Edward Kurt will become superintendent of Findlay City Schools this summer, succeeding Dean Wittwer. Kurt, 48, supervised Margaretta Schools, his hometown district, for 12 years.
Courier reporter Max Filby recently met with Kurt to talk about his general challenges in a school district about five times the size of his Erie County district.
Q: Are you looking forward to coming in next fall?
A: I’m both excited and honored to be the next superintendent of Findlay City Schools. I think it’s a great community. I think it’s a great school system.
I wanted to come in and be a leader and work with the administration and the faculty and staff. Hopefully we can make it a little bit better and try to do the best we can to serve students.
Q: What would you say is your philosophy on education?
A: Well, it’s kind of simple. Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The bottom line is that you have to care about kids. If you’re in education and you don’t have a heart, to have compassion and care for your students…
I’m a math teacher and I know my subject area, but, at the same time, I have to have caring for my students or I’m not going to connect and I’m not going to get the student achievement that I want.
We want people working in Findlay City Schools, and we have people working in Findlay City Schools, that have a passion for kids. That’s what we need.
It doesn’t matter how big your school district is, whether it’s a 6,000 (district) or a 15,000, like a Dublin or wherever you’re at, you have to have people that care about kids and that’s what makes it special.
That connection to the instructor or to the teacher will bring on student achievement that will really help you and will really help the students.
Q: Is it hard to find that kind of passion you’re talking about?
A: Obviously, you want each teacher in whatever they’re licensed to have the knowledge to be able to teach but, at the same time, you want the person who has that passion. If you match those up, that’s when you get a dynamic effect in working with young people.
As the leader of the school district, I’m going to work through our HR (human resources) department and through our administration to really push for those kind of people and put them in front of our students. That’s what we want to do.
Q: What are your plans, financially speaking, for the school district?
A: Well if you look at us and look at our five-year forecast, you’ll notice we’re starting to go into operational deficit. What that means is we’re starting to spend more than we’re bringing in. In any district, you have to look at that. We want to look at any kind of operational efficiencies that we can as a district.
We have a great staff in place, we have a great administrative team and we have a very good treasurer in place. We want to look at everything that’s in place right now with me coming in.
A lot of what I’ll do in my first year is evaluate where we’re at. I’ll be meeting with all of our personnel and try to look at any more efficiencies that we can get as a school district.
Q: Margaretta Local Schools had some financial trouble while you were there. Does it come down to cuts at some point? Are you willing to make those decisions that could be tough for you and the district to endure?
A: I think it took seven attempts for us to pass an emergency levy. Through that painstaking process, we were in the same place of operational deficit and getting to a point where we had to look at those efficiencies.
We did some things like going to one bus route. We modified our bus routes, we consolidated elementaries, we took concessions in both health insurance and benefits and salary, everybody in the district. We worked together as a team to try to pull things together and do what’s right for kids.
I don’t believe in reducing the opportunities and things we can put in front of students. I’m going to fight as much as I can to make sure that the programs that are important to our students we can maintain.
Q: Are you worried about how to deal with the flooding that has damaged schools in Findlay in the past?
A: We want to do everything possible to assure our buildings are safe and maintained. We want to work with the city to manage the situation, and hopefully find solutions to move forward in a positive direction. Obviously, coming in new I will want to get up to speed with all aspects of managing this situation.
Q: What do you think is important today in public education, with everything that’s changing in it, especially in Ohio?
A: The big thing now is college and career readiness.
…One thing that really excites me about this opportunity is the connection between the high school and the career center that is connected right to the high school. It affords our students so many opportunities whether you want to go part-time, half-time or full-time into a vocational setting and get the type of training that you want in the field you want to go into. Any student and even my own children, you know my six children, you want them to get an education so that they go into a career and not into a job. You want to get them into training so they can find something that they have a passion for. That will make them good at what they do.
It goes back to what I told you about teachers. If we don’t have teachers that have a passion to work with kids, we’re not going to get the efficiencies that we need from instructional strategies they’re going to use with the kids.
So, that’s what I like about this school. That’s what we really need to look at is those kinds of opportunities, and that’s why I’m so excited about Findlay City Schools.
Q: You mentioned college readiness. In December, the Ohio Board of Regents came out with a report with the percentage of college students that had to take remediation classes. About 33 percent of Findlay students had to take those classes in college. How do you plan to combat something like that?
A: Well, we need to look at that data. We need to be a data-driven school district. You heard Dr. (Dean) Wittwer talk about the evaluation process. We’re going to look at data and aspects of the school district.
It has to be valid data. We’ll look at this data and see how we’re performing at getting our students ready for college or career readiness, based upon their goals.
One other thing that excited me about Findlay City Schools is that they talk about individual students and working to develop their individual goals, themselves as a student.
We want to really look at developing that through our HR department, through our administrative team. We’re going to look at those statistics and try to improve ourselves.
Q: You said you need to rely on valid data. Are you saying the data in that report wasn’t valid?
A: You have to look at the statistics. I haven’t studied it enough to know. As a math teacher, you know how it is, you can always make statistics look however you want.
I think you have a very productive school district, I think you can always improve. I think Margaretta had a great grade card but we didn’t arrive. I think we always have to work to improve and I also know that statistics are statistics.
So I think you need to validate that and see different variables when it comes to data. You need to look at different systems, not just one thing.
Q: Are you nervous leaving a district of 1,200 and coming into a district of more than 5,500?
Q: Not at all?
A: No. I’m not because I’ve been extremely impressed with everybody I’ve met here. I’m impressed with the board of education.
One thing I will tell you that I’ve done my homework. I’ve talked to other superintendents who have gone from a 6,000 (student) district to a 15,000 district. What they stated to me was going in that direction … I’ll be honest with you, over at Margaretta, I have to do everything. It’s myself and the treasurer and we have to do everything …
Now I have actual competent people that can help me, so I’m excited about that opportunity. I’m excited about the relationships here with Findlay City Schools, the City of Findlay, the University of Findlay and the business community. I’m excited to meet those people and work with those people to serve the students and children of this school district. That excites me.
I’m telling you, the last interviews were over at the one middle school, what’s the one? It’s … Glenwood. We were over at Glenwood, it was a Friday night with a snowstorm and we had 50 people to hear the final three candidates interview for two hours. That impresses me. It excites me that people are that dedicated to this school district.
Q: What do you expect your biggest challenges will be coming in?
A: The biggest thing is getting acclimated and evaluating. You can’t come in and just start making changes…
(Wittwer has) been very good to work with. He’s been very welcoming to me. So the bottom line is, I need to come in and evaluate where we’re at.
I need to look at the strategies which I already have, and continue to carry out those strategies and look at possible improvements when it comes to instructional strategies and operational efficiencies. Those two main things will probably be two of the things on the front burner for me, right away.
Q: Personally, what will be the hardest about the transition?
A: It’s going to be hard leaving where I’m at because I’m from there, my wife’s from there, I have six kids that have graduated from there. When I started there, a third of the teachers had me as a student.
So, it’s going to be hard leaving, but, as a professional, I’ve always taken on responsibility and I’ve always tried to push myself to take on leadership roles. I’m really excited about that for myself, as a professional.
Q: Why did you want the job?
A: Eight years ago, I wrote down 12 districts in the state of Ohio that I would leave Margaretta for, and Findlay was one of them.
Q: How did you come to that conclusion?
A: I know Findlay because my parents grew up in the area and I have aunts and uncles from here, too. You know there were probably three districts in northwest Ohio, and being an Ohio State graduate, I’m fond of Columbus. There were a lot of suburban districts in Columbus that I was very fond of.
I thought, ‘those would be great opportunities for taking on leadership.’ Findlay was one of them.
Q: Do you see this as being your last job in education or do you see this as leading to another job somewhere else?
A: I was at Margaretta for 12 years and I plan on retiring from Findlay, if they’ll have me. I plan on working so hard that they want to keep me here. That’s my goal.
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