Sunday, August 19, 2001

School leader to step down

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COLERAIN TOWNSHIP — Kenneth Dirr has spent his entire career in the Northwest Local School District. That made his decision to retire all the more difficult.

        Mr. Dirr, 55, will retire Dec. 31, seven years after he became superintendent of the district. With 10,500 students in 14 schools, including two high schools, it's the second-largest school district in Hamilton County.

        “To do the job and do the job right, it's extremely consuming of your time and your life,” said Mr. Dirr, who looks forward to spending more time with family and playing golf. “I'll continue to work or do something. It will probably be related to education, but it won't be a 70-hour-a-week job.”

        The district is in good shape, he said, but several employees in critical positions will retire in another year.

        “Much of my success has been that I've really surrounded myself with good people. As they leave, I think somebody else ought to have the opportunity to pick their own people.”

        Mr. Dirr started his 34-year career with Northwest as a math teacher at Colerain Junior High in 1968. He worked his way up to assistant principal and principal of Northwest High School, then on to director of personnel and assistant superintendent.

        Diane Brunsman, director of human resources for Northwest, said she is losing her best recruiter — Mr. Dirr. And once employees are hired, they tend to stick around.

        That's because Mr. Dirr is an empowering leader who gives employees opportunities, Ms. Brunsman said.

        “He is by far one of the most amazing educators,” she said. “It's always because he makes decisions about kids first. There isn't anything else that gets in his way. He has pressed this district to places maybe 20 years ago people thought we wouldn't be.”

        William Lambert, a member of the Northwest Board of Education, said Mr. Dirr has set a high standard. “He is a visionary, but pragmatic, leader.”

        Mr. Dirr's primary focus is how to make the system work better to prepare young people for a global information economy — giving them choices for further education and enabling them to find good jobs, Mr. Lambert said.

        Mr. Dirr lists several accomplishments during his administration, including steady improvements in academic performance.

        “I think the passage of the bond issue and operating levy in 1997 allowed us to make the improvements in our facilities we needed across the district to position us to teach differently in the 21st century and do a lot of hands-on activities,” he said.

        His biggest regret, he said, is not making more progress in changing the way teachers teach and creating greater student engagement.

        “Many of our teachers have a comfort level of teaching the way they were taught in the past — lectures, tests and more lectures. That doesn't sit well with kids of this generation who are used to interacting with the computer and getting instant feedback.”

        Mr. Dirr's daughter, Melissa, just graduated from college and will teach art this fall at Bevis Elementary.


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