Craig Hockenberry

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Craig Hockenberry: A Leader Sharpens a District’s Focus

Craig Hockenberry Finding Our Values

Craig Hockenberry: A Leader Sharpens a District’s Focus

By Craig Hockenberry Superintendent

As the new Superintendent of Three Rivers School District, I engaged in a series of conversations with the community. I used this time to learn the community’s expectations for the district.

I was also using these meetings to lay the groundwork for addressing a gap in the Three Rivers culture. The district had never identified its core values nor, in recent memory, created a strategic plan.

The work of identifying our values included four clear steps

- Gathering the community for visioning and drafting

- Writing the goals

- Getting authentic feedback

- Communicating the core values

First, I recruited a trusted and experienced community member to lead the conversations. Then I created the space and time for discussion, as described in a previous post. The main emphasis was that the district compensated people for their time and energy, providing meals and a beautiful space for doing the work.

Craig Hockenberry: Drafting our core values

I recruited Tim Urmston to guide us in the process. He had led Fortune 500 companies through this work and - just as importantly - his children attended Three Rivers schools. I couldn’t say no when he told me I would need to co-facilitate the process.

My initial groundwork to eliminate barriers to participation was rewarded. On this Sunday, when we gathered to draft our core values, every Three Rivers administrator was present. This dramatically increased the chances that our results would be not only fully representative of our district, but would be widely supported and implemented.

The process of discerning core values includes working to lower our social barriers and creating an environment of trust. As residents of several small towns tied together by our schools, there was already a strong sense of community.

Then Tim prompted us for specific statements describing what we hoped our schools would be, or what they would reveal about and add to our community.

The statements we came up with helped capture the true spirit of the schools as I saw them.

When I arrived, we had a vacancy for the High School Principal position. We hired Ceair Baggett, who had been principal of a Cincinnati Public elementary school. While his work in the community, fighting for every student’s right to a chance at success, was remarkable, it was also worth noting that he was the first Black administrator ever hired in Three Rivers.

The Three Rivers community was exceptionally welcoming. The lack of Black administrators was more a factor of being a rural district with almost no Black students or families, and not a measure of any sort of discrimination.

Our community was also incredibly supportive of students with disabilities. Ohio law allows those Catholic and private schools to choose their students, and they often lack resources to meet the needs of students with individualized education plans and extraordinary needs. So those students attended our schools.

I was happy to see that the descriptions we came up with in our drafts all spoke to our love of diversity and our concern that every person felt welcomed and challenged to be their best selves at our schools.

Craig Hockenberry: Turning drafts into core values

What we were hearing from the small groups and seeing shared out in pictures was a common pattern, and it formed one of our values.

I felt the community really captured their heart when one of the values we identified was “Nurture inclusion.”

Many schools and districts claim to be inclusive, but it is done as an afterthought. I was proud that we had adopted it as an intentional practice on our part.

Some would see our school system as compromised in some fundamental way. After all, some saw us as a mix of students who couldn’t afford to attend Catholic school and students prevented from attending those schools because of their disabilities.

But we chose to understand that these characteristics made us strong. It made us a community.

And, in fact, some parents who could afford to send their kids to Cincinnati chose to keep their students in their community school. This made us strong.

And this increased our commitment to excellence - expecting the best from every child and adult in the system. Our next identified value was “Cultivate excellence.”

Craig Hockenberry: Looking to the future

In the drafting phase, then, we had identified and taken pride in who we were. We would nurture inclusion.

We had also proudly embraced who we wanted to be - the best versions of ourselves. We agreed we would “Cultivate excellence.”

We had also identified a vision for who we could be in the future. A core value that spoke to our bright future that met our needs and that drew others to our community. A future that perhaps kept a few more families right here at home, while opening new vistas for our existing students.

We knew that we could try new things, with the freedom of having a cohesive, successful community school system. So we created a space to invent with our third core value.

We would “Inspire innovation.”

At the end of a long Sunday together, we knew we had taken an important first step. However, identifying our three core values was the start of a larger process of truly inculcating those values into our school system.

That was the work of the next few months - getting meaningful feedback and then widely spreading and applying these values.

Craig Hockenberry

Craig Hockenberry: A Leader Sharpens a District’s Focus
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