Oakes Public School
Nearly 500 students make up the Oakes Public School System and are lucky to have such great leadership and staff that always put the students first.
Superintendent Kraig Steinhoff, who followed his father’s footsteps into education, is wrapping up his first year as the district’s leader and describes it as progressive with “a staff that is always looking for ways to improve their teaching.”
“OPS is unique as its level of communication and teamwork with 1st year staff is outstanding knowing that they make up 27% of all teachers, counselors, and administration here.”
“We actually completed a communication study to evaluate our internal and external communication with all staff and stakeholders of our district. Our new staff to the district have overcome the challenges of their first year with teamwork and grit.”
Steinhoff’s drive to venture into educational leadership came from seeing his then superintendent father’s passion for education and always putting kids first. Today he and his principals Anna Sell (elementary) and Brandon Bata (high school) have implemented and improved on great initiatives that help shape children’s futures for success.
In year three of her role of elementary principal, Anna Sell, influenced to take an administrative path by her principal Gary Fitzgerald, has 26 years of education experience and is knew education was for her way to make a difference in the world.
“My principal convinced me that I could have a positive impact on not just the kids in my class, but all the kids in the school. Down the road, I realized I could make the biggest impact teaching those who will shape the future,” said Sell.
In the 2016-17 year alone, Sell has been working on a handful of GREAT initiatives including engaged learning; refinement of Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), formerly known as Response to Intervention (RtI); and leveled math and reading.
“We’ve participated in three years of South East Education Cooperative’s (SEEC) Improving Academic Literacy project with Dr. Kevin Feldman; visited to Ron Clark Academy; and conducted many, many peer observations to develop more engaged learners. Our staff has since seen a decrease in discipline problems because we attack classroom engagement by ensuring our students are engaged and on-task! We have full buy-in because of the visible difference engaged learning makes. To make these professional learning opportunities a possibility for our district, the district invested dollars into SEEC’s IAL training and our teachers raised funds over the past two years to make the game-changing trip to the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.
“When it comes to MTSS we chose to send a data team to SEEC’s training with Wayne Calendar last year (WOW!!!!). We have slowly, surely and steadily been establishing and changing our system to be the most effective it can possibly be. We use data to drive all decisions; we are reflexive; and we are flexible with our ever-changing program. We are slowly moving toward full staff buy-in. With all change, constant conversations are important and making it known that data driven decision making is not an “option.”
“Our Leveled Math and Reading has increased staff buy-in as the year has gone on… especially when we look at our data and see how students at all levels of the learning spectrum are experiencing growth!”
“We’re allowing retakes/redos on assignments and learning how to best separate behavior from academics in grading,” explains Bata.
The process of making such a shift doesn’t come easy, but as Superintendent Steinhoff shared earlier, the communication is key.
“We began with staff discussions and transitioned to sharing information, research and videos that honed in on the negative results of using zeroes for grading purposes. Staff discussions and collaboration continued focused towards on the importance of allowing students opportunities to retake/redo assignments in order to show mastery. We also involved the need to separate behavior from grading and are slowly transitioning to a no-zero policy that will hopefully take full-effect in the not too distant future.”
After 10 years of working with Oakes Public Schools students and staff, Bata decided to step forward when the opportunity as principal arose.
“I’ve always wanted to be a role model for students and help each one be successful. This was my chance to do that, plus be able to lead the staff I’ve worked with and help both them and the students at the same time,” says Bata.
This leadership team is a strong unit that, along with its staff is, “willing to challenge the “status quo” to do what is best for kids,” (Sell) and “continually striving for greatness and willing to take on challenges to do what’s best for students,” (Bata).
The 2017-18 school year will be more focused on continuing what has been successful and refining what needs to be refined at the elementary level. The high school will be looking to implement flex-mod scheduling: flexible class times and varied student groupings with a schedule made of modules (“mods”) of time.
Steinhoff, Sell and Bata were all gracious enough to share that their involvement in the SEEC has been helpful in a variety of ways:
- “SEEC allows us to utilize professional development opportunities for our staff that include the latest in best practices in education, plus it promotes collaboration amongst schools. I’ve always believed that we should all utilize our colleagues for advice as their wisdom is priceless.” – Superintendent Steinhoff
- “The SEEC brings resources, support and opportunities to our district and teachers that would otherwise be difficult to do. The best part for me is the communication and opportunities that are offered.” – Principal Bata
- “We’ve received lots of professional development that we couldn’t afford to do as a small rural district. I would encourage everyone to use SEEC and stay involved and take advantage of collaborating with other schools… you will definitely benefit.” Principal Sell
To wrap it up, Bata shared a bit of advice he was told before he began teaching,
“People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. This remains true whether we are teachers, coaches, administrators as relationships are the soul of the school system. Invest in people and build relationships.”