July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

‘All hands on deck,’ Medina Schools interim superintendent urges

MEDINA — Medina Schools interim Superintendent Dave Knight urged district employees to start the school year on a positive note Thursday.

“ ‘Moving Medina forward’ is what we’re about today,” he said, which is also the slogan for the November levy campaign.

Wearing a souvenir Put-in-Bay T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Don’t give up the ship,” interim Medina Schools Superintendent Dave Knight encourages district staff in a speech Thursday morning at the Medina Performing Arts Center as they prepare for the first day of school, which is Monday. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

Wearing a souvenir Put-in-Bay T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Don’t give up the ship,” Knight gave a somewhat unconventional speech during the district’s traditional opening ceremony, when teachers and staff return to the school buildings to prepare for Monday, the first day of classes.

Knight compared the district to a ship sailing toward an island paradise.

“I need all hands on deck,” he said.

“There are some obstacles and some icebergs out there,” he said, while showing a PowerPoint photo of the Titanic sinking. Laughter filled the auditorium.

Knight then showed another photo of him with Medina City Teachers Association President John Leatherman and Mark DeFoor, president of Ohio Association of Public School Employees Local 305, in a paddleboat on Knight’s farm.

“We are in this boat together,” Knight said. “What we need to remember is we’re surrounded by a group of friends. Don’t be afraid to call on them to seek help in a number of ways.”

During his speech, Knight talked about the five-year, 5.9-mill levy on the November ballot.

“It’s part of doing business in the state of Ohio,” he said of levy requests.

If approved, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $206 a year.

The “banded elementary school concept,” proposed by the administration for next school year if the levy fails, includes closing Heritage Elementary School, and would make students switch buildings every two years.

Under the plan, Garfield and H.G. Blake schools would house kindergarten and first grade, Eliza Northrop and Ralph E. Waite would house second and third grades, and Ella Canavan and Sidney Fenn would contain fourth and fifth grades.

Knight showed a PowerPoint slide highlighting the positives of neighborhood schools and one building for kindergarten through fifth grade: closer to home, convenience for families, the fact that most students walk, strong parent-teacher organizations and stability.

He encouraged teachers and staff members to share with him and the community what goes on day- to- day at school by taking pictures and videos with their smartphones or writing a paragraph.

“Our community deserves to know how we are serving them, helping them,” he said.

Leatherman spoke as well. He encouraged staff to see the district as a family.

“This is something we once had, and something we need to return to,” he said. “We don’t make widgets, ladies and gentlemen, we inspire children.”

Knight, a retired principal of Sidney Fenn Elementary School, was hired by the school board after Superintendent Randy Stepp was placed on paid leave April 8, pending the outcome of a special audit by Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost into Stepp’s use of a “carryover” fund held by the Medina County Schools’ Educational Service Center.

Two weeks later, the board voted to rescind Stepp’s new contract approved in January, which had included an $83,000 signing bonus.

Stepp responded in May by suing the school board in federal court. The board has countersued, demanding the $83,000 bonus be returned.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.