As he prepares to leave his job as Delaware City Schools superintendent, Paul Craft said he has been blessed during his nine years with the district.
"We have a great school board, an amazing administrative team and a great teaching staff. I see good things every day," he said. "I really leave knowing this place is in great hands with people who love kids."
Pending approval by the Metropolitan Educational Technology Association board of directors, Craft will leave his job in late July to become the association's CEO.
He said META provides about 200 Ohio school districts with tech-related support, including internet connectivity, data reporting and financial services -- "all of those really technical things that especially smaller districts struggle to provide on their own."
META also serves as a purchasing consortium that allows its districts to receive better prices during bidding processes for supplies and materials, he said.
As he draws closer to the end of his career as a superintendent, Craft said, META provides an opportunity to work in "that next level of supporting (education) beyond the district level. ... That's intriguing to me."
He said he earlier was approached about applying for superintendent jobs at larger school districts, but he has no interest in leaving Delaware.
"I've fallen in love with this town," he said.
With META, he will work at its Columbus location, 2100 Citygate Drive, and his family will remain in Delaware, he said.
META, he said, also provides support to educators in the use of technology inside and outside classrooms.
Technology "doesn't replace a good teacher," he said, but "enhances what they do."
A teacher used to cover the identical material with all students in a classroom, he said, but computers now can give students the chance to simultaneously cover materials tailored to different abilities and topics.
META also can help spread among its 200 districts the use of technology innovations and methods that have proven successful in individual districts, he said.
Former Olentangy Local School District Superintendent Wade Lucas is META's current CEO. Craft said he and Lucas would work together for about a month before Lucas leaves the post.
Delaware City Schools was facing serious challenges when Craft took the helm in 2010, he said.
It was a time of economic difficulty and the district was up against a $2 million annual deficit, he said.
"The first thing we had to do was get the district on good financial footing," he said, a step that involved passing an operating levy and enacting significant staff cuts.
The district eliminated almost 10 percent of its administrative staff and a third of its aide jobs, left teacher vacancies unfilled, enacted pay-to-play fees and eliminated busing for students who lived within 2 miles of their school building.
"We didn't have a choice," he said.
The district's unions, school board and the community supported the cuts, he said, "and we really righted the ship."
As a legacy of that austerity, Craft said, the district works efficiently while still nurturing students' academic achievement.
In 2017-18, he said, the district's unadjusted per-student spending was $10,442 -- below the state average of $11,953. Of 22 central Ohio districts, he said, only Reynoldsburg City Schools had a lower per-student spending rate.
Also in 2018, U.S. News and World Report ranked Hayes High School among the top 8 percent of U.S. high schools, he said, and Dempsey Middle School earned a Momentum Award from the Ohio Department of Education, based on academic progress of all subgroups. Craft said the award signifies that Dempsey is in the top 3 percent of Ohio schools. Craft said he is proud of the district's many achievements during his tenure, such as implementation of all-day kindergarten.
When Craft joined the district, he was a National Guard colonel about to end an assignment commanding an anti-aircraft missile unit near Washington, D.C.
His military career began when he joined the Marine Corps Reserve to earn money as a student at the University of Montana. He later joined the school's ROTC program and graduated with a commission in the National Guard. He then became a member of the Ohio National Guard and served nine months with a combat engineer unit in Afghanistan in 2003-04, earning the Bronze Star Medal.
He said two goals of his military career were to command a battalion and graduate from the U.S. Army War College. He exceeded his goals, he said, by graduating from the college and commanding a brigade.
His wife, Michelle, teaches Spanish at Buckeye Valley Local Schools. He has two children, Jack and Kelly, and three stepchildren, Maya, Anna and Ewan.
Delaware school board President Jayna McDaniel-Browning said in a press release that the district will be sorry to see Craft leave.
"He is a person of integrity and class, and META is getting a great CEO," she said. "Our schools have achieved amazing things during his tenure, and we know our district is poised for continued success."
McDaniel-Browning said the board will immediately begin working to find the district's next leader.
"We're fortunate to have incredible staff members throughout the district, and I'm confident we'll navigate this transition successfully," she said.