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Union Local School District explores Cultural Blueprint for staff, students

By CATHRYN STANLEY Editor Published: July 26, 2017 12:00 AM
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MORRISTOWN -- The Union Local School District Board of Education learned of plans to implement at Cultural Blueprint in the district at its Thursday, July 20 meeting.

Superintendent Ben Porter said a group of people in the Forward Three Committee has been working since January to develop a Cultural Blueprint to help instill values in students and promote a culture of open, honest and respectful communication, excellence, and empathy. Following a presentation by some of the teachers and administrators involved in the process, Porter said the board would be asked to pass a resolution adopting the Cultural Blueprint for the district at a future date.

Porter said the blueprint was based on the notion that the students were the priority. "Union Local is not here to create jobs for people. It's here for the students," Porter said. "The development and improvement of individual behaviors is what we are striving for."

"This isn't just for the kids. It's for the adults and the community and I think it would be a great way to unify the Union Local School District," said Rick Barnhouse, grades 6-12 staff support director.

Jayme Yonak, coordinator of special education, curriculum and testing said the idea may seem simple, but the process was not and a lot of thought and heart went into it. She said an inservice day was held that brought all staff in to develop the blueprint and it is a reflection of them.

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"We brought in everybody who has an impact on students and we divided them into groups, coming up with what they felt were important traits to instill in our students at Union Local - what did we want them to leave with," she said. Those thoughts and beliefs were compiled into what they felt was important to instill in students - everyday things that they should practice in themselves and could therefore pass on to the students and other staff. Those ideas were narrowed down into three key beliefs that will be focused on this school year - GRIT (everyday excellence ) leads to success; open, honest and respectful communication, and everyone makes a difference.

Middle school teacher Sheryl Sonk said the members of the Focus Three Group went to a seminar in Columbus in January that she called "extremely powerful stuff". She said she uses a lot of the those ideas in her classroom and also incorporates values she uses in her life. "It's simple stuff. It's stuff that we all know. It's things to remind ourselves of." She continued, "We have to get our kids to understand the values that have to happen in a middle school setting because those are the same values they need to go off into the job market."

Sonk said those values can be taught from kindergarten through the twelfth grade and the language will be the same. She explained the many concepts and phrases she and other teachers have been incorporating in their classrooms such as how reactions create outcomes, being responsible or themselves and not complaining or blaming others. "We're hoping that it sinks in so that when they go off to college or the workplace, they will know how to behave," she said.

Elementary school teacher Ron Bober said, "As Mrs. Sonk said, this was really powerful stuff. It seemed very simple, as Mr. Porter said, and it is. I mean it is just how you respond to things and how you live your life," he said noting that with each of the three beliefs there were outcome and behaviors they hoped to see in the students. "As a lifelong Jet, and as someone who has kids here now, I'm really happy we are doing this," Bober said. "I think it is going to pay off hugely in the end for our kids."

Elementary school teacher Sally McDiffitt said that one of the powerful messages that came out of the training in Columbus was that "everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but no one is entitled to a belief that goes against the culture that we are trying to build at Union Local". She said "above the line and below the line" was another concept she used in her classroom. She also taught her students different values by using Disney quotes. "We're pretty exited. It was well received and we're looking forward to getting that started next (school ) year.

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"We want the best version of our staff and the best version of our students. If I give the best version of myself to the students, I'm going to get the best version of them. If you combine those two things, something powerful is going to happen," Superintendent Porter said. "We don't have to over complicate things. We're going back to basic and fundamentals."

He said the goal of the Focus Three Committee was personal development. Porter said it was simple, but powerful and "life-changing". He said one of the founders of the program will be presenting this information at the first staff inservice of the new school year on August 21. "I'm pretty proud of where we are on this," Porter said, listing all the staff members who have been involved in the process.

Board member Dean Lancaster praised the Cultural Blueprint and noted that the impact will not be felt soon and may not be quantifiable. "The simplicity of it is it's strength," Lancaster said. "You're off to a great start."

He also praised Superintendent Porter for leading his staff through the training. "He could have had a pay increase, but this is what he bought instead and I just want to commend Mr. Porter and his team. I'm very excited about it."

Board member Terry Puperi agreed, saying Focus Three was the definition of "best practices" and he knew a change would be seen in staff and students. "I want to thank Ben for finding it and spearheading it. Ben is a great guy and he had a vision, but it takes others to follow that vision and make it happen."

Board member Dan Lucas said it was the district's responsibility to do this for the students and the impact would be seen in the future and would result in a "major improvement to society".

Board member Billy Porter echoed those statements saying, "Being a graduate of this school, this is something that the school district has needed for years. We will see it pay off in the next generation when these students instill these values in their children."

"This is what Union Local Jets is about- making kids the best, giving kids the best and that is what you folks are doing. I'm proud of every one of you and you guys are the ones that make me proud to be a Jet, " said board member Ed Stenger

The board approved the transfer of Nick Nardo, from assistant principal to intervention specialist, effective at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.

The board approved Christine Smith as elementary school spelling bee coordinator; Kayla Mamula and Megan Lattocha (pending PAV) as co-cheerleading advisors for junior high football; and Kelsey Sevey as short-term substitute teacher.

The board approved the addition of Hannah Anderson to the 2017 class graduation list.

Superintendent Porter read a letter from St. Mary's Central School thanking the district for letting them pay to use their buses for field trips.

The board approved purchase orders for varsity and junior high cheer day camps to the National Cheerleaders Association for $1,109 and $1,200, respectively.

The board approved use of facilities for an employee health and vendor fair on August 21 in the high school commons, and the use of the pole vault pit through September 1 by Jill Loase for practice.

The board approved participation in the following title programs for the 2017-2018 school year: Title I, Title II-A, Special Education (IDEA-B), and Early Childhood Special Education.

The board approved the Ohio School Boards Association Policy updates and PDQ from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

The board approved a resolution adopting a calamity day alternative make-up plan.

The board approved the elementary school handbook, and approved C & M Photography for the 2017-2018 school year portraits.

The board approved an agreement with Rea & Associates for the district's Medicaid program. Treasurer Janet Hissrich said the district had contacted with Rea & Associates for the past six years.

The board also approved a five-year contract with Richardson Copier Services of Wheeling. Hissrich noted the district averages 3,000 copies per month.

The board approved an agreement for National Webcheck Program Services and Equipment.


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