Perrysburg Schools Superintendent Thomas Hosler, left, chats with high school principal Michael Short at Perrysburg High School. ‘We value our staff and what they do and we try to show that, although we can never do a great enough job,’ Mr. Hosler says.
The past few years have been stressful for public school employees.
An increased emphasis on standardized tests. New teacher-evaluation methods. Changing technology.
That’s a good recipe for producing workers who are on edge and frustrated with their bosses.
“I think one of the things we've been able to work with our staff on is that we’re trying to help them through it … we're not the enemy,” Perrysburg High School principal Michael Short said. “As administrators we obviously have to do certain things but we want it to be as painless for them as possible. My philosophy as a building leader is if the teachers are upset, or if they’re on edge, that goes through into the classroom. And that can affect the kids. So I do the best I can, within the constraints I have, to make their life here in the building as stress-free as possible. I think they know that we're trying to help them get through any difficulties that everybody is facing.”
That kind of thinking is one reason the Perrysburg Exempted Village School District finished atop the large employer category in The Blade’s Top Workplaces competition.
The winners are chosen based on an anonymous survey of employees.
“We value our staff and what they do and we try to show that, although we can never do a great enough job,” said Thomas Hosler, who has been the district’s superintendent since 2007. “We've got a very professional staff — from the bus driver who greets the students in the morning to the custodian who locks up the building at midnight. We’ve got a very dedicated staff, and I think what helps is everyone is focused on that student and that student’s experience.”
It starts with trying to hire the right people.
“We look for good people,” says Aura Norris, the district’s executive director of human resources and operations. “We look for people who know why they want to work with students and who get fulfillment from that.”
“We can teach them their skills, but you can’t change a person’s personality.”
Assistant head cook Jackie Jurski serves lunch with a smile at Perrysburg High School. Administrators encourage staff to come up with new ideas, then they support the projects.
And while a majority of the district’s 550 employees are teachers, the administration considers all of its employees educators.
“We tell bus drivers, ‘You know you're the first person kids see in the morning and you can make or break their day,’ Ms. Norris says. “The cafeteria ladies, you know, a kid has had a bad morning, didn't do well on a test, your smile in the lunch line may be the first smile they see that day and that can really help a kid. And of course the teachers, that kind of goes without saying.”
When surveyed, some employees praised Mr. Hosler’s efforts to communicate, his positivity, his trust, his motivational skills, and his ability to make the workplace seem friendly and welcoming.
“It is a teacher’s dream job,” wrote one. “Great students, awesome faculty, supportive administration. What else could you want?
The administrators aren’t afraid to try new things. They encourage staff members to come up with new ideas, then they support the projects.
For example, a custodian at Perrysburg Junior High who likes to interact with students and is an avid angler came up with the idea of a walleye fishing tournament. He found some sponsors and got organizational help from the district administration. This spring, Perrysburg students will square off with Maumee students on the Maumee River for the fourth consecutive year.
Mr. Hosler says the support of the school board is important.
“We’re fortunate that we have a board that understands what the community’s expectations are and they’re key partners in this process. So we’re lucky we have a board that recognizes what's important and you know where the district should go.”
One thing the board has supported is having building leadership teams that make decisions for that particular building.
“We’ve really tried to shift away from that top-down mentality,” Mr. Hosler said. “We hire great people, they’re professional, and we want to stay out of their way and we want their input in our direction.”
Of course, not everything in the Perrysburg Schools always goes smoothly.
“I think we’ve done a good job of looking at what we do and how we do it, and being brutally honest with what we’re good at and what we're not good at,” Mr. Hosler said. “And I think that has taken time to get to that place. … But I think we’ve begun to look at some of the cracks and some of the things that we can do better and I think the staff has embraced that.”
Contact Chip Towns at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6194.
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