By Kevin Kelley
After being named superintendent of the Fairview Park City Schools in August 2005, Brion Deitsch said he was embarrassed to bring his wife to his office at board headquarters. Weeds and grass had grown out of control, he said in his often retold story. It had gotten so bad, he said, community members volunteered to come and clear the weeds.
Restoring pride to the school district became one of Deitsch’s major goals early on in his tenure as superintendent. Self-esteem in the district was low, the superintendent said.
One incident in particular exemplified the problem, Deitsch said. A recording of the national anthem failed to play at the start of a girls home basketball game. Later, Deitsch encountered a teacher who was chuckling about the miscue.
“Get used to it,” she told the superintendent. “This is Fairview.”
Deitsch, whose last day was June 27, quickly picked up on the community’s rivalry – some might say inferiority complex – with Rocky River and its school district.
Deitsch said when he first arrived, he would ask staff members why things were done a particular way. The answer, he was told, was “That’s the way Rocky River does it.” Deitsch replied that the Fairview Park schools should not just be an imitation of a neighboring district.
“We need to be the best Fairview Park we can be,” Deitsch told employees.
Perhaps the main achievement accomplished during his tenure, Deitsch said, was achieving the “Excellent” rating on the state report card. The district obtained that mark, or its equivalent, for the past three years, and came extremely close the previous two. When Deitsch arrived, the district was one indicator away from falling into the academic watch category.
The district’s rollout of its one-to-one technology initiative, in which each high school student received a netbook computer, means that Fairview Park is seen as a leader in the use of technology in the classroom, Deitsch said. This fall, students in kindergarten through grade five will have use of an iPad, and those in grades six through 12 will have use of a netbook.
Under Deitsch, the district introduced the option of all-day kindergarten classes. The tuition-based option was a bit slow to catch on, Deitsch said, and launched with only one all-day classroom. But this fall, there will be three sections. Parents have concluded that the tuition is less expensive than day care costs and comes with a great educational opportunity, Deitsch said.
Deitsch also sought to shore up the district’s finances through a restructuring, which included staff cuts, nine years ago. A key component, he said, was reducing high school class periods by a single minute, from 51 to 50 minutes. Per their union contract, this allowed teachers to teach six periods instead of just five.
The district also more closely evaluated expenditures and collaborated more with other districts, Deitsch said. For example, the Olmsted Falls district performs maintenance on Fairview Park’s bus fleet.
Deitsch also engineered the move of the district’s athletic teams from the Westshore Comference to the Patriot Athletic Conference. The move, Deitsch said, allowed Warrior teams to play against schools of a similar size.
“It gave our students the opportunity to be competitive,” Deitsch said. “Success of your athletic teams has an impact on the climate of your buildings.”
The big blemish on Deitsch’s tenure is the embezzlement scandal involving his hand-picked high school principal, Kevin Liptrap. Caught in the fall of 2010, Liptrap later pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $63,000 in school funds.
“That was heartbreaking for me,” Deitsch said. What’s worse, he said, was that students at the high school were deeply heart by the scandal.
Deitsch told West Life that some individuals who provided reference checks on Liptrap were less than forthcoming.
Unlike many educators, Deitsch is an advocate of student testing, which he sees as a means of gathering data. The data should be seen, he said, as reflecting the educational process, not merely the teachers and students.
Deitsch also favors more radical reforms in education and believes schools have been to slow to follow the changes in the world. He believes more should be done to gear teaching toward the individual student.
“Children should be able to advance at their own pace,” he said.
As for Fairview Park, Deitsch said it has been the favorite community he and his wife, Carol, have lived in. The residents have been supportive of the district and the schools, he added.