School leaders to prep students for future after local business visits

by Charles Cassady

Independence Local Schools participated in a “Road to Readiness” day this spring, a local-employment field trip of sorts, but not for the students. Rather, the Road to Readiness charted out a pathway of employment opportunities for the benefit of a tour group of teachers, faculty and administrators who often mentor high school students when the subject turns to career options and future horizons.

“It was a culmination of more than a year of planning between our Independence Local Schools and the city of Independence,” said Independence Schools Superintendent Ben Hegedish.

“Working hand in hand with Jess Hyser, our city’s director of economic development, we created a ‘think tank,’ with school leaders and teachers, who spent the year reading and brainstorming ways to bolster connections between our K-through-12 schools and the business community,” Hegedish said.

Said Hyser, “The assumption [was] that a lot of teachers, though all graduates with degrees, didn’t have a lot of experience with what the workforce is outside of their specialized fields.”  

Thus came to fruition the plan for 15 school representatives, most of them educators, to visit local businesses, view economic infrastructure up close, and listen to feedback from industry leaders of what they want to see from graduates and applicants.

The day commenced with an opening welcome from Jacob Duritsky, of regional development group Team NEO (linked to 18 Ohio counties). “His presentation was kind of an overview of what the Team NEO economy is and what we can expect from the future,” said Hyser. This included an overview of regional wage and job trends.

Afterwards, the group paid visits to Precision Environmental and Independence Excavating, both DiGeronimo companies, where Lisa, Joe and John DiGeronimo spoke to visitors; financial management company MAI Capital, which included a presentation by Chief Human Resource Officer Lesa Evans, Chief Marketing Officer Karen Fedchock and Event Planner Christine Paoletti; MELT Bar & Grilled, where Melt founder Matt Fish talked about the food and beverage industry; CSA Group, where Director of Operations John Rimac and Operations Manager Dave Thomas spoke; and ROE Dental, represented by company President B.J. Kowalski.

This agenda encompassed enterprises ranging from wealth management to restaurant/hospitality to medical computer-assisted design. Said Hegedish, “Our team of school personnel embedded [itself] in great local business partners.”

“It was a full day,” said Hyser.

“Having educators connect with local businesses, and then utilizing those connections for student learning and internship opportunities, is not a new concept,” said Hegedish. “We have had similar concepts like this in the past here in Independence. We wanted to put a fresh take on the idea and have the actual learning sites be the business locations.”

“The teachers really understood the need to get out of the classroom and see the variety of working environments,” said Hyser.

This inaugural Road to Readiness was considered a success, and is not likely to be the last. “I believe we will recreate this for other staff members and also continue to expand on the networking and opportunities we’ve begun to explore,” said Hegedish.

And, of course, the big question is whether a future Road to Readiness will bring the students themselves along for the trip. “We’re definitely going to try to evolve in that direction,” said Hyser. ∞

An employee at ROE Dental works on a
set of teeth.
School leaders meet with staff at MAI Capital, a financial
planner. Photos courtesy of Alla Lora.

On our cover: School and business leaders (l-r) Keith Laschinger, executive director
at Cleveland Builds; Joe DiGeronimo, vice president for Precision
Environmental Company; Ben Hegedish, superintendent for Independence
Local Schools; Sheryl Luoma, Independence High School
math teacher; Jennifer Lewis, Independence Middle School science
teacher; Jennifer Mackey, Independence High School science teacher;
and John DiGeronimo, project manager for Precision Environmental
Company, meet at Precision Environmental for a presentation. Photo
courtesy of Alla Lora.