Episode # 54: Matt Miller
Matt was selected as one of 100 superintendents nationwide to attend & present at the #FutureReady National ConnectED Superintendents Summit at the White House.
Matt is the superintendent of Lakota Local Schools. He has spent the last 26 years serving Ohio communities as an educator in the roles of Superintendent (15), Director of Student Services and Instruction (1), Principal (5), and Teacher (5). Matt is actively involved in the prestigious and nationwide League of Innovative Schools through Digital Promise, serving as an elected member of their advisory committee. e, is the Lead Advisor for the Future Ready Schools District Leaders strand, was named to the National School Boards Association Top 20 to Watch in the Nation, and conducted his 2016 TEDx Talk entitled: Don’t Buy the Book: Cultivate, Curate and Go Open . Matt Miller is transforming Lakota through the use of open educational resources and balanced learning, along with emphasizing student and teacher voice through innovation. He completed his undergraduate coursework and master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati and was selected for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Leadership Institute for Superintendents. Matt is grateful for his supportive family – his son Mason, an aerospace engineer in Florida, and his daughter Jessica, who is finishing up her final year in the education program at the University of Cincinnati.
Your “coming out of the trenches story” and what you’re going through right now during the pandemic in your district and kind of the procedures that you’ve been following? Matt: that’s a that’s a great question, and it seems like it’s changing every day. So I guess the deepest part of the trench, so to speak, is we are in our 11th week of in-person learning five days a week full go for our students, which I’m not sure many people thought we’d make it this far. But here we are. And so far it hasn’t been perfect. It hasn’t been easy, per se. But we are making great strides to get our kids in school as much as possible. Lakota has 17,000 students. And so we created a virtual learning option when the pandemic hit that we’ve been building out since early part of the summer, or maybe even late spring through our curriculum department through our technology department, using our own staff, our teachers and administrators to get that done. We have 4000 of our 17,000 are doing the Virtual Learning option. So in Ohio, our governor has been pretty proactive. We’ve shut down March 12. But he’s been pretty proactive in terms of school districts creating, as I’m sure many other states and school districts are, now a dashboard to report out what our numbers are in terms of COVID and in quarantine cases.
But in addition to that one of our challenges right now, quite frankly, is we’re probably close to almost 1000 students that have been quarantined since the school year has started. For the mere fact that they’re sitting in their own seat. They’re too close to somebody that’s tested positive. And those students are not once or quarantined are not coming back positive or not contracting COVID at all. So that’s one of our challenges. Just have our students out here in Ohio, and I’m sure it’s it’s pretty much this way elsewhere. Our kids are out for 14 days under quarantine. And so we are currently in conversation with Governor Dewine, here in Ohio,
working with probably six or seven other school districts, they’re going to do some research around close contacts and quarantining and rapid tests and the tests that Children’s Hospital and UC Health are putting together. So maybe our kids don’t have to be out that our quarantine so long. We are working really hard to board is as a goal from the get-go to get our kids back in person as much as possible. So hopefully, we can keep the in-person learning going. But if we do have to go remote, we have some mechanisms in place for calling remote learning to point out to be a little bit better than in the spring, but still not as good as in-person learning. And I do want to just stress that all of us in education, no matter what your role, we’ve all been working really, really hard during this pandemic, we have to remember that in in March, April, and May, our teachers and educators are once again, looked up to because of COVID. And being able to pivot and make the best case scenario put our best foot forward in terms of education. Well, for whatever reason, that sort of been forgotten, or people are looking back on that now in a negative light. And I have to just comment that that being in the trenches, I don’t think that’s the case, I think our educators have stepped up. No matter what type of school you’re in, whether you’re in person, hybrid or remote. We have done a great job, I believe, of trying to get the best education possible for all of our kids in our own districts and across the country. And we have to remember that this is unprecedented. I hate that word. It’s so overused now. But it’s one of those words that exists in the situation. So there’s no playbook, I can’t pull a book off the shelf here and say, what you should do to lead a district during a pandemic. The best thing that I think superintendents, administrators, teachers, any educator is doing right now is reaching out and collaborating and doing conversing through networks, like your podcasts, like everything that we’re trying to do in terms of learning about what other schools are doing now. So as much as we’re all sick of zooming. I think it has its benefit it has its place. Let us collaborate all across the nation as we’re trying to figure this out and hopefully provide some continuum of education for kids. Dana: that’s so great to hear kind of your perspective, as a leader of a district that’s gone back full time. So in your district when a student is off to quarantine or they then joining in the class via Google meet. And or if the teacher is asked to quarantine is there, they’re just teaching from home and being projected on the screen?
Matt: So there’s no one answer to that. As we have seen, in my district here at Lakota, for the most part, assignments for those students that have been quarantined, our kids are accessing through Canvas, which is our LMS. And so it’s not a situation where the teacher is doing synchronous and asynchronous or in person and remote at the same time. There are some teachers that are being able to pull that off that are sort of being innovative. But for the most part, our kids are getting their lessons, so to speak, from their quarantine through Canvas, online, almost like a remote learning situation. I know there are some schools that are doing in-person and remote for the kids that are quarantine, we’ve not found that to be very effective. But I would love to talk with districts that have in terms of staff being quarantine, one of our a couple of our teachers, but one in particular, was really adamant about some she wasn’t sick, she understood be in quarantine, but really, really wanted to teach or substitute a to be in her room. And then she is essentially just zooming in from home. Providing the lessons to all the kids to your point about utilizing some of the technology and so I embrace it. I applaud that particular teacher from doing that, but it’s not the norm yet but hopefully soon. Unfortunately, as we get more cases, we’re gonna have to be creative like that. So fortunately have some sort of early adopters that are trying to figure out a way to make it work the best way they can. Dana: How has your community embraced going back? Did you do surveys with the community? How was the feedback when you guys made that decision? Matt: that’s a great question. We have surveyed our staff, using Google, but also through thought exchange, as well, as we were approaching the brand new school year. So when we decided to offer the Virtual Learning option, we survey we surveyed after we get remote, and every month, what does that look like? And how are things going, what’s the good, the bad and the ugly, we’ve built in time into our calendar to take days to decide whether or not we should come back in person. But we have surveyed our community. So one of the interesting data points that I like I’d like to share here is we made the commitment to our community that if you do the virtual option, that after the first semester, like many other districts, you can come back or you can stay in your virtual format. So essentially, after winter break, we just opened and close that survey window. With the results, we had a 10 day window for parents to do in virtual to say, Do you want to come back after the winter break? Or do you want to stay in virtual learning the Virtual Learning option? And so we were kind of curious as to how that would play out of those that survey, about 20 to 25% are coming back in January, that’s you know, depending on, if we all make it to January in terms of whether or not we’re gonna have to shut down or not, and, you know, people data keep talking about, you know, in the fall and winter time, it’s going to get really bad and people are gonna get sick and flu and it’s gonna make COVID. Worse, we don’t know that yet. We’re all wearing masks when we’re close to each other, so who knows if that has an impact on it. But our 4000 number will go down to 3000. If we’re back in-person to about 25% want to come back? I think we were sort of talking about this before, I think it’s some of the parents that might have been hesitant to put their kids back in school, see that it’s going okay, that there are precautions in place. You know, they’re okay with their kids coming back in January, long term. Who knows what it’s going to look like? We don’t have a vaccine (**as of recording**), obviously, hopefully that comes soon.
Just thinking and listening and talking that we might be in the same situation this time next year. We don’t have a vaccine yet or not enough people are taking it. So I think maybe our best case scenario is two years of this. I hope I’m wrong. I hope this is dated. But I think we can learn a lot of lessons just from these first couple months of school and, you know, the strategies to like you’re saying research on, you know, close contact, you know, see if it’s necessary, because what we’re doing is quarantine everybody who’s in a classroom with a student, even if it’s like a high school, or who’s going to, you know, several different classes. Anybody was in a class with that kid. Dana: I heard they are starting to look at if you only have one class with the kid, and you were on the other side of the room, is it as unnecessary as if, you know, you look at the seating chart, and you look at the kid that was within six feet of that students? Matt: Yeah, with districts that they can collect some data and look at those areas of like, you know, do we do need to or, you know, getting that rapid testing is also a good idea as well.
Talk about your work with the League of Innovative Schools and Future Ready Schools. Matt: I’ll talk about Future Ready first. When I was at mentor school in Cleveland to have a team that saw the value in the Future Ready mechanism about what offerings districts and systems, quite frankly can get from the future ready cogs in the gears. Just the amount of data that they put out that I think are really good for school districts. So from my heart from the leadership part, that certainly has helped me but it really my, my technology team led by Todd Wesley really dug into the future ready model. And we built out Lakota’s, one to one program, using Future Ready. I would encourage everybody, and anybody to check out what the work that Future Ready is doing. There are some really good people and all different tracks. There’s a teacher component, there’s a new school board component, there’s a superintendent component, but
there’s just the colleagues and the peers of networking, that you can build up for future ready to lead your district through not just this change, but other changes, pre COVID coming down the pike. They’re pivoting now, Detroit is pivoting now, and making some changes. I couldn’t be more prouder of Tom and his team in the organization to be a part of that. Talked about League of Innovative Schools: Matt: That’s been my go-to network. So the League of Innovative Schools is made up about I think we’re up to about 120-ish school districts across the nation. It’s under the umbrella of Digital Promise. So encourage listeners and viewers to check out Digital Promise. But the League of Innovative Schools is made up of thought leaders, superintendents, and others, to push the needle forward, not just in our own school district, but school districts across the country. It’s my go-to network when, when I needed something, to take a look at when COVID was first starting out across the country, early on one of the states hit hardest in the beginning was Washington State. Ohio started seeing an uptick of cases. I called Susan Enfield who the superintendent Highline School District in in the Seattle area, because Washington State was further ahead in COVID, than what Ohio was. The reason I did that is because she one of my networks and colleagues in the league is Dr. Lynch, I said, “What do I need to be thinking about looking at first that I that I’m not?” So really quickly, she said to me, “You need to make sure you’re going to be able to feed your kids first, then figure out how to connect your kids, and then worry about the academics and the curriculum”. So again, it’s a network. It’s forward thinking. We’re trying to solve problems in our own districts, but also for kids in districts all across the country. And I was I was lucky enough to be a part of the league when I was a mentor in Cleveland area. And then when I transitioned, and was able to get Lakota in the League of Innovative Schools as well. We do a lot of networking in terms of pre COVID site visits, and stealing and learning from each other. It goes back to the power of the network, it goes back to taking different ideas, seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t, and maybe tweaking those a little bit. But I’m lucky to be a part of the league as well. Does the district need to apply to be a part of the League? What is the kind of the procedure to get into the League? Matt: So on the Digital Promise website, there is a tab or a link for a League of Innovative Schools and it is you have to apply and it’s pretty comprehensive. One of the best things I loved about the League was the first time I applied when I was when I was in the mentor area. in Cleveland, I we didn’t get in the first time. So you go back and you sort of sharpen your pencils and you figure out, okay, what what was lacking? What didn’t I have, but one of the best parts of the league is they want active membership and active participation. So once you are accepted, you have to be actionable in terms of your commitment and your input and adding value to the organization. If not, and it’s happened. It’s not often but it does happen that school district do drop off not part of the League anymore because the superintendent leadership hasn’t seen the value or hasn’t committed to it. So we do a lot of peer peer to peer training so to speak. We are trying to put forth more efforts around
equity across the country. But we’ve that’s something that the league’s been working on for probably in earnest, probably eight to nine years now seems to be at a forefront for everybody now, but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. The other piece that we put pretty well with the league recently is a connectivity piece, again, something that the League recognized was an issue many years ago. But now pandemic sort of brought it to light again. So those are some of the big, heavy lifts, obviously, the personalized learning. One of the things that I’ve been preaching that you and I were talking offline before we got started, two is the professional development for our teachers. And so both Future Ready, and the League of Innovative Schools have cogs and components. For PD, my best ideas still come from my League visits, I work with Future Ready, but mainly from my teachers that pick up their own ideas. And, and oftentimes, as a superintendent, I get to hear brand new ideas I love one of the best things I love doing is listening to teachers talk amongst themselves during PD time, during off-classroom time, or sometimes in the classroom. Because when you hear the synergy that some teachers have, they know what they want to do and want to get done. Luckily, as a superintendent, I get to say yes, sometimes hopefully, more often than not about teachers that want to try new things. I want to be innovative, and if I can knock down barriers for them to get that accomplished. I mean, I want to so they want to do good things for kids. And if they’re doing good things for kids, and they’re excited, and they’re energetic, and they’re positive, that’s gonna trickle down to the kids as well. Hearing the teachers talk and collaborate together, as always a great way to know what’s going on in the schools. You have several schools that you visit, and are you popping into some of their PD sessions via digital platforms now? Or are you going in-person? How is that working for you to do observations? Now, I have a great story, not so much on observation. In Lakota, we use teams. And we zoom a lot, but we use teams for different chats and videos and things like that. And I’ve asked my curriculum team to put me in, you know, so that I have access to see what teachers are talking about what conversations are happening in going on. So every now and then there’ll be a sort of a question or a comment posted that either isn’t exactly accurate, or I might have a different response. And I’ll just go in and type it and I think maybe surprises people sometimes that I do look at the conversations that are taking place. Sometimes it’s fun to write like, the other day, I think one of the icebreakers in the curriculum teams and administrators and teachers’ zoom was, “What’s your favorite Halloween candy?” So I’ve been following the thread. But when I saw that as sort of an icebreaker in between our break collection, I put in, you know, peanut M&Ms or whatever. And I think it like gets people to remember, you know, central office isn’t just an ivory tower. They’re sometimes looking and contributing. And not just to that question, but I like to see, you know, it helps me check, check the pulse of what’s going on in our schools. So I think social media does that, too. I think amplifying the work that our teachers and principals, and other educators do in our district is huge. For superintendents, when we can’t get into the buildings, we can see in a glimpse. And again, it’s probably something positive, but gives us a glimpse into what our kids are doing with our teachers and staff every single day.
Tell me about your TED talk from 2016. Don’t Buy the Book: Cultivate, Curate and Go Open– something that really got my attention was about three minutes, in you have your hand sweep the books off of a desk. Telle me about your thoughts at the time about how textbooks are failing, falling by the wayside? And then how should we get rid of the textbooks and clear the desks? Matt: I talk about how the experts in our classrooms and in our schools, our teachers are the ones in front of our kids or with our kids alongside of our students. About the whole textbook and testing industry for a while there, just because some of the districts that I’ve seen, just putting all their eggs in one basket getting one company or one textbook series and sticking with that. So educators with good educators always have supplemented or deviated from the prescriptive class lesson plan. It’s not a one size fits all.
industry. But for a while, I think the textbook companies have been a one size fits all synergy. There are a lot of dollars tied to that a lot of resources. I think it did, and still does limit the creativity in the classroom. One of the reasons why did that TED talk was, again, through my work with the League of Innovative Schools and the work of some other educators, I saw the value in open education resources, because schools were making strides in terms of one to one devices, or one to two devices, and having teachers curate some of the content and put it out there for their students as it’s multiple, it’s shapeable. And it’s tailored to what kids need, what kids should be doing. And it’s not a one size fits all textbook, that we’re going to spend hundreds of 1000s of dollars on and have any say and how that plays with our kids in terms of what they actually need. I’ve also worked with the US Department of Education, in terms of open education resources, and what does that mean, and it’s not just pulling free content out of the air or googling something and saying, that’s what you’re gonna use. It’s very methodical, it’s very thought out. It’s putting components together, for your kids for what they need, that you can shape in evolve
on the fly in real time, if you need to, but again, shapeable moldable. It’s better for the kids, because it’s tailored to them, you’re not buying a textbook that’s already outdated, that was written in a state, you know, three time zones away, just to meet someone’s sales quota. I think we are is really sort of come into its own lately. It’s still a hot burning issue, I think, for some districts and for some parts of the country. But it goes back to my thoughts about our experts are the people in the classroom are not the ones working for corporate. There is value to some textbook companies providing some things for for schools and for teachers and for students. I think that relationship needs to go the other way, versus out of out of a catalog. It allows for a lot more differentiated instruction as well. Dana: I thought it was funny how, you know, the beginning of your TED talk, you talked about how we’ve been saying 21st century learning skills, right. So long, and I mean, even 20 years later, some people still say that so like, when does the 22nd century talk start? Matt: I’m still waiting for someone to steal that and use that. What we’re at now, like, like, what any of us have imagined a year ago, would be in the situation now that we’re in with a pandemic. I mean, I don’t think any of us have so who knows what we’ll be talking about in a couple years?
Tell me about how Lakota Local Schools is applying a balanced learning approach this year: In the in-person classroom and how maybe teachers are differentiating with our classes and working with those kids are coming back and forth and quarantine as well as balance learning. One of the best things that our teachers are doing now, first of all, they’re the most resilient group, I know, first and foremost and want their kids to be safe. So on the balance, I think, that we’re trying to strike at Lakota, that many of our teachers are taking the lead on, is the balance between what’s required and what we have to do because of your state or federal mandates. And then the other side of the scale would be, what are the things that our kids need to know and learn and collaborate and build out, that’s going to be a value to them to go into one of the four E’s. So our four E’s in Lakota, when our kids graduate, you know, which one of the four E’s are going to fall into. And those E’s is enrollment. So for post secondary, or college level employment, so going right from graduation to the workforce, entrepreneurship, which is a is an E, we just added, our kids are taking, for example, a class called incubator edu, which is essentially like Shark Tank,
with our businesses, and the fourth e that we talk about at Lakota, to balance everything out his enlistment. We’re huge supporters of our military. We want our kids to to think about, okay, here are the requirements, here’s the things that are going to get you out. But our concern and our worry, doesn’t stop at graduation. Our our interest in our kids goes beyond just the diploma. Just like many other schools, if not every school, in the country thinks about, but that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to balance out what we’re doing between what we have to do, and then adding almost What are kids want to do? What are their aspirations and how can we support them? How can we find a way to say yes to them?
Key quotes: I think it goes back to saying yes to the experts. And the teachers, when they have something innovative, that they want to try that they want to do that, you can see the value in that. You can see the spark that those teachers have, because they want to do something different, creative, innovative for their kids to see they see what’s what’s next. Maybe that would be my thing is what’s next, not in terms of something, trying something new or shiny, but our kids have a lot of different interests. We have the capacity, I think at all of our public schools to figure out other people that will help those students be able to attain that or to achieve that.
Find Matt online on Twitter: @LakotaSuper email: firstname.lastname@example.org IG: lakotasuper FB: Matt Miller – Lakota Local Schools Superintendent (facebook.com/LakotaSuper) Website: www.lakotaonline.com Watch this episode on YouTube:https://youtu.be/MD2tefShKl4