Re-envisioning Education – An Ohio District’s Journey Toward Personalizing Learning

For the last six years, Superintendent Jennifer Penczarski has been leading Kenton City School District on a transformational journey.  Kenton, located in Hardin County- in northwest central Ohio, is a small rural district with an urban center that serves nearly 2000 children, 60% of whom live in poverty.   When Penczarski arrived in 2010 the district had very limited educational delivery options because of inadequate space, technology, supports and resources.  Instruction was highly traditional, children had very few enrichment opportunities, there was minimal interaction between the district and the local community and students had no alternative pathways for success.

In collaboration with the Board of Education and the entire school community, Kenton City Schools (KCS) began re-envisioning the teaching and learning experience.  A new vision statement focused on four core values: inspire, inquire, dream and excel has guided all efforts.


Penczarski and her administrative team engaged staff, families, the Board and local business leaders to envision new ways for all youth to inspire, inquire, dream and excel – in school and beyond.

The district has been successful in accessing some state competitive funding such as Race to the Top Innovation Grant, 21st Century Community Learning Center and Community Connectors grants to incubate a few of their new ideas.

However, most of the transformation occurred because KCS leadership reorganized its infrastructure and shifted how they used local dollars to promote innovation and to pass a bond issue for a new PK-6 elementary school.

These initial efforts spiraled, creating even deeper transformations.  In partnership with the Hardin County Ministerial Association, Kenton Elementary School began Club ROAR before and after school programming to enhance reading, math and build Developmental Assets in K-6 students who need deeper academic supports and connections with positive role models.  KCS, along with the Ministerial Association and Hardin Co Chamber and Business Alliance co-designed school based mentoring programs for students in grades 5-10 as well as the new high school internship/capstone program.

Right now, 22 juniors and seniors are working alongside business and nonprofit leaders across Hardin County and designing capstone projects to solve problems or address challenges facing their workplace mentors.  Over the last two years, Kenton City Schools used local funds to make significant technology investments providing a 1:1 technology ratio for every child and faculty member PK-12.

Capture-kcs in school teacher with kids

In collaboration with Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, KCS repurposed and renovated a closed elementary to open a satellite career center offering four new personalized pathways.  Through this new program, beginning in 9th grade, any high school student can take career technical education courses, earn workforce credentials and college credits without having to travel 40 minutes to the nearest career center.  Each pathway prepares students to earn competitive wages in high demand career fields located right in Hardin County.

Great things are happening for almost 2000 Kenton City children, but in a recent conversation with Superintendent Penczarski I was told they are nowhere near finished re-envisioning the teaching and learning experience.  She is very proud that district staff understand the importance of technology integration and how to use their tools.  Now the district is ready to begin deepen technology use to shift to more personalized learning environments and expand problem based learning/design thinking across the district.  As learning is becoming less ‘test’ focused and more personalized, staff have begun work on shifting grading practices to match the new learning environments.   K-8 leaders and staff also identified a need to more deeply embed technology use to personalize learning and expand opportunities for children to engage in solving real world problems in their community learning 21st Century and college and career readiness skills .

Ohio’s 1st Personalized Learning Design Lab offers Kenton City Schools a terrific opportunity to develop new partnerships with other innovative districts, businesses and nonprofits and give her staff time to plan and prototype their next steps.  Initially, Superintendent Penczarski planned to bring one district level team to the event, but instead registered 2 teams – so both the elementary and middle school can work on their own work to continue re-envisioning their schools. To learn more about the Personalized Learning Design Lab on March 17, 2016 check out my recent Making School Design Personal blog.

Personalized Learning Design Lab support is provided by National Supporting Partners: The Learning Accelerator, Mastery Design Collaborative , PAST Innovation Lab and Pillar Technology as well as BattelleEducation, BetterLesson, and the Ohio Blended Learning Network.

Teams can apply here.

Through the Personalized Learning Design Lab , school and district teams like Kenton will begin to increase their local capacity to incubate, expand and/or sustain personalized learning that is essential to student success – in school and beyond.

By Michele Timmons
Founder & CEO

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