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Sarah Trimble-Oliver – Cincinnati Public Schools

School CSO says COVID changes are good for growth

For eight consecutive years, enrollment at Cincinnati Public Schools had been increasing.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Some students transferred to schools with different safety protocols, some started home schooling and others moved. And, as districts nationwide experienced, many parents have delayed kindergarten for their kids. But, despite a 4  , Sarah Trimble-Oliver is confident the district can regain these students and then some.

Sarah Trimble-Oliver | Chief Strategy Officer | Cincinnati Public Schools

Sarah Trimble-Oliver | Chief Strategy Officer | Cincinnati Public Schools

Previously the district’s CIO, she’s now working on big picture initiatives as chief strategy officer. From technology to facilities, Trimble-Oliver is planning a future shaped by lessons learned over the past year and a half.

“During the pandemic we’ve learned how to be agile and resilient in ways we never thought we could be,” she says. “It’s our fundamental premise to be the destination for education in the entire city of Cincinnati.”

Online upgrade

With over 36,000 students across 67 schools, Cincinnati Public Schools is the third largest school district in Ohio.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, Trimble-Oliver started working on a district safety plan with guidelines on masking and social distancing. The plan also included a schedule for replacing ventilation systems and protocols for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, with details based on standards from the Center for Disease Control.

A lot of what CPS has learned over the past year and a half has come from a partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Trimble-Oliver says. Some CPS staff have attended hospital trainings to improve scheduling and cleanliness, and  the hospital has provided coaches for CPS staff, as well.

Sarah Trimble-Oliver | Chief Strategy Officer | Cincinnati Public Schools

Trimble-Oliver’s safety plan also included increasing remote learning capacity. This meant giving every student and staff access to an online course management system and video conferencing tools and providing internet access for 8,000 students who needed it.

The district already had CPS Digital Academy, which a few hundred students used prior to the pandemic, but all students and teachers used it from March to October 2020. They then came back in a hybrid capacity before returning fully in March 2021. According to Trimble-Oliver, a few thousand students have opted to continue remote learning through the digital academy.

“There is no going back to the old instructional paradigms,” Trimble-Oliver says. “We are lightyears ahead of where we were before COVID. We need to continue moving forward.”

Here to stay

While remote learning will carry over into a post-pandemic world, so will other things that have been implemented over the past year and a half, Trimble-Oliver says.

“There are some things we don’t want to unlearn,” she says.

In addition to online learning, the district also offers outdoor learning as much as possible to help mitigate the spread of the virus. The district has increased its social worker services and has embedded mental health training into all regular teacher trainings, as well.

The hope, Trimble-Oliver says, is that the changes will lure back students who left during the pandemic while also drawing new students to the district. She adds that CPS is already expecting growth and is in the early stages of expanding three schools—two elementary schools and a high school. The projects are in the design phase and are expected to be completed within two years.

“The future is bright,” Trimble-Oliver says. “The past year and a half has been challenging for everyone, but we’re looking at this as an opportunity for a strategic refresh.”

Making progress

During her 20 years with CPS, Trimble-Oliver has had four promotions. She started as an applications system administrator and was then the director of IT applications before advancing to the role of CIO in 2015. As CIO, she increased access to technology for all students by ensuring all middle and high schools had their own district-issued laptop. Elementary school students use one device per every two kids.

Sarah Trimble-Oliver | Chief Strategy Officer | Cincinnati Public Schools

Trimble-Oliver also helped integrate technology into the classroom by giving teachers the training and resources needed to use it comfortably. While she loved being CIO, she says she was excited to be offered the CSO role in 2019 with responsibilities ranging from strategy for transportation to facilities, dining, security and purchasing.

“I thought I could bring value to the district in new ways,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about the complexities that come with overseeing 67 buildings. I hope my biggest contribution so far has been not only focusing on long term strategy, but also on how to achieve and measure results.”

View this feature in the Fall II 2021 Edition here.

Published on: September 21, 2021

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