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Leading Edge Blog

There’s No Magic Strategy

Eugene Blalock, Jr. sitting at his desk
Eugene Blalock, Jr., the superintendent of North College Hill City Schools

Each year, the Ohio Leadership Advisory Council recognizes one Ohio school district for their exemplary demonstration of effective leadership practices. These practices, inherent in the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP), include shared leadership, the use of a collaborative-inquiry process that uses data in decision making, and a focus on success for all learners within the school system.

The 2021 OLAC Outstanding District Award winner, recognized at the 2021 OLAC/PBIS Showcase, was North College Hill City Schools. Under the leadership of Eugene Blalock, Jr., we recently connected with the superintendent to learn more about his vision, how they’re using collaborative team structures and the Ohio Improvement Process, and what teachers are doing to develop relationships that improve student growth and equitable opportunities. This following is a recap of our conversation.

Q. Tell us more about your vision for change.

A. “First, it’s important to say that there’s no magic strategy to drastically change the academic performance of students. Our vision starts with a firm stance on the main things and not wavering. We start with a laser focus on a commitment to student growth. We have a strategic plan, and we clearly talk about benchmarks and goals for all of our students. Creating strong teams starts with me as an instructional leader, along with all of our educators who are driving and doing the work. To ensure everyone is on the same page with our vision, it’s been important to regularly communicate our vision and goals. The bottom line is that there is no magic plan—you have to have a vision, develop a plan, and then stick to it.”

Q. Talk about how you connect your district’s vision to the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) and Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).

A. “I’ve been working in school improvement for the past 15-16 years. At the core of the OIP is the 5-step process and putting teams in place to ensure work is being done. We believe in our teacher-based teams (TBTs), building-leadership teams (BLTs), and district leadership team (DLT). We believe that they must share data to support each other and we’re always sharing information up and down and across teams to make sure we’re doing what’s best for students. We have critical conversations about our data, which can sometimes be tough. It’s important to have strong BLTs and TBTs. Once those teams are strong, we then move to MTSS where we’re using data to drive all conversations. Data-driven decision-making is what MTSS is about. Essentially, we’re trying to create opportunities for students to create success—whether its’ behavior or academic.”

Q. Describe how you are using collaborative teams across the district to identify, research, plan, implement, and monitor improvement efforts.

A. “Our DLT is made up of administrators, coaches, and directors who help us look at our data. For our BLTs, we have teacher leaders, building leaders, other support staff, and parents. They look at data at building level, and our TBTs do the same. Every team follows the 5-step process. At first, we didn’t use data—our conversations were subjective. Now that we have a systems approach and use the OIP, we are forced to look at the data and then develop a plan to improve. This has been a pivotal part of our success and growth. It’s also critically important to grow leaders—you don’t have to be the superintendent or a principal to be a leader. Our goal is to empower our teams and let them know they have a stake in our growth and improvement. It’s also important to have the parent perspective on our teams so they can share their ideas and feedback based on how parents might look at data.”

Q. What sets North College Hill City Schools apart from other districts?

A. “One of the practices that sets our district apart from others is the idea of changing the OIP forms and tools to meet our staff’s needs, all while staying true to the foundational purposes of the process. We’ve created and integrated data protocols using coaching, online-designed tools, and a lot of time and patience. We believe that to create strong systems, we must go slow to go fast. We made an investment to hire a data coordinator, and she has created a dashboard for all of our data. It’s a one-stop shop for us to look at data. At any time, I can log in and see what step we’re on and what we’re doing for any of the teams. We have coaches working closely with the data coordinator to have conversations to facilitate deeper thoughts on pushing people to better understand the data and what it’s telling us. Teachers use data to look at individual students, and our students can also see their own progress. We want them to see where they’re at and we create opportunities for them to see that information.”

Q. Share with us what your teachers are doing to support student achievement and the role of their relationships with students.

A. “It’s not just student achievement, but we’re also using data to look at equity—to make sure every student is getting what they need. When we use our tools and go deep, we’re making decisions about what an individual student or group of students need. When you drill down into small groups, you can really focus on their needs, which also helps build relationships. Our students are not just a number. Relationships and knowing students is so important. When you talk about equity, having conversations in team meetings, we have the opportunity to challenge an individual’s beliefs about something. What is in the best interest of the student? We’re not just looking at numbers, we’re looking at individual students. Through our systems, we are showing that our students are making student growth. We are trying to grow students from where they’re at, and that’s why we talk about growth. When people look at our district, I want them to look at us based on our ongoing progress. Our focus is always on growth and where we’re taken our students.”

Visit their website to learn more about North College Hill City Schools.