Dr. Joe Clark offers lessons in learning, leadership in new book
Superintendent Joe Clark is not only marking his milestone 10th year as the leader of the Nordonia Hills City Schools, this summer he published his first book on education and administration.
“If the Dance Floor is Empty, Change the Song: A Superintendent’s Spin on Making Schools Rock,” is a series of essays on what makes an effective educator that Clark said started out from a blog he started writing. He said he took several of his entries and revised and expanded them to make the book, working on the book “on and off over the course of several years.”
“This book is meant for educators, but anybody interested in a perspective on leadership or human interaction will find it useful,” Clark said. “I hope people find it to be a fun, humorous, touching read.”
In keeping with the title, Clark introduces the book describing lessons learned during his 24-year side gig as a deejay, which included hundreds of weddings and student dances in the school districts where he worked until becoming a superintendent.
"Being a deejay was a pretty great way to build relationships with students," he writes, adding he began to realize how the work would help him become a better teacher.
"I learned to read the energy of a room — or lack thereof," he writes. "I developed the confidence to manage a large group. I became comfortable speaking in public. And I learned what to do when people were not having a good time."
The book "offers leaders a handbook for placing kindness, community, and diversity at the heart of successful education," according to its description on Amazon. "He dives right into issues like changing instructional standards, increased reliance on testing, and anxiety about social media in schools — and others — while providing collegial advice that new school leaders in particular will find indispensable."
For example, Clark compares skills taught in graduate school, such as "Systems for Observing and Analyzing Instruction," and "Organizational Behavior in Education," versus real-life skills like "Making sense of ambiguous weather forecasts" and "Refraining from using sarcasm when sarcasm is definitely called for."
More importantly, he writes, "If you want to be a successful administrator, you must learn to say five simple words: 'I'm sorry. I was wrong.'"
To illustrate, Clark describes "one of the worst days of my professional life," when he appeared before the Ohio Elections Commission in January, 2013 following a complaint he had violated the law after mistakenly sending an email to Nordonia Hills staff asking them to contribute to a levy campaign.
"I am glad they did not record that hearing, because I have never been so embarrassed in my life. The stress of all that was going on caused me to break. I could barely say more than 'I'm sorry.'"
Though the commission found that he had violated the law, it decided not to impose a fine or refer the matter for prosecution. Though some in the community called for his firing, the board of education and members of the community expressed their support.
"The best thing we can do when we make mess up is to admit it, make it right, and move on. Being willing to show vulnerability in our fallibility does wonders for building credibility and trust with the community," he writes.
It was about 16 months between finding a publisher and publication in July, Clark said.
Clark said he had “a few other ideas” for books.
“I'm not sure I would do anything differently, but I think I have learned what to expect as I go through the process,” he said.
Copies of Clark’s book can be found online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Eric Marotta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org