Superintendent Craig Heath sits down with Juliana Gunvalsen, a Cardinal Nation editor, for a welcome interview. (Steve Couch, Advisor)
Superintendent Craig Heath sits down with Juliana Gunvalsen, a Cardinal Nation editor, for a welcome interview.

Steve Couch, Advisor

Meet Our New Superintendent: Mr. Craig Heath

A little over a month into his time as superintendent, Cardinal Nation talks to Mr. Heath and his goals for Mentor Public Schools

September 11, 2022

On August 1, Mr. Craig Heath officially took over as superintendent of Mentor Public Schools. On Friday, September 9, Mr. Heath sat down exclusively with Cardinal Nation to learn a little bit more about him. This article is composed of both Mr. Heath’s written response to these questions via e-mail and his oral responses during the interview.

Cardinal Nation: How long have you been in education? And what drew you to education?

Mr. Heath: I am starting my 31st year in education. I was a Spanish Teacher for 9 years, a building level administrator for eight years, a director at the central office level for ten years, and was an assistant superintendent for three years. I have always loved working with students, finding out what they are passionate about, and then determining how we can develop activities, courses, and programs that tap into those passions.

It’s funny though, it goes so quickly. You think, holy cow, thirty-one years but I still remember walking into Lake Catholic on my first day walking into my classroom thinking, “Holy cow, I’m a teacher! But kids keep you young”

Cardinal Nation: Can you tell us a little bit about your family?

Mr. Heath: My wife and I just moved into a house in Mentor. We live there with my stepson and five dogs! My son has his own place down in the Columbus area where he works. My mom, dad, two sisters and brother all live in Perry, which is where I grew up. I feel like I am back home now after being in Central Ohio for the last twenty-nine years.

We got married about eight years ago so instead of having kids we had dogs. It makes for a busy household.

Cardinal Nation: What are some of your hobbies?

Mr. Heath: I used to run a lot when I was younger, but now I spend my time on the elliptical machine. I love attending sporting events. Doesn’t matter if it is professional, college, high school, middle school or youth leagues. I love sports in general. I also like to golf and travel with my family.

I ran marathons. I did track in high school and I played football. But I coached cross country and track, so really I got paid to run, which was kind of fun. I ended up running a few marathons but my ankles are just mush. A couple of football injuries. I have had six ankle surgeries so the elliptical is my friend…It offers a little stress relief, too…It allows me some time to get some physical energy out and some time to think.

I try to get to as many sporting events as I can. I think the only ones I haven’t been to are boys soccer….and girls tennis.

Cardinal Nation: What are you most optimistic about in your new position?

Mr. Heath: I feel like we are at a point in public education where we can get back to some resemblance of normalcy after the craziness of the pandemic. We can start to shift the focus back to the academic side of education and the innovative components of instruction. I think that is where my optimism lies right now.

It’s interesting because we’re talking a little bit about how students are back and, you know, the masks are gone and there’s that communication and that engagement piece again that I think may have been lacking over the last couple of years…I’ve heard teachers in all of our buildings mention that it’s almost like we remembered how to play school again and it’s fun to see that conversation again. I was at Memorial Middle School this morning and even just the kids coming off the bus and saying good morning…It’s fun to see.

[Innovation] is one of the things that attracted me to this district. I mentioned in my interview [with the school board] that I kind of grew up professionally in Hilliard and Dublin which are really big districts…It’s why the size here doesn’t bother me much. But the innovation that took place in places like Hilliard and Dublin, when you look around northeast Ohio the one place where that is taking place is here in Mentor… You know, this is what I’m used to. I’m used to that progressive type of education where we’re really trying to push the envelope on what type of experience we’re giving the kids and that’s what excites me about the role, is to be able to learn what we’re currently doing and then what are those areas from my past that I can bring to the table, too, to innovate us a little bit further as well… I think it will be fun to identify what those areas are and be able to pinpoint where we can make a strong impact.

Cardinal Nation: Do you have any goals for yourself/the district in the upcoming school year? What are they?

Mr. Heath: The biggest goal I have for myself this year is to get out and listen to as many people as I can about what they hope to see out of the Mentor Schools. I want to hear from our parents, our teachers, our principals, but most of all I want to hear from our students. I want to get into the classrooms often and see what you are doing. I want to talk about what you are learning and what activities keep you engaged in in your classes. By listening to all of these individuals and groups, it will allow me to accomplish the other big goal I have for the year which is evaluating and revising the current strategic plan. We are in year five of our goals from this strategic plan, so we will need to identify what we want to accomplish in the next five years and what action steps will lead us there.

I’m going out and having conversations with individuals like community members, business leaders, and parents. I’ve already had three or four different individual meetings with parents just to kind of get their perspectives on things…Each of those board members ran for a specific reason, so I want to learn what that reason is and what group of supporters did they have when they were running, and what their thoughts and ideas [are]. I’ve had a couple of meetings already with a board meeting and some of their key stakeholders and just kind of talking through “what’s your passion?” or “what do you want to see us do more of?” That way I can listen and learn from them, gather all of my information, and then as we start to look at our strategic plan, I will pull in that information and making sure we address some of the things that are out there that our community wants to see out of Mentor Schools…Where’s that common ground and how do we move everyone forward?…One of the other goals this year is how do we get those board meetings to be more productive. Instead of just throwing out an argument, its much better in some of these smaller conversations…to be able to have some back and forth, and it’s very difficult to have that type of conversation during a board meeting.

I’ll say this: coming to Mentor, I knew there were some political divides within the community. As I’ve sat down and listened to people at opposite ends of the political spectrum, we’re a lot closer than I think people think we are to having some common ground. I had two back-to-back meetings in the morning over coffee a couple of weeks ago with someone who is very far left-leaning and then the very next day someone who is very far right-leaning and they said the very same thing in regards as to what they want for kids. If we would have been able to have both of those individuals sitting in the same room, having the same conversation, I think that would go a long way to have that community feel back and bring that back to Mentor. That’s something I’m hoping we’ll be able to do as we continue on through the school year.

Cardinal Nation: How have your previous job positions prepared you for Mentor?

Mr. Heath: I was fortunate enough to grow professionally in two very large, high-performing, suburban school districts in Central Ohio. I was a teacher, a principal and a central office administrator in Hilliard City Schools which has over 17,000 students and twenty-four school buildings. I worked in the central office in Dublin City Schools for seven years that was similar in size. Those districts were very innovative in their approaches to curriculum and instruction much like we are here in Mentor. In my most recent district, Delaware City Schools, I was able to lead all of the academic programming of a district that is similar in size and demographics to Mentor. Each of these roles have prepared me to lead a district like Mentor as we continue to try and build innovative programs that meet the needs of the students and our community.

Cardinal Nation: What would you consider the most important factor in seeing the Mentor school district thrive?

Mr. Heath: The nice thing is that I’m stepping into a situation where we have outstanding administrators, we’ve got amazing teachers, and we’re already doing things at such a high level that anything I would be able to do would just be there to add to what we’ve already got in place here. There’s this thread of excellence throughout everything we do and a thread of innovation through everything that we do and really my goal is just to continue to build on that. We’re very fortunate here in Mentor and a lot of people may not realize that. You know, if they’ve been here for a long period of time it’s just built into what they know and they expect that, but if you go to other places it’s not necessarily the same thing and we are very lucky with the resources we have. I guess I would say the one thing I bring to the table is how do we continue to make connections with our community, our business leaders, our government leaders here in the city, that we can start to build things together as a community, as opposed to all these separate sides… I think there’s a lot of power, especially in our students here, and you guys as students are an untapped resource… Your ability to do work and service in the community while you’re still here in Mentor Public Schools…to start to build some of those pieces so we’ve got the opportunity to give you an authentic learning experiences that will also allow you to give back to the city of Mentor.

Cardinal Nation: How do you see the role of Cardinal Nation in the community?

Mr. Heath: Really, it gives students a voice. Not only within the school community but within the community at large as well…I think that this venue, this format, this medium, allows you to explore some of those issues that are happening in real time, around the high school, around Mentor, around the state, and around the country. I see it in a couple of different perspectives. One, I think it’s a great learning opportunity for all of you students who are apart of this…It also allows you an outlet to express ideas and to research and probe ideas that you might not be able to in a regular class. From the other perspective, I think Cardinal Nation can be one of those things that is a communication tool for the district to tell the community what is going on in this district because there are so many good things going on…Oftentimes that student voice is much more powerful than anything that even I, as the superintendent, or our community relations person [can do]… It doesn’t carry as much weight as maybe that student’s voice does. I’m hoping that this venue will allow us to communicate our story in a better, more productive way in the community.

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