Residents and employees of the Westerville City School District last week had their chance to rate the three finalists for district superintendent.
The Board of Education hosted a public interview Jan. 31, during which the candidates introduced themselves and answered questions submitted by the public. Those who attended were asked to fill out feedback sheets to be used by the board in the decision-making process.
The three remaining candidates for the position were: Steve Estepp, executive director of K-12 curriculum and instruction for Hilliard City Schools; John Kellogg, South-Western City Schools assistant superintendent of curriculum; and Columbus City Schools Deputy Superintendent John Stanford.
After the interviews, school board President Denise Pope said the board planned to select a superintendent in a closed session meeting Feb. 2.
Negotiations were planned for this week with the hope that the board could approve a contract for the new superintendent at its Feb. 11 regular meeting, Pope said.
The candidate selected will replace current Superintendent Dan Good, who will retire at the end of this school year.
Estepp said he learned the value of making school "an experience, not just an event" as a young high school teacher in the Dublin City School District.
His first year, Estepp said, he had a student in his English class who wasn't performing as well as he thought the student should. The next year, however, Estepp said he had the student in his video-production class.
The student found passion in video production that ultimately bolstered his academic performance.
"We create experiences for kids; we help them find the passions. We teach them the skills they use for the rest of their lives," Estepp said.
After working as a teacher, Estepp worked in the community relations department for the Newark City School District then worked his way up through the administrative ranks in the Hilliard City School District.
Estepp said he sees the role of superintendent as multifaceted: A superintendent must provide a vision for the entire district, engage in open and honest dialogue about the district with staff internally and with district stakeholders externally and must champion public education.
A superintendent also must ensure that the district runs smoothly and efficiently, as solid operations spur students' success, Estepp said.
"System success is what ultimately equals student success," Estepp said. "Our job is to find the best ways to be efficient, the best way to be innovative and the best way to define our values for who we are."
As assistant superintendent for curriculum for the South-Western City School District, Kellogg said he works to ensure the academic success of 20,000 students in 30 schools.
Despite the challenges of a district that features a diverse student population with a high level of socio-economically disadvantaged students, South-Western was rated "excellent" on the past three state report cards, Kellogg said.
Prior to serving in his current role, Kellogg worked as principal of Bexley High School and of Grove City High School.
He said he sees great value in public education and loves being a part of student success.
"I love the work I do, and it's a passion I bring to it every day. There's never a day I get up and I don't want to go to work," Kellogg said.
Kellogg said he sees similar challenges in South-Western and Westerville schools.
Like Westerville, South-Western faced steep budget cuts after failing levies and has had to rebuild the district's spirit and sports teams.
Also like Westerville, South-Western supports many students for whom English is a second language and who are economically disadvantaged.
In South-Western, test scores of inbound kindergarten students show they are ill-prepared for school, but the district works hard to ensure their success, Kellogg said.
"Our input: We're way behind everybody. Our output: We're way ahead," Kellogg said.
The key to success is for the district's leadership to remember its goal of educating student and to find and support programs that move the district toward that goal, Kellogg said.
"Let's remember what our mission is and let's do our job. We can get kids to move forward," he said. "We found the thing that works, we put it in place, we supported it we sustained it."
Stanford moved to Columbus to attend law school at Ohio State in 1987. He went on to earn a PhD through the university's school of public policy and management.
After earning his PhD, he was hired on as a professor, but left after a year and a half because he wanted to earn professional experience in his field.
He landed a job as a policy analyst and researcher with the Ohio School Board Association, a position he held for five years. Following that, he worked for years in administration with Columbus City Schools, served under Gov. Ted Strickland for four years and then returned to Columbus City Schools, where he was promoted to deputy superintendent in August.
Stanford said he learned the value of education from his parents, who emphasized that education was a way to improve one's life.
"The one thing, though, that my parents instilled in me were a core set of values: Hard work, public service, civic responsibility and education," Stanford said. "They were right. Education is a change agent for people to change their lives and allow them to have a better life for themselves."
Stanford said his experience gives him an understanding of the business operations of a school district, the politics of public education in Ohio and of how to build the relationships that can support a school district's success.
"When you bring all of those different experiences together, I think it puts me at a position that, without sounding too egotistical, in a position to be a very strong superintendent for this district," Stanford said.