are leaving for the military, additional education, or moving out and into their own place. But you will also have time that you previously gave to your student - time that you can “gift” to yourself. Read a good book. Take time to meditate. Pick up a new hobby or resume an old one. If you still have children at home, this may be the perfect time to establish new activities with them, even if it is just time to talk a little more often. 


Whatever your specific circumstances, the graduation of a child brings changes and opportunities for them and for you. So celebrate your graduate and all that they have accomplished. But take time to celebrate yourself too. Look forward with anticipation to see what your graduate will do next, AND enjoy some time for yourself. You deserve it!


Congratulations!


Thanking Our 'Educators'

May 6, 2021


This week is nationally recognized as Teacher Appreciation Week. And that recognition is important. Teachers are critical people in our lives from the time we begin formal schooling until we graduate or complete coursework. We should always take time to appreciate those who taught us to read, to calculate, to solve problems. And perhaps this year, more than any, we should be thanking our teachers for their creativity, innovation, flexibility, and concern for students. The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but engaging students via a computer or with a mask or while maintaining distance has been especially challenging for teachers. 


And so, thank you to our teachers! You are appreciated!


But I would like to expand this week of appreciation to everyone who works in our schools. Like teachers, every school staff member has put in long hours and extra effort to make educating our students possible. From our IT staff to our custodians; from our building secretaries to our central office teams, this year has put everyone to the test. Our staff has provided meals to students when they were remote learning. They have put in additional time to clean and sanitize our buildings to an even higher standard than before. They have created plexiglass barriers so that we could work in person. They have greeted students, been empathetic listeners, fielded calls from concerned parents, and supported all of us in even greater ways than before. 


I have often said that every person who works in a school district is an educator. While everyone doesn’t hold a teaching license and teach students in the classroom, everyone in a school district is making a positive difference in the lives of the students we serve. And for that, I am grateful.


If ever there was a time that the notion of “being in this together” was evident, it was front and center this past year. The African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child. I would suggest that it takes a village of educators - teachers, secretaries, custodians, counselors, administrators, food service staff, maintenance professionals, IT staff - to educate a child. In our district we have collaborated and worked together, keeping our students at the center of our work. So take time to thank your teachers, but let’s also thank each and every staff member who comes to work each day to enrich the lives of the students we serve.  It’s not just Teacher Appreciation Week on my calendar. It is ‘Educator' Appreciation Week - this week and every week.


Thank you!




Hope

April 22, 2021


As we near the end of another school year, I think it is clear that it has been anything but “another school year.” I recently shared with my team that this has been the most difficult year of my 32 year career in public education. The pandemic, social injustice, and divisiveness in our nation have made leadership even more challenging than ever. There are days when it seems we will never be through the pandemic. And if you watch the news, you can feel suffocated by the steady reporting of violence and hardship in our communities and our nation. Leading in such a time is challenging both professionally and personally.


And yet, I have hope.


I have observed and talked with our students who feel overwhelmed by all that is going on in our world. And why wouldn’t they? It is tough to process as an adult. But after a year of isolation and distance, processing and making sense of so much turmoil for a teenager or young adult while asking them to maintain a focus on their learning is a tall order. 


And yet, I have hope. 


Bishop, civil rights advocate, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient (1984), Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” Timely words for our current reality.


Of all the skills, mindsets, and knowledge that we strive to impart to our students, perhaps hope is the most important of all especially living in difficult times and when facing the difficult circumstances that come with life. The ability to see light and to move toward it is a powerful tool for those who thrive.  In her book, Rising Strong, author and researcher Brene Brown refers to the research of C.R. Snyder on the topic of hope. “Hope is not an emotion: It’s a powerful cognitive process - a thought process made up of ‘goals, pathways, and agency.’” The best part: Hope can be learned.


It would be easy for us to look back on the past year and just wish for it to end. But if we can see the future, a future in which we and our students take actions that make our world more safe, more welcoming, and more loving, than we have hope. As educators, parents, and advocates for young people, we have an awesome opportunity to hear their feelings and acknowledge the legitimacy of those feelings. But we also have an obligation to impart hope and to empower our students to be the change they want to see in the world. 


Because I have hope, I believe we can do that.


Let’s not forget that the world is not all bad, and there is much to celebrate from this past year. Our students and our staff have risen to the challenges of this past year over and over again. Students are learning, earning credentials, and preparing for their futures. Kindness and compassion have been shared with one another. New lives have come into the world. 


And there is much to anticipate as well. New students will join us and begin their journeys toward a future of their choosing. New staff will become part of our team. New supports and programs will be implemented to make us better and stronger.


Yes, it has been a year like no other. Yes, it has been challenging. But if we have hope, we can see past the darkness to the light. My wish is that you may see the light. I do...because I have hope!




Oh, The Places You'll Go!

April 8, 2021


A number of years ago I began writing a blog.  At the time I was the assistant superintendent of Loveland City Schools just outside of Cincinnati. The district’s public information officer suggested that I start a blog about the topic about which I am very passionate: developing students. I wasn’t sure how much I would have to say, but eight years later, I am still finding ways to share my thoughts. 


Since coming to Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools, I have put my blog on hold.  But after three months as the superintendent/CEO and with the addition of our new coordinator of communications and marketing, Mr. Ryan Gasser, we are ready to launch a bi-weekly newsletter.  That means I am ready to get back to blogging about education and helping students find their “what’s next.”


One of the things that I have noticed more and more over the course of my career is that increasing focus on destinations.


What do you want to be when you grow up?  Where are you going after high school? 


Those are not inherently bad questions, but I wonder if they put too much pressure on kids to have it all figured out.  I have watched students squirm when asked some of those questions because they think they are to have the right answer or an impressive answer. In my conversations with high school students over the past few years, they have expressed the pressure they feel to have answers that are prestigious, impressive, or noteworthy. That makes me sad because students should be guided to find the path that makes them happy, not the path that makes someone else happy.  But also, that focus on destination gives students a sense that life is linear and that they will “arrive” at some place at some point in the future and that will make them happy.  


The reality is that life is a journey with stops and starts.  We don’t stay at the same place.  We grow.  We learn.  We develop.  And when our kids understand that they make decisions for the next step and then will make more, there is less pressure to have it all figured out when they are still just kids.  I know that my own journey has taken me to multiple cities and roles and has allowed me to develop new relationships along the way.  And now my journey has brought me to be the superintendent/CEO of Eastland-Fairfield, a  role and a place that I had no idea were part of my future when I was 17 and trying to answer, “What do you want to be?”  and “Where are you going?”  But I am sure glad that my journey has brought me here. 


Oh The Places You Will Go!, Dr. Suess, book coverSo, let’s encourage our kids to think about their futures and make good choices.  But let’s also remind them that each decision is just one step of many.  Life and happiness come when we embrace the journey - the winding road, the hills, the valleys, the tears, and the laughter.  


“Congratulations!

Today is your day.

You’re off to Great Places!

You’re off and away!"


Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss
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