August 23, 2014

Elyria
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Rigda: Every student counts

ELYRIA — Friday morning, Elyria Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda had starfish on the brain.

COURTESY ELYRIA SCHOOLS
Part of an illustration by Paula Pindroh showing a teacher and student rescuing starfish. Superintendent Paul Rigda used the artwork Friday to help inspire Elyria teachers.

Probably 12 of them, since that’s the number of students who needed to improve in order to bump the district’s academic rating from “continuous improvement” to “effective” this past year.

Shortly before noon, as 800 or so Elyria Schools employees jammed into the high school auditorium for the district’s opening day for teachers, Rigda capitalized on an old parable in hopes of inspiring Elyria’s academic army. 

His pitch: Every child matters.

To hammer his point home, Rigda used a well-known story about a teacher walking along a beach with a student; the pair comes upon thousands of dying starfish strewn about the sand.

As the teacher picks up one starfish and tosses into the ocean, the student asks: “Teacher, what is the use in even trying? There are too many to make a difference.”

The teacher’s reply: “It made a difference to that one.”

Rigda commissioned Cleveland artist Paula Pindroh to create an illustration of a teacher and student walking along a beach among scattered starfish, and the illustration was given to each of the teachers at Friday’s opening day, along with a gold starfish pin.

As school begins Monday for Elyria students, Rigda figures the message — certain to become the district’s theme for the year — comes at a fitting time.

Elyria Schools recently scored a “continuous improvement” rating from the state, a notable step down from last year’s “effective” rating.

Making it all the more bitter for school officials, the district missed the “effective” rating by less than a tenth of a percentage point, a downgrade Rigda said could have avoided if just 12 Elyria students had improved their academic performance. 

During Friday’s pep rally of sorts, Rigda asked the employees to stretch their arms a little bit higher, then a little more, and just a little more. Each time, employees stretched a little higher.

“I’m trying to show that if we stretch just one more inch — one more child — we can make a difference,” Rigda said. “We often underestimate what our (potentials) are. If we have a large number of people thinking the same way, those ones will turn into one-hundreds.”

School spokeswoman Amy Kren said the message was spirited and well-received, while Rigda was met with approving nods from those in his ranks.

Also at the meeting, Michael Shoemaker, Ohio Schools Facilities Commission executive director, presented school board members with a check for $21.6 million — the state’s share of the construction cost for the new Elyria High School.

Co-chairs of the committee that helped pass the May levy to build the new high school also presented their own Goliath-sized check to school officials — compliments of Elyria taxpayers who agreed to foot the $45 million local share of construction costs.

Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.