Craig Hockenberry

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Craig Hockenberry: Identifies Core Values

Craig Hockenberry Finding Our Values

Craig Hockenberry: Identifies Core Values

Craig Hockenberry: Identifies Core ValuesBy Craig Hockenberry

The Three Rivers School District is a unique animal. It sprawls through the hilly southwestern Ohio terrain along the Ohio River. Parts of it feel rural, and yet a significant number of the residents of this area depend on urban Cincinnati for their income … and their education.

Most school districts are housed entirely in one municipality. However, the Three Rivers District, despite not being much larger than many similar districts, includes four different municipalities with their own elected leadership.

The villages of Addyston, Cleves, and North Bend each have their own council and mayor. And Miami Township, which encompasses those three villages, has a Board of Trustees.

This means that responsible decision-making in the school district necessarily involved a gauntlet of officials and official bodies. In order to create a district that was responsive to the needs of the community, an effort had to be made to identify common values and concerns.

Naming our core values would help focus a district that could otherwise be torn by competing interests and ambitions.

Why identify core values?

If you have worked for a corporation, attended a large church, or assisted with a nonprofit, you have likely encountered core values. You have likely also come across the group’s mission and vision statements.

It would be easy to dismiss these ubiquitous statements as unnecessary timewasters - corporate exercises that are meaningless to people doing the real work of the organization.

But the opposite is true.

The reality is that core values are a valuable investment of time and energy. When created with authenticity and implemented with integrity, these statements help every individual confidently represent the whole group in every situation.

They align custodians and executives, front line experts with behind-the-scenes professionals, and help create a cohesive unit.

This doesn’t mean everyone is hugging each other and singing “Kumbaya.” It means that when there is a conflict or a concern that falls outside the policy and process manuals, everyone has the same guidelines for how to move forward without waiting for an answer from a principal or a superintendent.

And in the business of education, where the experts are on the front lines working with kids in classrooms every day, getting rid of timewasters and obstacles is a crucial part of a leader’s work.

That doesn’t mean work can’t happen without core values and mission and vision statements. It can. But conflict resolution then falls more heavily on elected or hired leadership, and might not always represent the values of the whole group.

Filling the gap

When I arrived at Three Rivers, there were no identified core values. My predecessor was a beloved and effective administrator, and in a small rural district like this one, significant issues pop up less frequently than in larger and more diverse districts.

Choosing to take these steps to identify our values was not a way to say previous leaders had been less effective. But what it did do was give me a chance to learn from the community that was a neighbor to my own community, but was very different. I lived in Price Hill, on the west side of Cincinnati, just a few minutes’ drive from Three Rivers. But my urban neighborhood and this rural township were very different from each other.

This process also gave members of the community a chance to talk with each other and identify common strengths and beliefs. I had been warmly welcomed into a school district that was successful on the state report card, but that was losing a battle to keep some of their children in their own district.

Being so close to the urban core of Cincinnati meant that some families, especially Catholic families and those families that could afford it, sent their children to Catholic high schools like Elder and Seton.

I felt that one of my responsibilities was to build a school system that tempted more of those families to make the shorter drive to Taylor High School rather than the longer, and more expensive, trip to LaSalle.

I knew that if we came together as a community to talk about our values, we could build a bridge. And I believed that if we set appropriately ambitious and inclusive goals, we could create an even stronger school district. One that met the needs of the entire community.

So I started the process to identify our core values, as detailed over several following posts.

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