MACEDONIA — Superintendent Joe Clark opened his State of the Schools address with a question: Why do we educate kids?

He encouraged the 40 to 50 attendees of the Oct. 16 address to write their three top answers on a grid that was passed out. The audience was then asked whether their answers were easy to measure, if they were on the state report card and if what they highlighted reflected a past goal or a future goal.

"What our current school accountability system is, it's an autopsy of the past," Clark said. "We are blaming people, shaming people, and we are looking back at the past."

Clark said he would have been more than happy to list the district's many accomplishments in the past year, but instead, he would focus on the future, and what the district was doing to prepare its pupils for graduation and beyond.

"Every year I give a State of the School address that looks back at the successes we have had, and I came to realize that I was just conducting a public autopsy of the schools," Clark said. "The question should not be, 'How well did our students score on tests?' The question should be, 'What are we doing to help our students for the future?' Rest assured, I could talk for an hour about how well our kids performed in academics, athletics and the arts."

A big topic in recent years has been developing social/emotional skills, Clark said.

"For the last few years, we have had a lot of discussion around social/emotional and general behavior concerns throughout the district," Clark said.

He then referred to The PAX Good Behavior Game, a preventive intervention used by teachers and schools to teach self-regulation, self-management, and self-control in young people, according to the state sanctioned PAX Ohio Initiative.

"We have made great strides in providing professional development on PAX with all of our K-6 staff. However, we have also been searching for a way to actually teach our students how to properly behave, interact, and understand their emotions ... we came to the conclusion that we wanted to build our own Nordonia program, to meet our specific needs and have the flexibility to change when needed."

The district "put together a team of teachers to create a curriculum," Clark said. The result is Class Huddle, where every day, for 20 to 30 minutes, teachers teaching kindergarten through sixth grade "work directly with students to teach important lessons on how to conduct themselves responsibly."

The Nordonia Hills schools also have increased mental health services for students, Clark said, explaining the district has over the past four years gone from one full-time clinical counselor to the equivalent of three.

Another topic Clark highlighted was technology. The district, he said, understands that "an increase in technology also requires an increase in technology safety."

"Nordonia utilizes a suite of software from GoGuardian that is designed to keep our students safe in district and at home," Clark said, adding the program alerted staff to a student who did an Internet search on "Reasons not to kill yourself."

He said school officials contacted the parents, who are addressing the issue.

The schools continue to "maintain and grow our 1:1 technology initiative," Clark said.

"We have made a commitment to provide devices for every student in grades three through 12 to take home, as well as enough classroom devices for our students in grades kindergarten through second to utilize, at no additional cost to our families. Aside from our 1:1 initiative, we have made a concerted effort to increase the presence of Maker Spaces within our district. The Technology and Business Departments have combined resources to provide our students with 3D printers and other STEM related content. We hope to expand these offerings moving forward."

Clark said the district would also expand its Student Enrichment Series this school year. The series provides students with learning opportunities "outside of the normal classroom setting during staff professional development days."

"Last year, all of the workshops were provided at Nordonia High School and topics ranged from leadership development to time management," Clark said. "Led by a combination of Nordonia staff experts and professionals in the field, the workshops allow students to devote attention to gaining strategies for success that are applicable to every aspect of life.

"This year, the program grew to be a combination of in-house trainings and exploratory field trips to college campuses, businesses, and health care facilities."

Those include a recent visit to Hyson Manufacturing in Brecksville to explore the fields of engineering, chemistry, and manufacturing. Other trips are planned to SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the acclaimed School of Engineering at Syracuse University, as well as the Innovation Learning Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Clark said the school board recently approved allowing the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to assess the district's school properties "to help us know where to invest improvement funds."

"In addition to the physical condition of our buildings, the OFCC will also conduct data analysis of future enrollment projections, and other economic factors that will help us make better informed decisions regarding our facilities," Clark said. "Once we receive the data from the OFCC, we plan to develop a community-based committee to review it to help us determine the best path forward."

Administrators speak

Jacqueline O'Mara, the principal at Rushwood Elementary School, said that the school's work with Acellus STEM Robotics Labs has yielded positive results.

"Two years ago Rushwood was awarded a STEM Matching Grant to deploy Acellus STEM Robotic Labs as well as an Acellus STEM Curriculum," O'Mara said. "Last year was our first full year of implementation and this school year, we are using Acellus building wide."

O'Mara said she worked with the Curriculum Director Todd Stuart to bring Acellus to Ledgeview and Northfield Elementary Schools, and acquired a three-year matching grant.

Marc Kaminicki, principal of Northfield Elementary, said that PAX, which was started several years ago at Lee Eaton, "has met with success based on commentary from both students and staff."

"We are excited about the three elementary schools adding the PAX initiative in a consistent, collaborative, and supportive manner this year," Kaminicki said.

Rob Schrembeck, principal of Lee Eaton Elementary, said the school just started Move the Bus "to encourage positive PAX behavior on the bus ride to and from school."

"At the start of the school year we took all our Lee Eaton students on a mock bus ride and reviewed proper bus safety and bus behavior expectations with them," Schrembeck said. "To reinforce that behavior, each week a bus goes without a write-up incident we move that bus forward one space, literally. We have a big display on the wall in our cafeteria with 16 busses. As busses progress down the road throughout the school year, incentives are given when their bus reach a designated spaces."

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC