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Building Relationships, Asking Questions by Allyson Couch

As a mother of four boys, or young men at this point, I can’t even imagine the emotions and anxieties of staff members, parents and families of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, not to mention the entire district. It is a parent’s worst nightmare and an educator’s biggest fear.

Staff members do not take “in loco parentis” (in place of parent, a responsibility of all teachers) lightly. Our students become very much like our own children. Safety drills are practiced regularly and districts have ongoing discussions with their local law enforcement agencies to ensure they are doing all they can to keep students safe while maintaining a warm and positive environment. As an educator and fellow parent, my biggest fear is that I won’t remember all the steps and procedures required of me. Would I do the right thing?

As the Parkland community struggles to find answers and start healing, the rest of the schools around the nation reflect and analyze their practices to hopefully reduce the chance of a tragedy or crisis situation. Again our district has started to review the crisis plans and has met with the Oakwood Safety Department to ensure we are instituting the appropriate measures for student and staff safety. As the adults, both educators and parents, how do we assist our students in navigating this ever changing and potentially unsafe world or situations?

I truly believe strong adult and child/student relationships are so critical to assist with the prevention and healing from these tragic situations. In the education world, we talk about the importance of the teacher to student relationships and the powerful impact for students. This is applicable in all areas of our lives. Parent-to-child relationships. Coach-to-player relationships. Aren’t meaningful relationships the most important thing?

Young people develop relationships with each other in an entirely different way than I did growing up. Think how common it is to see a group of teens standing in a circle, not speaking to each other and looking down at the screens in their hands. Digital communication is probably the preferred method of communication for many students. My concern is students and children are more likely to speak to friends and even family through electronic devices than face-to-face. How do we assist and ensure our students and children are developing true positive relationships? But at the same time balancing that this generation is being raised with the technology that allows for advancements and enhancements in their lives and the world.

I certainly do not have the answers to the questions but as a fellow mom and educator I encourage all of us to continue to monitor our students’ and children’s relationships – whether that be through direct social interactions or through digital devices. If we see or hear something that looks concerning, we need to address it directly with our child or student. We need to share it with the appropriate agencies or individuals if needed. As adults, we need to continue to increase our awareness of social media and be good digital role models. And not that we need to have an active presence on social media, but I believe all of us should keep up-to-date with our children’s social media usage and digital communications. Although social media feels like it makes our lives easier, it also makes our lives more complex. Nothing can replace face-to-face conversations and interactions with our children and each other.

Meet Oakwood Schools' Treasurer/CFO Kevin Philo

Hello, I am Kevin Philo and I have had the pleasure of serving the Oakwood Community for the past 24 years as the Treasurer/CFO for Oakwood Schools. Many things have changed in this world in the past 24 years, but Oakwood School’s commitment to good financial management of your public tax dollars has not.

Prior to working at Oakwood Schools, I worked with two larger public school districts in the State of Ohio and also worked as an Assistant State Auditor for several years, completing financial and compliance audits of other governments, including schools and universities. In total, I have more than 30 years’ experience in public finance and have received many awards throughout my career.

The Oakwood School District has always been good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, which is demonstrated in many ways. First, the State of Ohio audits the Oakwood School district each year. The district has received the best possible opinion on its financial statements for many decades, without any instances of misuse of public funds. Some years, because of the amount of federal dollars we receive, the State of Ohio does not require the district to have an annual audit; it could be every two years, but we invite state auditors to come in and perform that annual audit to maintain our high standards.

Second, the Oakwood School district has a citizen review committee, the Oakwood Schools’ Business Advisory Committee, reviewing the district’s monthly and yearly financial reports. This committee is comprised of individuals from the community from all different business backgrounds and expertise. This citizens committee has been utilized for more than 25 years, with two members having been on that committee for more than 25 years.

Next, the district has enjoyed a consistent and stable financial position with support of the community and passage of operating levies when needed and necessary. This support is not taken for granted and every effort is made to provide the public the needed information so they can make an informed decision on supporting our requests for additional funds. It is unfortunate we have to return to voters about every three years, but with the current state funding system in place without opportunity for revenues to increase to keep pace with inflation, we have to return to voters for additional revenue.

The Oakwood community receives a great value for its investment in the schools. The cost per student in Oakwood is less than or comparable to other similar districts in the State of Ohio and just slightly above the state average and county average, while our student results are some of the highest in the state. Oakwood Schools spends 74 cents of every dollar directly in the classroom, which is one of the highest percentages in the state.

Thank you for allowing me the time to serve this community for so long. I have personally enjoyed the benefits from Oakwood, including the education, graduation and successes of my three sons, and the rising value of my Oakwood home. I look forward to continuing in my role of steward of your public tax dollars and your school district. Thank you for choosing Oakwood.

Taking the Risk by Tim Badenhop

“The Oakwood School community educates students to become ethical decision-makers who achieve their life goals, take responsible risks, and contribute to the greater good of the world. Graduates are prepared for their post-secondary pursuits, proud of their Oakwood education, and poised to lead and serve.”

When you read our district’s vision, which aspect do you find the most difficult to satisfy? Personally and professionally, the charge that provides the greatest challenge to me is ‘take responsible risks.’ Being more than a bit on the measured end of the risk-taking spectrum, it is my nature to research options thoroughly before deciding on an answer, a vote, or a purchase. Though this can often be a helpful trait when acting in the capacity of principal, overseeing a status quo of risk aversion can also stifle a culture of innovation – a culture in which people feel welcomed and encouraged to seek and take responsible risks in the name of ongoing improvement.

With innovation being a bit of a buzzword in educational circles this year, I will readily admit that definitions of this concept can vary widely. Without spending too much time reinventing the dictionary, our district’s administration has (with much credit to George Couros) included different and better as two important components of what innovation should be. Considering how to facilitate different and better opportunities, experiences, and environments for students and staff in a world of finite resources, though, prompts several additional inquiries:

  • What is enough evidence of likely success to make a given risk responsible?
  • As principal, how do I presently model responsible risk-taking for my staff and students? How should I?
  • Deep down, how firmly do I believe that periodic failures are a necessary and beneficial part of constantly striving to improve what growth experiences we offer to students?

One risk we have taken this year at OJH is – through the generous partnership of the Oakwood Schools Foundation – to bring a Google Expeditions Kit to our building. If you haven’t heard of or seen Google Expeditions, you can think of it as an ever-increasing collection of (mostly) hemispherical scenes into which our students can take virtual reality ‘field trips’ as an enhancement of our curricula. While Dr. Ramey may not approve the funds to have our 7th graders travel via submarine to the depths of the Mariana Trench so they can see giant amphipods, the Expeditions kit can figuratively immerse students in that environment in a matter of moments. Students can also virtually visit a Major League Baseball broadcasting booth, the key points along Paul Revere’s ride, historic battlefields, other planets, and much, much more.

While some readers may not consider this acquisition and subsequent usage to have been risks, others may ask why we would commit funds and instructional time to a ‘fad’ like VR when a free picture from the Internet would have sufficed. To the former, I give you the latter. As for the latter, I suggest you ask a student to explain how these two media affect learning differently. To an early teenager, ‘different’ and ‘better’ are far from novel concepts. Each day, students meet the newest device, newest app, newest YouTube video, and newest topic with abundant curiosity. Teenagers crave different and better and often need little convincing to take risks. It is the responsibility that must be learned in time. As for the rest of us (collectively, ‘old people’), most have at some point along the way settled into an increasingly responsible and risk-averse routine.

If you still have a flip phone or if you prefer reruns of your favorite nineties television show instead of that new show everyone is talking about, this could be you. Routines and responsibility are typically assets in life – at least as long as we do not settle in so far as to get stuck.

As I aspire to increase my taking of responsible risks, I hope you will feel welcomed to share with me any ideas that may offer different and better opportunities for the students and staff at Oakwood Junior High. After all, it is the ongoing collaboration within the full “Oakwood School community” and our collective efforts that make it possible for our vision for students to be realized.

Joining the Oakwood Team by Allyson Couch

Teaching is one of the most challenging but rewarding professions in the world. Watching the light bulb moments and igniting the spark in a student makes the struggles and daily demands of teaching fulfilling. As educators, we are blessed to be part of these moments through our daily interactions. Finding the right teachers, those who are passionate about the profession and gain personal satisfaction in watching students grow, is vital to our district.

Oakwood’s process is to recruit and to retain the best and brightest teachers. Through our lengthy and rigorous process, the goal is to find the best candidates, ones who have a true calling for teaching. Prospective candidates participate in multiple rounds and processes to accurately assess their skill level and “fit” for our district, department and school. The purpose of the entire process is to ensure the teachers we select have values that align with our mission and culture and have the necessary skill set to positively challenge our students to grow.

So how does Oakwood select the right people? The initial step is to “paper” screen potential candidates, determining a minimal skill level, experience and possible fit. After narrowing down the pool, applicants participate in a phone screening, where we can start to assess mission, values, work style, relationships, etc. This step provides us valuable insight on who is a “fit” for our district. An in-person screening interview continues to narrow down this pool for the building level interviews.

At the building level, candidates participate in a more in-depth interview with the principals, grade level or department staff members and other school personnel who can provide insight and help determine fit and qualifications. A critical part of the building level process is an “audition,” requiring teachers to teach a lesson to students with administrators and grade level/department members observing. Following the lesson, administrators reflect with students and candidates regarding the lesson to help continue narrowing down the best match for the district.

Once candidates have made it through the building level round, candidates are only a couple steps away from a possible job offer. A final and critical step is to conduct reference checks, since past behavior typically predicts future behavior. These checks can be done on one or multiple candidates, depending on the need. Both formal and informal references are completed to help develop a well-rounded picture of candidates in prior positions and situations. The results of the reference checks help guide whether or not candidates advance to the final round with the superintendent, the last step in the process.

If for some reason the best candidate isn’t found, we will continue to search rather than put the wrong person into the position. With approximately 85% of the district’s budget spent on personnel, hiring is one of the most important tasks we do.

Selecting the right candidate, those who want to accept this challenging opportunity, is critical. We want to have the “right people on the bus” to help move us forward as a district.

Parents Continue to Learn by Lynn Cowell and Sarah Patterson

For the last eight weeks a small group of lovely parents from Smith and Harman have sat around the table with the counselors and principals to dig into the book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by author Michele Borba, Ed. D. We have wrestled with our own challenges as parents and the importance of having a community of friends and colleagues with whom we can share our struggles and successes. It’s been a pleasure growing our own community through this book study and learning about ways that Oakwood families are instilling and encouraging empathy in their children.

One of Borba’s recommendations is to utilize children’s literature and media to spark authentic conversations about characters who are modeling empathy and the impact it has on others. Wonder, by R. J. Polacio, has been flying off the library shelves and was a top seller at the school book fairs. Parents and students alike have enjoyed this heart warming story that is a true example of empathy. If you have not read Wonder, our group highly recommends it. The movie is as well done as the book and is a definite must for all families. You can see the trailer here:

Another simple idea by Borba that you could implement before even reading her engaging book, is to develop a family mantra. Borba encourages families to discuss the following questions over pizza with no devices present:

  • What do we stand for?
  • What kind of family do we want to become?
  • What kind of feeling do we want in our home?
  • What principles do we want to follow?
  • How do we hope people will describe us?
  • What do we want to be remembered for?
  • How do we want to give back to others?
  • How can we make our world a better place?

For those who have not been able to join the table discussions, we highly encourage you to read Borba’s thought-provoking and inspiring book about raising happy, successful, and empathetic children in a self-absorbed society. This is the perfect time of year to look outward and find opportunities to serve others before ourselves. Starting with something small like a random act of kindness for a neighbor, a friend, or someone you don’t even know can evoke a motivation to continue to show empathy and serve others. Please enjoy this Ted Talk. We hope it inspires you as much as it did us.

#24Crayons by Todd Duwel

If I gave you 24 crayons could you paint your masterpiece? Would you even try? Would your canvas absorb such constraint or reflect its possibility? Would you lament those colors not included or find solutions in the blends available? Would you know you had enough or long for Timberwolf, Shamrock, Inchworm, or Cornflower? Would you know why?

Next month, the Board of Education will release its State of the Schools at its Annual Meeting in January. We will reflect on the past year, and look ahead to our future. We will acknowledge cherished contributions and welcome fresh insight. We will renew our vision and offer recommendations that intend to benefit our students, our staff and our community. And, we’ll explore the beautiful metaphor found within a set of 24 crayons.

Our school district and community are an array of 24 crayons. We are red and brown and black and green, with plenty of grey to go around. We are decidedly blue and yellow. And, together, we are undeniably #OneOakwood. Our shared masterpiece.

Device Advice by Matt Sproat

Is Santa Claus putting a laptop under your tree? Is a chromebook coming down the chimney in his sack?

As much as I hate to say it before Thanksgiving time, we’re getting close to Christmas. And many are writing their Christmas lists, which include a new computer, right now. So, before you knock over a fellow citizen this Black Friday to get the biggest doorbuster deal, take a little time to consider what laptop is the best fit for your student.

Step one - Ruin the surprise (just a little!).

Talk to your student about how he or she envisions using the laptop. We have amazing students who are interesting in learning and doing their best at school, but chances are good the laptop didn’t get put on the gift list for that reason alone (but if they already own a cell phone that could be true!). Find out what they’d like to do with the computer. This conversation can lead to a (perhaps a contentious one at first, if you don’t agree), but really good dialogue about digital citizenship, and about what your expectations are before the device arrives.

Once you know what the laptop will be used for, find a good match. The biggest step is determining whether a Chromebook or a traditional laptop would be best.


Generally speaking, almost everything your student will be asked to do at school can be accomplished via a Chromebook. We have a lot of Chromebooks in the district and they’ve served us well. They are economical, light, easy to manage, start up and reboot very quickly, and rarely get any viruses or malware. If your student is interested in mostly online activities (watching Netflix, watching YouTube, fantasy football, checking email, reading articles about things they’re interested in), a Chromebook is a good fit. My wife has had a Chromebook (HP Chromebook 11) for years now and loves it.

Chromebooks are basically a “browser-only” laptop. If there’s something your student wants to do that is not on the Internet, they will be limited.

Which Chromebook? I’d recommend a Chromebook that has at least 4GBs of RAM. Because the quality of the trackpad, and keyboard can vary pretty significantly, I’d recommend trying it out, if possible, and if not, finding a review from a credible source that comments on those aspect specifically. If you made me pick a Chromebook without knowing anything about your student (how dare you!), I’d choose a Acer C731.

Traditional Laptop

If you’re older than a millennial, this is probably what you think of when you hear the word “laptop.” Traditional laptops are great for more specialized uses for a specific interest or hobby. If your student is really into video games, creating books, editing movies, programming, engineering, 3D printing, designing graphics, robotics, composing music, etc, they’ll probably need a traditional laptop to do it. Most of the time these tasks need a special program, and the chances are very good that program hasn't been recreated to be web-based and thus needs to be installed. Chromebooks can’t install a program and usually don’t have enough processing power to run it either. Adobe Photoshop is a good example of a program that still requires a traditional laptop.

Which laptop? If you’re buying a traditional laptop, chances are you’re buying it to run a specific program or video game. Take a look at the “recommended system requirements” and go a little higher if you can. If the system requirements don’t recommend a PC or Mac specifically, buy the type of laptop you, or the person who you’d call, can troubleshoot the best. If you’re most comfortable fixing a PC, buy that. If the nephew you’d call for help knows Macs, buy a Mac. If it’s all the same, I’d recommend a Mac because, generally speaking, there’s less to troubleshoot because they’re less modifiable. If you made me pick a traditional laptop without knowing anything about your student (how dare you!) I’d choose a Apple MacBook Air.

In Conclusion

Before you're off to Amazon to do some searching or to the checkout line at Best Buy, here are my last bits of advice. Big screens seem like a good choice at first but many people find that a smaller device is better due to weight, and because it fits well on a desk. I’d try to buy something that looks "cool." “Cool” stuff tends to get treated with more care. Lower end devices are inexpensive up front, but end up costing more over time. If you’re looking for reviews, CNET is a good place to start. If you're considering sending the device to school, take a look at our appropriately named- Tips for bringing a device to school (BYOD).

If you take anything away from my comments, I hope it’s to have a conversation about the laptop and your expectations before making a purchase. Good luck making a great choice with your student!

Introduction to Blogging by Paul Waller

This is my first Blog. I probably should do a Vlog or maybe an Instagram story. I am not sure if I am doing this correctly but I will try. I remember when I received my masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Cincinnati, the professor always asked if we had another “log for the fire” at the end of our group discussions reflecting on our ideas about leadership. Maybe that is where Blog or Vlog comes from, a log with a B or a V on the front of a log.

I currently do a lot with Twitter, I send tweets with up to 140 characters, and so a Blog might be a stretch for me. Maybe a Blog is an extended Tweet? How many words are in a Blog? I have seen between 30-600 words and also 750 words. Well, I am up to 147 words. Not that I’m counting.

Enough about blogging. Yesterday, it was brought to my attention through an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Oakwood was ranked the #1 high school in the state. The ranking was based on the Performance Index listed on the State of Ohio Report Card. I knew a Performance Index of 110.458 was impressive but had not checked into how this compared to other schools. Probably because I am an old coach, my philosophy has always been not to focus on winning but to focus on doing the best you can everyday and to always try to improve. As long as you do focus on what you need to do, everything should fall into place. Maybe it is also because we are so focused on meeting the individual students’ needs, and sometimes we can’t see the forest through the trees. By the way, my Dad’s name is Forrest (just trying to keep the conversation requirement going). Anyway Congratulations Oakwood! Achieving the highest Performance Index in the State (a weighted average of state tests in core areas) out of 1245 public high schools is amazing! Great students, great teachers, great parents, and a tradition of excellence is what I call a recipe for success!

What Does a Selfie Say by Sarah Patterson and Lynn Cowell

We all want our children to be happy and successful. We want them to acquire the knowledge and the skills which allow them to achieve their dreams. However, our children are being bombarded with messages and images glorifying a self-centered perspective. The era of the selfie sends the clear message to our youth that happiness comes from putting yourself first. Can being self-absorbed lead to happiness and success?

Michele Borba, Ed. D., author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, says the answer to being happy and successful in life is empathy. Borba believes there are nine essential habits that provide the “empathy advantage” that can be intentionally taught and cultivated by the adults in a child’s life. Part 1 of her book focuses on developing the first four crucial fundamentals of empathy: emotional literacy, moral identity, perspective taking and moral imagination. Part 2 provides ideas for practicing the habits of empathy including self-regulation, practicing kindness and collaboration. Finally, part 3 shares ways to help our children live empathetically through moral courage and altruistic leadership abilities.

Parents are invited to join Lynn Cowell, Smith principal, Traci Hummer, Smith counselor, Teresa Harris, Harman counselor, and Sarah Patterson, Harman principal, for a parent book study of Unselfie. We certainly do not claim to have all the answers, but we welcome you to dig into this resource with us to discuss how we can foster empathy in our children at home, school and throughout our community. We will have engaging dialogue about this important topic as well as share our kindness and empathy focus for Harmanize and GRIT, the elementary character education programs. This year, we’ll be basing many of our activities on a collection of picture books by Trudy Ludwig.

We want to hear from you and talk about how we can partner to develop sincere happiness in our children, preparing them to live successfully with a heart for others.

Sign up to join us at whichever session matches your schedule better:


Evening Session
7:00 p.m. at Harman

Day Session
10:30 a.m. at Smith

Intro/Ch. 1 & 2

Wed., Oct. 11

Thurs., Oct. 12

Ch. 3 & 4

Wed., Oct. 25

Thurs., Oct. 26

Ch. 5 & 6

Wed., Nov. 8

Thurs., Nov. 9

Ch. 7 & 8

Wed., Nov. 29

Thurs., Nov. 30

Ch. 9 & Epilogue

Wed., Dec. 13

Thurs., Dec. 14

#OneOakwood by Dr. Kyle Ramey

Thank you for clicking on our Oakwood City Schools Blog! In order to kick off our blog, I agreed to take a shot at framing the concept and sharing what you might expect to read in the future.

We intend to post every couple of weeks on a wide range of topics of interest from various members of our district leadership team including principals, central office personnel and our board of education. Each topic will be selected and written by the author - feels like I should put a disclaimer about the opinions and thoughts of the author do not necessarily reflect those of the district and they have to answer for them…

You may have seen the hashtag #OneOakwood on our new website or on our rebranded materials throughout the district. I wanted to share the background behind this concept.

As part of our ongoing professional development and focus on continuous improvement, this summer our leadership team spent time wrestling with some very difficult strategic questions.

One that was especially interesting was “What makes Oakwood special?”

Now, I have been asked that before by potential residents who are school shopping or by my colleagues when they see examples of our success in the paper. I always respond it is a matter of having great kids, wonderful families, supportive community and a highly trained staff who work their tails off.

But from a strategic visioning mindset there is one distinct component that is at the heart of it all. We hear this from alumni, and graduating seniors and folks who used to live here and have moved back to raise their family where they grew up. They all say the same thing, it is the sense of community that makes this place so great.

Once we were able to articulate this concept we then went on to explain it further. It is a sense of being one team with a common goal. It is about being #1, not necessarily in the rankings but in our hearts. It is about being one family where we may not be perfect so we can pick on our brothers/sisters but no one else better pick on them. It is about being the dome as a positive, secure, safe place where everyone belongs and is accepted for who they are.

You will see the hashtag #OneOakwood in several spots around the district, and now you know the rest of story.