Graham begins school year with new leader and new plan

Graham Local Schools will start “a new era” when classes resume Wednesday with a new superintendent and a new strategic plan for the district’s next five years.

Kirk Koennecke’s first official day as superintendent was Aug. 1. A principal at Marion Harding High School last school year, he has also been a principal of the Springfield High School’s arts and communication academy. He replaced interim superintendent Matt Curtis.

“I am so excited to be here, and about the plan and the work our community and staff has done,” said Koennecke, 43, a Cleveland area native. “We want to see Graham capitalize on this momentum that we feel we have here.”

Koennecke already has his marching orders as the school board approved the five-year plan, which cost the district $4,000, at its July 25 meeting. In fact, he said he had a major hand in drawing up the plan during a four-month transition period into his new job. Administrators, staff and community partners and board members also had input.

The district worked in collaboration with the Ohio School Boards Association on the plan, known as “Graham 2020.”

“It gives us all kind of a road map to where we are heading, and for me it’s something that will allow me to direct my energy into the work that really matters,” Koennecke said. “I feel that every district has to have a vision, a plan. Our board and our community have signaled that we are moving into a new era.”

The plan identified several district goals, its core values and its overall mission. Each goal include actions to be taken, which staff will work on the actions and a deadline to reach each of the objectives.

“The No. 1 goal is making sure that our students have an adaptive learning environment,” said Koennecke. “We are going to personalize learning for all students. … It’s about making instruction more relevant for each individual student.”

The continued employment of a school resource officer is among the staffing suggestions. One has already been hired for this school year, the first time any Champaign County school has had one, according to Koennecke.

“This is an attempt to make sure that safety is a priority,” he said.

Among other new staffing possibilities are using a grant writer, and hiring a social worker/education support worker and social media/technology coach.

The district will consider a pre-school schedule change, looking at starting a mentoring program and possibly reducing homework and the cost of the latch-key program. It plans to implement an elementary art program for kindergarten to fifth grade, identify new K-8 math programming strategies and launch a new district website with a parent portal.

“The extra-curricular and opportunities like art, music and athletics are all important in developing a holistic approach of educating our children,” Koennecke said.

One of the key financial objectives is to investigate putting a levy on the ballot, possibly by 2017, and get a levy campaign going soon.

“At some point, our board wants to lay the groundwork for a future campaign,” said Koennecke. “There’s not a set time or date, but we want to make sure we are in a position to provide quality services. Everybody can rally behind shared goals, but you have to create that environment.”

The plan set other financial objectives that include examining all current expenditures and vendor contracts for possible savings, investigating comparable competitive benefits models, increasing staff development opportunities and support, and better communicating spending priorities.

“Some of the goals are broad and require being smart with our dollars,” said Koennecke. “It’s also about reaching out and deepening our partnerships with our community and area organizations. That’s a new kind of vibe that hadn’t been around for a few years.”

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