New Superintendent Promises Better Days for Columbus Schools

Grant Walters Grant Walters New Superintendent Promises Better Days for Columbus SchoolsPhotos by Grant Walters.
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Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon spoke about the district's progress and prognosis at a community engagement event last week

New Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon imagines a new future for the district.

Last week, at a community gathering at the King Arts Complex in King-Lincoln, she acknowledged the shortcomings of the school system to date and articulated a plan to change course.

Columbus Board of Education, staff and stakeholders from Columbus City Schools, elected city officials, and members of the community joined for the evening of conversation and celebration with Dixon, who assumed her new role in March after five years as superintendent of Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools.

Her prior educational experience includes nine years of service to CCS, with six years combined as the principal at Brookhaven and Columbus Alternative High Schools. 

Among the local dignitaries in attendance was Mayor Andrew Ginther, who offered introductory remarks and an encouraging endorsement of the superintendent’s work to date.

“I will tell you this,” he said, “when you spend any time with [Dixon], and you talk to her about what’s most important and what she’s focused on, there is no doubt about it that it centers on children’s academic achievement and helping to make sure they’re prepared for the future.”

A short time later, Dr. Dixon assumed her place in front of the podium to deliver a short address to the event’s attendees. Much of the evening’s focus was on the superintendent’s first 100 days in office, which will officially culminate on June 11.

“In my three months as superintendent, I’ve been visiting so many classrooms, seeing so many young people engaged in their learning,” Dixon said. “Teachers have this creative space — they encourage interaction. And the desk, I’ve learned, is not the only place that learning is occurring. Our teachers in this district — they’re doing some amazing things with our students.”

Collaboration was also a prevalent topic of the night’s discussion, with the superintendent insisting that the district’s goals can only be met with the help and support of local organizations, families, and community members. Dixon acknowledged newly-appointed CCS Chief of Engagement, Alesia Gillison, in the audience, who will coordinate the district’s partnership efforts.

“During my first 100 days, I wanted to be intentional about listening and having an exchange of information with as many of our stakeholders as possible,” Dixon said. “That is so important in this work — that is not one person’s job. I don’t believe I get to come in and tell the community what they should be doing.”

Although the evening’s commentary was broadly positive, Dixon assured attendees that she clearly understands the deficits that currently exist in Columbus City Schools, especially in students’ English and math scores, school buildings that have become inhospitable learning environments, and the “F” on CCS’ report card.

“So, trust me, I am not one to shy away from our harsh realities. I knew when I left Cleveland Heights in the middle of a four-year contract that I was coming to a district with an “F’ on its report card. I knew it,” she said. “But I know with the community and with the staff, we can change the narrative. We have 50,000 kids who are depending on us to make the right decisions. And we can’t play with that. We won’t play with it.”

Additional challenges for Dixon and her team are materializing on other fronts. In a June 4 press release, CCS announced the Columbus Board of Education had directed the Superintendent to seek out and recommend professional assistance for strike contingency planning services, following an announcement from Columbus Education Association (CEA), the union which represents more than 4,000 of the division’s certificated teachers, counselors, nurses, and educators, on the potential of an impending strike.

Dixon referred to a definitive strategic plan for CCS that will arrive later this summer. In addition to improving student reading and mathematical competency and fixing school facilities, CCS will also focus on accelerating its high school graduation rates. Sweeping changes to administrative roles and geographic sub-jurisdictions within the district were already announced by Dixon at the May 21 Columbus Board of Education meeting.

At the conclusion of the superintendent’s prepared remarks, members of the event’s sponsoring organizations were each allotted time to ask her questions from the podium. Dixon answered queries that sought her input on retaining and reviving school arts programs, addressing the behavioral health of African-American male K-12 students, increasing technological resources and competency in the classroom, professional development resources and training for CCS front line staff, and school administrator accountability.

Written questions from the audience were collected throughout the evening, although only three were read, which focused on advocacy work with social service agencies for immigrant families, accommodations and individualized education plans for students with special needs, and escalating parental involvement in the division. Dixon promised that unread audience comments and questions would be addressed at a later date.

At the event’s end, the superintendent was asked to impart on the audience ways in which they could be actively engaged in the future success of Columbus City Schools. Dixon encouraged the community at large to help educate and support students in spaces beyond the four walls of the classroom.

“We have to think out of the box on how we educate our students, and in how we engage our communities. We should be able to use any place we desire to have our students learning, our parents engaged,” she said. “I believe we’re headed in the right direction because we’ve been honest about where we are, and I believe we have the intellectual capacity within our team to chart our next course. I’m happy to be a part of the team and the work.”

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