Funding Education Among Affluence
A Successful Partnership Between Stakeholders and School Leadership
By Dr. Berger
Matthew Montgomery is a young and rising star in the world of Ohio superintendents. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2006 and master’s degree in 2009, Matthew quickly climbed the education ladder from teacher to principal to superintendent.
Montgomery is currently Superintendent of Revere Local Schools, Richfield, OH, a school district in an affluent area just north of Akron, Ohio. While being a school leader in a wealthy district may seem like a good problem to have, Matthew describes some of the challenges of running an affluent district that prides itself in being fiscally conservative.
For starters, statewide money is doled out in reverse proportion to how much money is generated by the local property tax base. With a minimum amount of funding coming in from the state, Matthew has to find creative solutions to funding programs. Lucky for Matthew, local businesses and organizations have stepped up and become willing partners for the good of the community.
It appears that life for a superintendent is more comfortable when a successful collaboration occurs between a school district and the community.
Dr. Berger: Matthew I’ve been having lots of different discussions with superintendents around some big-picture challenges and exciting trends in education.
I’d be curious to know ─ in Ohio ─ your perspective on budgeting and some of the new and innovative ways districts are looking at incorporating corporate America and the private sector to offset some of the budget shortfalls that a lot of districts are experiencing as we take down that wall of church and state. And understanding that we can actively engage our communities and private sector to support what we’re doing at the local school community. How do you see that?
Matthew Montgomery: First and foremost, I am very fortunate to be in a district with many resources. It puts me in an advantage point in many areas of what you’re referring to.
But the budget is always an area of concern. While I probably serve an affluent district, largely, they are very fiscally conservative and fiscally responsible.
And because of my serving in an affluent district, the state aid or state support that I receive is proportional to the wealth in the district. I receive fewer state resources to offset my operating budget which means that it’s largely coming from the property taxes within the borders of the district I serve.
So when I’m trying to offset my budget, we try to make fiscal decisions that make sense but are always lined up to what’s best for kids. Sometimes it’s a balancing act to try to figure out how to meet the needs of our students and to meet the needs of our community while still living within our means.
When I can’t fund it through the operating budget, I’ll go seek outside sources to help partner to provide innovative instructional initiatives that maybe I’m working on.
For example, right now, we are working on new buildings for my district. There’s X amount of money that was generated by a bond referendum. We’re really fortunate we have people in the community or companies in the community that want to partner with us to do things that are outside of the scope of the Master Facilities Plan to offer even more to our students.
That’s a pretty unique situation and we’re very fortunate.
RB: It’s an enviable position to be in, for sure.
MM: It is. I don’t know that that was always the case in this district. I’ve really focused as an educational leader to develop partnerships which really hone in on relationships, and those relationships are built by effective communication and transparency. It’s almost familial in a way where you are getting to know people, and then you could pick up the phone and call and say, “I need this help. I want to do this exciting thing for kids. I want to know if you can get behind me.”
RB: And you’re going to get a response from the other end of the call.
MM: I am. It’s wonderful because people are excited. People want to get involved in education. I think ─ from a national standpoint ─ education is maybe looked through with a negative lens.
I’m not seeing that at the local level. I have a community that is very much in support of education. They know the education we’re offering is wonderful and they are helping me go above and beyond to push the envelope and to take us to the next level.
RB: Given the resources that you have at your disposal in your district, I’d be curious as to the way in which you look at technology purchasing decisions. There are a lot of districts that may not have the same resources or access to resources. When they’re making a technology decision or a purchase, it may or may not personalize in that specific technology to the younger grades or it’s something that maybe is driven more to the higher grades but we have to let it into K-8.
How do you look at personalizing the technology decisions you make for the experience at the personalized level for the student?
MM: We’ve been talking about technology. When I came into the district two years ago, there wasn’t a technology plan. It was kind of haphazard in how they were investing in technology. They had the best of intentions and they had some things going but there wasn’t a cohesiveness. The board charged me with coming up with a plan that was created by stakeholders that we could follow through over the course of several years to see how those technology investments impacted the instructional effectiveness and how those concepts were married.
I formed a committee of about 15 folks, a cross section of the district, and we also had community involvement and board-of-education involvement. We went through the Future Ready Framework which is a national program through the Office of Educational Technology and we spent the better part of a year developing a plan.
Don’t forget that I told you that the community is very fiscally conservative and I really appreciate that because you want those resources to go as far as they possibly can. But I’m proud to say that, in a year and a half’s time, we are now K-12 one to one.
We have iPads for kindergarteners. We have Chromebooks for Grades 1 through 6 and then MacBook Airs from Grade 7 through 12.
The reason we have an amalgamation of devices is because we had Chromebooks already in the district. Those Chromebooks came from donations and from some general fund purchases; and they still have a lifespan.
RB: The one responsibility you’re taking in your position is to make good decisions with what technology you already have.
MM: Very much so. I want to make sure that those people who invested in the district aren’t saying, “Well, we wanted to be one-to-one in K-12 but it had to be the same device or a uniform platform and, therefore, we would discard those resources.”
We are not going to do that because we really value ─ back to the first question ─ those partnerships that we have. We have teachers who are very excited and can really integrate into whichever platform they’re using.
RB: Given the engagement that you have,which sounds like it’s embedded in the community and which is a very positive thing, I’m interested to know how you’ve looked at student ownership of learning and the documenting of that. And then communicating that out to parents, families, and the community support engagement of the student while monitoring to make sure that, from an instructional level, you are meeting some of the marks that you have as a district.
How are you looking at that and have you empowered technology to help you support in that communication effort?
MM: That’s a very big question and there are multi levels to that. It starts with the strategic plan, and the strategic plan that we have encompasses these technology initiatives as well as many other initiatives.
Monitoring the effectiveness of that plan is crucial to see if you’re getting a return on the investment within our technology plan which lives in this strategic plan.
And I’m sorry there are a lot of “plans” but we’re really looking at foresight to see where we want to go and then targeting those steps to see if we actually got there. So we have a North Star, so to speak.
The technology plan has measurements to see how effective we are in using those technologies. And we are taking artifacts from students through those devices. We’re trying to harvest how much they’re being used and in what way they’re being used. Is it really impacting the instruction in positive ways ─ if so, how?
You don’t want so much screen time b that’s a negative return. How are they using it in a way to really take the students to new heights but not hinder their performance in other areas. That is really tricky.
I’m a parent of the district with four children and I don’t want to walk in every classroom and see students on the devices all the time at every class. I want them to use it as a tool. But that’s not the instruction.
Those teachers up there, those are the people who are really crafting the curriculum. They’re the ones who are facilitating and making it meaningful for our students. The technology is a tool.
RB: Yes. It’s a three-dimensional experience for both student and teacher. Let’s close with this, Matthew. How has the role of a superintendent changed from your seat as you’ve evolved in your professional career when you think about just the ways in which you perceived the superintendent position prior to your role? How do you perceive it moving forward?
MM: I’m at a unique vantage point because this is my fourth year as a superintendent and I started at a very young point in my career.
I don’t have the history to know how the superintendency was viewed previously to my own tenure. I will tell you that it continues to evolve and it depends on the lens in which the leader is looking through the events.
I really believe in servant leadership. I believe that I have to be in and active and learning with the community to ensure that we are going in the direction that the stakeholders have told me are important.
So I am just a conduit for what the stakeholders have told me are important. I try to guide them through the principles that they have distilled that are crucial for their success.
It’s a partnership and it’s non-stop ─ 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You have to try to preserve yourself while still proudly serving the people that you have the privilege to work with.
RB: It sounds like getting out of your own office, in that way, and spending time within the district so you see the everyday learning that’s going on.
MM: And that’s a challenge because it’s an office job many times a day. You have to pull yourself away and lean on people who can do the job and let them soar in their own way so you can give all of yourself to the things that are really important.
I come most alive when I’m in the classroom. Whenever I feel downtrodden, I know I need to go into a classroom because, then, that recalibrates me to realize why I’m here.
When I see those students learning, when I see them engaged, when I’m walking down an elementary hallway and kids are giving me hugs and high fives, you know that what you’re doing is really important and it’s meaningful for the future of those students.
About Matthew Montgomery
Matthew Montgomery was hired as superintendent at Revere Local Schools in Feb., 2015. Prior to Revere, Matthew served as both superintendent (2015) and middle school principal of Waterloo, OH
Matthew Montgomery graduated from Kent State University in 2006 with a bachelors of science in education. After earning a master’s degree from Kent State in 2009, he returned to Waterloo, where he had been a student growing up.
Follow Matthew Montgomery on Twitter
This article was originally published in the Huffington Post by Dr. Berger.
- The Atlantic – Good School, Rich School; Bad School, Poor School
- NPR – Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem
- Chicago Tribune – Illinois schools have biggest funding gap in nation