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Sierra Leone RPCV Charles A. Ott works in educational psychology
Sierra Leone RPCV Charles A. Ott works in educational psychology
Profile: Charles A. Ott--A psychologist's perspective of leadership
Feb 1, 2003 - School Administrator
Author(s): Goldman, Jay P
Joe Onosko, a professor at University of New Hampshire, was leading an in-service workshop for social studies teachers late one Friday afternoon during which, he recalls, he had to do everything possible to fend off a barrage of questions and su gestions "coming from a guy in the back."
"They were good challenging questions," says Onosko, who learned a few years later that the constant contributor was a school guidance counselor, Charles Ott, who had no requirement or specific need to be there. "It showed just how much he wanted to relate to the lives of students in any way he could."
Ott spent 20 years in counseling and school psychology roles before finding his serendipitous way into central administration. Since 2000, he has served as superintendent of School Administrative Unit 56 in Somersworth, N.H.
Rather fortuitously, while pursuing an Ed.D. in school psychology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ott studied a branch of the field that applies social psychology to systems thinking in education. "I long ago abandoned the `illusion of control' and define my role as working with others to create the conditions for professional growth and student achievement," he says.
From his work in psychology, Ott came to a core belief that now guides the schools' efforts to affect the growth of roughly 2,000 students. "Learning is chiefly the result of productive relationships," he says. "A superintendent is the chief steward of these relationships. Good things happen when people cooperate."
To Ott, that means a democratic process must govern the key decisions involving curriculum, instruction and assessment. In SAU 56, a 21-member Curriculum Council, consisting of educators, parents and community representatives, recently took the first step to ending social promotion as part of a broader initiative shaped by Ott known as Bridges to Success. Any council member can propose a change but it takes four votes for a proposal to receive serious consideration.
"The ethos of the district is glasnost or openness," he says. "We're not going to evade any problems we face."
Just the fact that Ott didn't consider a veto to the end of social promotion suggests how open-minded he is. "As a school psychologist, I used to rail against retention. I wrote articles, I spoke out at conferences. Now retention is back on the table. But ending social promotion is not the same as reinstating retention."
The district is offering afterschool instruction and summer sessions to turn around students likely to fail and to make further inroads on lagging test performance and a high dropout rate.
His psychology training also has given the superintendent a leg up on applying educational statistics. With training from AASA's Center for Accountability Solutions, he and his sonamed Data-Based Tigers are looking at the facts and figures to define a systematic course of action and to resist the temptation to rush in new directions every time the state test scores are released. Ott created one arresting moment for the public by projecting on a screen the data showing that 25 percent of all 9th graders in the district had failed two or more courses.
"There was no way to squirm out of that. It was a turning point for us to say, 'We can change this,'" says Ott, an assistant superintendent for four years in Portsmouth before moving a few miles north into the superintendency overseeing the small city of Somersworth and its neighboring town of Rollinsford.
Gentle by nature, Ott has nonetheless taken a passionate and outspoken role in fingering the unintended ramifications of the No Child Left Behind Act, which he says usurps state and local board control. After the school board went on record to raise concerns about provisions governing yearly progress, student testing and research-based programs, Ott and his board members asked school boards and their superintendents statewide to do the same.
Next to his tenure as a psychologist, he is guided in such views by his two-year Peace Corps stint in Sierra Leone, West Africa, shortly after college. "That's been a backdrop or motivation for me not to take for granted what we have," Ott says.
Currently: superintendent, Somersworth and Rollinsford, N.H.
Earlier: school psychologist, Somersworth and Rollinsford, N.H.
Greatest Influence: As a Hoosier by birth and upbringing, I've always been deeply influenced by the life of Abraham Lincoln. This admiration has deepened since the days as a Boy Scout when I retraced Lincoln's steps in southern Indiana.
Best Professional Day: The day I received a telephone call offering me the superintendency of the Somersworth and Rollinsford School Districts.
Books at Bedside: The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America by Louis Menand and The Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill
Biggest Blooper: A proposal was before the Rollinsford Town Meeting last year to add a position to the budget. A citizen asked what the impact would be on the tax rate. Armed with my new Sony Clie hand-held device, I quickly did a calculation, sprang to my feet and blurted out "two cents." Unfortunately, I had misplaced the decimal. It was 20 cents. I stood corrected and sank into my chair.
A Reason I'm an AASA Member: Through its publications and conferences, AASA has provided me with the perspective and wisdom of colleagues across time and boundaries. My personal relationships with fellow members are a source of great encouragement and wise counsel.
BY JAY P. GOLDMAN
Jay Goldman is editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: email@example.com
Copyright American Association of School Administrators Feb 2003
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.