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Published: Wednesday, 8/14/2002

New Evergreen schools chief finds meaning in job

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

METAMORA - Kenneth Jones left an eight-hour-a-day communications job at General Motors Corp.'s Defiance Powertrain for the Evergreen Schools superintendent's post, where he will often rise at 4:30 a.m. to check road conditions for bus routes and leave ball games and board meetings after 10 p.m.

“But when you're doing something of significance, time is irrelevant,” he said. “You just have to put in the time. My responsibilities at GM were pretty much eight hours a day. My responsibilities here are much greater. But at this point in my life, this is where I want to be.”

The key, said Mr. Jones, 55, is significance.

Upon announcing his retirement at age 52 as superintendent of Ayersville schools in Williams County about three years ago, Mr. Jones planned to look for a school administration position in Indiana or Michigan. Ohio rules at that time did not allow superintendents to immediately take another similar job in the state after they started collecting a pension.

But when Powertrain, which is near Ayersville, called with a job offer to assist upper management in preparing reports, he said yes.

It would be his first time working in private industry since he loaded trucks at what is now Diehl, Inc., dairy products in Defiance as a college student in the 1960s and he wanted another look at “the real world.” He enjoyed his work at GM and felt it was important, but he never saw the “significance” that he assigns to education.

“I really think education is one of the most significant occupations one can have in terms of influencing young people,” said Mr. Jones, who with his wife, Trish, has bought a condominium northeast of Wauseon.

He said he would like to lead Evergreen for six to eight years if the fit seems right.

His three years at GM, however, will make him a better superintendent, he said.

They reinforced his ideas that schools need to do a better job of teaching students how to communicate when they're assigned to work in teams, how to read technical manuals, and how to apply what they've learned.

Too often, Mr. Jones said, educated people will try to read a manual on doing their taxes or assembling their furniture from front to back, all in one swoop like they were taught to read the stories in their English books.

And when they finish, the instructions seem far more complex than if, after skimming, they would have read a step, studied the illustration, and then did that before going on to the next paragraph.

Likewise, teachers too often have been content to give children worksheets on subjects such as measurement instead of having them actually get up and measure real items, he said.

Toward that end, he's pleased that Evergreen High School has fewer, but longer class periods than the traditional schedule, which should give teachers more time to “engage the kids in the learning process” instead of standing “at the head of the class spewing out knowledge.”

He'll share all that with teachers next week in an address on their first day that he hopes will urge them to start the year like the late Janet Meyers, a tough math teacher at Continental High School in the 1960s who inspired Mr. Jones' career in education.

“She just made you reach your potential,” he said.

“She wasn't satisfied with mediocrity. She had expectations and you just tried like heck to do your best in her class because that was the only thing that was acceptable.”

From her class, Mr. Jones who grew up on a farm near Continental, went on to graduate from Defiance College with a degree in math education in 1969.

He taught junior high and high school math at Ayersville, was a high school guidance counselor and head basketball coach at Montpelier, and high school principal at Hilltop High School in West Unity before returning to Ayersville first as high school principal and then moving up to superintendent in 1983.

Mr. Jones said he hopes to help the school increase its proficiency test scores, which have often ranked near the middle in Fulton County.

But after less than two weeks on the job – his two-year contract that pays $84,000 the first year started Aug. 1 – he said he was not yet familiar enough with the district to set a specific goal.

He promised, however, to make sure students are taught the subject matter that's on the proficiency tests: “That's what the state thinks kids ought to know.”

He also wants to discuss with the staff and the community the visionary ideas of the day that could make radical changes in education.

For instance, schools have almost always given diplomas to students who have attended classes for the required time, knowing that there was great variation in how much they learned during those 12.5 years.

But what if that was reversed, so that diplomas were awarded once students achieved a set group of skills and knowledge base and how much time they took to do that became the variable, he asked.

His big challenge, however, will be quite concrete.

The $14.4 million construction project voters approved in May calls for building a $10 million elementary school and spending $4.4 million to redo the former high school into a middle school, largely with state funds.

Mr. Jones also might be charged with preparing information for voters to consider increasing taxes as soon as next year.

Treasurer Linda Kidwell's five-year forecast shows a deficit in the year beginning in July, 2003; she said the board will likely consider a new operating levy next year.



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