Nordonia Hills superintendent reflects on first decade with district
When Joe Clark joined the administration of the Nordonia Hills City Schools as assistant superintendent in 2009, he came into a district that was going through a difficult time.
The school district was facing financial difficulty. Its aging schools were in need of repairs and renovations. During his time as assistant superintendent, the community rejected four operating levy attempts , putting the Nordonia schools on the brink of state takeover. On November 2011, a week after Clark took the reins as superintendent, the community passed a 6-mill operating levy on the fifth attempt.
The Nordonia Hills schools, which now has roughly 3,600 students in its six school buildings, has come a long way since then, said Clark who next year will tie William J. Boliantz as the longest serving superintendent the district has seen. Boliantz was the district’s second superintendent, and led the district from 1966 to 1976.
Clark said his priority has been for the district administration to build trust with the community.
“The community liked the teachers, but not a strong sense of trust in admins and board,” Clark said. “We spent a lot of time working to building that trust. We’ve been working to be responsive to people. We had a lot to do to regain.”
An example of a positive step is when some community members stepped up to form a levy committee to help with the November 2018 levy campaign, “which told me that the community was ready to step up,” Clark said.
Though that levy attempt failed, the second try in May 2019, with a 6.98-mill operating levy, “passed with the greatest percentage passage in Nordonia history.”
It should be no surprise that Clark decided to pursue education as a career. Five of his 10 siblings – Clark is the youngest of 11 – went into education. He has an older brother who is teacher with the Barberton schools, two sisters who had been teachers, another sibling works as a school psychologist and another sister is a principal with the Woodridge Local Schools.
However, Clark said not everyone supported his decision to become a teacher.
“I was in high school when I decided I wanted to be a teacher,” Clark said. “I worked as a bus boy in a restaurant in Akron. My boss told me ‘You shouldn’t do that, that is women’s work.’”
Clark said he decided to become an English teacher, and spent his first year with the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools as a long-term substitute, then for five years with the Springfield Local Schools.
“I picked English not because it was my best subject, in fact, it might have been my worst,” Clark said. “But I saw it as the best opportunity to make an impact. Part of it may have been watching ‘Dead Poets Society’ too many times.”
In addition, Clark said he loved being around children and teens and loved working with them. This is, ultimately, what prompted him to take an interest in becoming an administrator.
“I thought there was a better opportunity to help more people,” Clark said. “I would see about 150 kids as a teacher. As an administrator, I’d be in charge of teachers who are, in turn, in charge of the kids. I remember I’d hear teachers complaining about having more kids in study hall, saying how that wasn’t fair. That kind of mentality spoke to me, that I needed to work in a leadership role so I could change that mentality.”
Clark worked for the Barberton City Schools for nine years, starting as high school assistant principal, with the last two years, from 2005 to 2007, as assistant superintendent. He also served as assistant superintendent for the Kent City Schools from 2007 to 2009.
As well as earning a Bachelor of Arts in English at Kent State University’s Honors College, he also earned his Masters of Education and his doctorate in K-12 Leadership, with a school law focus, from Kent State.
Outside of school, Clark said he is a “diehard Cleveland sports fan” who loves outdoor events, including hiking. He and his wife Amie, whom he has been married to for 26 years, recently moved from Wadsworth to Boston Heights. They have two adult sons: Isaac, 25, and Matthew, 21.
“I love to cook; it’s one of my favorite things to do,” Clark said. “I like the theater, both movie theater and stage. I’ve never done a formal show but I did community theater when my kids were involved. It’s one of my big regrets that I never tried out for my own high school musicals.”
The theatrical interest may not be a surprise for those familiar with Clark’s "Good Knight Nordonia," which he started last year. With the help of "Sir Readsalot," Clark read bedtime stories to students every Thursday.
Clark said he, Sir Readsalot and the other puppet friends took a break for the summer but were planning to resume this school year. Videos and information can be found on Facebook and YouTube under Good Knight Nordonia.
Today, the Nordonia Hills City Schools are in a much better place, Clark said.
“I think that academically we are performing better than we ever have,” Clark said. “Our arts program is stronger, I believe we are financially stable. I think the culture of the Nordonia schools is incredibly positive. People like their kids coming to school here.”
Still there are a few challenges that the district faces, he added. The primary one is facilities.
“Our facilities are a mess,” Clark said. “Our schools are old. Our youngest building is 50 years old, the average age is 80 years old. They are clean, our janitors do a good job keeping them clean, but they are not efficient buildings. Also, the number of buildings we have is not efficient.”
The community will need to decide what kind of facilities the district will have, Clark said.
“It will absolutely be the community’s decision,” Clark said. “We will help facilitate these discussions. But what kind of schools do communities want? Other people in other districts will see our kids are at a huge disadvantage because of the facilities.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has shelved talks on facilities as well as other programs, Clark said.
“Clearly, COVID has put some things on the back burner,” Clark said. “We need to look at facilities but it’s not the right time yet because of the pandemic. Also, our Portrait of a Graduate — which will change how things are taught and what is taught — that also is on the back burner. Once we get past this pandemic, we can hit the ground running.”
In all, Clark said he was grateful for the community’s support.
“I will never promise that I won’t make a mistake,” Clark said. “But I will promise to do my best.”
Reporter April Helms can be reached at email@example.com.