Arlingtonian sits down with outgoing superintendent Paul Imhoff to discuss his legacy at UA Schools.
BY JAMES UNDERWOOD ’23
Paul Imhoff has served as superintendent of UA Schools since July, 2013. Over the summer, the district announced that Imhoff would retire from his position in early January, marking the end of an era lasting nearly a decade.
Imhoff will become the director of governmental affairs at the Buckeye Association of School Administrators. Associate Superintendent Kathy Jenney will take over as interim superintendent until a final replacement starts August 1 of next year.
From a sleek conference room deep in the Mincy Center, which houses the district’s administrative offices, Imhoff spoke to his time at UA Schools, including the accomplishments he’s proud of and the challenges he’s faced.
What follows is a transcript of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Q: Can you start by describing your proudest accomplishments within the district?
A: I guess the first thing I’d say is that I don’t see it that way, because I think about what we all did as a team. I’m really proud of the team that we have here. So I would say some of the proudest accomplishments of our team, if I could rephrase the question, one is the implementation of all-day kindergarten. We’re one of only a couple of suburban school districts in central Ohio that offer all day, every day kindergarten for every child with no fee. And that’s a game changer.
We [also] were the first school district in central Ohio, a long time ago now, to implement a one-to-one technology program. When the pandemic hit, most school districts in central Ohio had to start with finding a device for every child; we already had that.
I think the work our team has done around the Student Services Department, serving kids who have special needs or who are gifted and talented. I’m also really proud of the work our team has done around that area.
Q: And what would you say are some of the challenges or most difficult moments you faced in your tenure?
A: The pandemic, the pandemic, the pandemic. What happened in Upper Arlington happened in every school district, so this is not an area we were any different. But it was so difficult, because typically, when there’s an issue in a school district, [there is room for compromise]. When we got to the pandemic, there was no compromise. Whatever choice was made, there were going to be a huge segment of people that greatly disagreed with that.
Q: Are you proud of the district’s COVID response overall?
A: Overall, yes. If you were asking me, do I think we nailed everything during the pandemic? No, of course not. We had never been through a pandemic; none of us in the world had. If I had to do over again, and I hope I never do, then sure, there’ll be things that I think we would do better and do differently. But I am incredibly proud of our team. I’m incredibly proud of our students and our families, for how we did weather a once-in-a-century global pandemic.
Q: I understand you presided over the creation of the first equity advisory board and then later the hiring of our first Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Do you have any reflections on your work in that area?
A: I think equity is so incredibly important. And I think so many people don’t understand what equity is. Equity is doing whatever we have to do to meet the individual needs of every child. That’s our job as a public school. And we’re one of the only countries in the world that does it to this extent: we welcome every child, period. We have a lot more work to do to make sure that every child, every adult is welcomed, celebrated, loved, so that they can reach their fullest potential. Because you can’t learn until you have a sense of belonging, until you know you are included. We’re not there yet; we’re on that journey. But that work is foundational to absolutely everything that we do.
Q: Under your tenure, UA Schools rebuilt several of its schools. I’m curious if you have any reflections on the process of creating those buildings and convincing the community of the need for them.
A: Before we even talked about facilities, we started with really focusing on effective two-way communication with our community. It really started there; we spent several years on that before we launched the facilities process. Then the facilities process truly was a partnership. We spent two and a half years working with our community, listening back and forth. It involved thousands of people. When that bond issue went on the ballot, it was a landslide victory, which really said a lot about what the community wanted and what the community valued.
Q: What advice would you give to your successor, whoever it is?
A: Get to know all of the wonderful people in this place, the students and the staff and our community. Learn the culture of this place, learn the history of this place, and then make it better. Move it forward.
One of the things that’s in the DNA of Upper Arlington is always focusing on improvement. We have this amazing past, but we don’t want to live in that past. We always want to be leaning forward, focused on the future and getting better. So take the time to listen and learn, get to know everyone, get to know the place, and then get to work and make this place better.