The Shakerite

Hutchings Set to Bring His Ideas to Shaker Classrooms

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Shaker’s next superintendent is committed to the district but maintains his goal of becoming America’s chief education officer.

And don’t count on him to fold in the face of lake effect snow.

The Shakerite exclusively interviewed Hutchings, the next superintendent of the Shaker Heights City School District, via Skype April 23.

The Shakerite first reported the Board of Education’s decision to hire Hutchings, director of pre-k through 12th-grade initiatives for Alexandria, Va. public schools, April 3. The board unanimously approved his five-year contract at its April 9 meeting. Hutchings will replace long-time superintendent Mark Freeman in the 2013-2014 school year.

Hutchings’ take on Ohio’s recently released value-added scores, which ranked Shaker 803 out of 832 public and charter schools, is one of perspective. “It’s only one source,” he said, and families considering sending their children to Shaker schools “have to look at the big picture, not just what the state assessments predict, or what they say about the achievement levels at the school level, but also the other opportunities that are offered to students at Shaker Heights.”

At his March 14 appearance at the high school as a candidate, Hutchings mentioned that in Alexandria, high performing college-prep students who meet certain benchmarks are automatically moved into honors courses. During the interview, Hutchings clarified the statement.

“You really don’t want to force anybody to do anything,” he said, adding that encouragement is a better approach. He said that Alexandria students had the option to drop back down a level and that he would try the same approach in Shaker. He emphasized the need to include support programs for these students and explained that in Alexandria, school personnel call parents of students who are moved up to explain the change. Few parents respond by asking that their children be removed from an honors class, he said.

While Hutchings, 35, has moved rapidly through teaching and administrative positions, he said this post would be a long-term commitment. “I hope to be in Shaker until my kids graduate from high school, which gives me at least 10 years there. I’m hoping you all will keep me there that long,” he said. “This is not a stepping stone for me . . . my life goal was to become a superintendent, not a superintendent at a number of school districts.”

Hutchings pointed out that his family never purchased a house in Alexandria because they knew he wouldn’t be working there for more than a few years, but he and his wife had placed an offer on a house on Parkland Drive.

In a 2009 cover story in the Nashville Scene, Renita Cobb, a teacher at the Nashville middle school where Hutchings was principal said, “When I’m in a nursing home, I’m going to turn on the TV and see Dr. Gregory Hutchings, secretary of education.”

Hutchings admitted that post was an aspiration. “But I would like to be at least 50 years old by the time that happens,” he said.

At his public session, Hutchings said that if hired, he would go into every classroom in the district. He reaffirmed this goal, saying that he would visit each classroom for three to five minutes within 90 days of assuming his post.

Hutchings stated his support for expanding preschool services in the school district in conjunction with the city. He said that doing so could prevent low-income students from falling behind. “If they receive that early childhood education prior to entering kindergarten, they may come in more prepared or better equipped to keep up with the other kindergarteners,” he said. Shaker currently has a small preschool program at Onaway Elementary School.

Hutchings said he is used to being younger than those he supervises and that being a superintendent won’t be any different in that way.

On the controversial topic of snow days, Hutchings said that even though he doesn’t have much experience with cold weather in Virginia, “As long as our roads are clear, and people are able to drive, and buses are able to get to school safety, we’re going to have school.”

A version of this article appeared in print on 8 May 2013, on page 3 of the Shakerite.

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Hutchings Set to Bring His Ideas to Shaker Classrooms