Perry Schools Shares Their Vision of the Future with the Ohio Department of Education and KnowledgeWorks


On November 30th, Perry Schools hosted a tour of the district's personalized learning opportunities. Tour guests included individuals from the Ohio Department of Education and KnowledgeWorks, a Cincinnati-based organization that provides resources to help learning communities transition to personalized learning. The tour included observations and interactions with elementary, middle, and high school classrooms.

“We’re wanting to showcase districts across the state of Ohio that are engaged in personalized learning,” said the Assistant Director for Personalized Learning at the Ohio Department of Education, Teresa Dempsy. “I was thrilled when I heard that Perry Local Schools would be joining us in this initiative. So I reached out to see if we could bring our cohort of 10 ESC (Educational Service Center) personalized learning specialists, to tour the district and see it in action.”

Personalized learning is designed around making meaning of real-world challenges and curriculum so students experience learning as relevant, inspiring, collaborative, self-directed, and more authentic. When possible, the learning experience is customized for each student according to his or her unique strengths, skills needed, interests, and experiences.

The hope is that this kind of learning environment will improve a wide range of student outcomes including collaboration, engagement, achievement, and well-being. “Personalized learning is important because it’s authentic and the kids get a true world experience,” said Perry Board of Education President, Tippi Foley. “It’s customized to each individual student’s needs, and I think every student then has an opportunity to find their niche, and I think the teachers do as well.”

At the elementary school guests shadowed students within the Perry Ingenuity Institute (PII). PII is a STEM and design school within the elementary offering flexible learning opportunities and structures to meet the needs of students. Authentic learning opportunities are offered to students with the ability to adjust routines and structures based on an individual student’s needs. Classrooms consist of a mix of first through fourth grade students. The students acted as tour guides for the day as they proudly led the visitors through their morning activities including design time, where students design their own high-interest clubs.

Going through the middle school guests spoke with students who worked collaboratively as they simulated exchanging various global currencies with one another. “You could see the relationships and their willingness to support each other,” said Deion Jordan, director of teaching and learning at KnowledgeWorks. “It’s very apparent that there is very positive culture, that there are very positive relationships that are not just between educator and learner, but also learner and learner.”

Anna Russo, Director of Community Futures with KnowledgeWorks (Right), interacts with Perry Middle School students Olivia Caranchi (left) and Katie McGonnell (middle) during a tour of Perry Schools personalized learning opportunities.Parents of elementary and middle school students can choose which learning environment is best for their student. Whether they choose personalized or classical/traditional environments, all classrooms move students forward following the district’s best practices for learning, with Ohio curriculum standards. “Some kids need structure and some kids need experience to motivate them to learn the work and learn the content. So I think what we’re trying to do is find the best learning environments that we can create for kids and give kids and families options for what’s best for them,” said Perry Schools Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Betty Jo Malchesky. “We ask kids, ‘What do you need to make meaning out of the learning that you do?’ and the kids responded. Everyone walks through this door, adults included, with unique needs and we become very aware of what those personalized needs are and then structure time in the day of how they can get to access points so that their strengths continue and that their weaknesses begin to soar.”

Before stopping at the high school, the tour group visited the Pirates Acquiring Vocational Education (PAVE) room. PAVE provides students with special needs structured and supported vocational training opportunities at job sites located on and off campus. Occasionally, these students are hired to work full-time at these locations upon graduation. Here, the tour group met with students and walked through their school store which is operated by the PAVE students.

For the high school portion of the tour, the group traveled over to the Perry Service Learning (PSL) center, a building within walking distance of the high school. PSL is an elective for seniors that provides students volunteer opportunities to promote social involvement through education and service. Each student volunteers at least 2 hours per week with over 40 different community partners including Broadmoor School, Salvation Army, Madison Senior Center, United Way of Lake County, and Forbes House. At the PSL center they met with students who showed them their food pantry and discussed some of their volunteer experiences.

Back within the main high school building, the group met with the district’s Career and Exploration Specialist, Rita Soeder and senior, Emma Pietrzak, who spoke with the guests about her experiences as an intern with the Lake County Public Defenders Office. “Not only have I gained knowledge in the field of law, but I have gathered a new perspective on the issues we face in our community,” said Pietrzak. “This is especially transforming when I compare my experiences with my internship to those in PSL. I have grown far more understanding and empathetic of adverse circumstances, which will serve me well if I continue in the field of public defense law.” The internship program currently has a total of 32 interns who travel to 12 different sites including University Hospitals and Component Repair Technologies.

Senior, Emma Pietrzak talks with visitors about her experiences as an intern with the Lake County Public Defender’s Office.

The day ended with a panel consisting of students, teachers, guests, and district administrators who discussed their experiences. “What really resonated with me is that we had teachers and students around the table together and they’re all learners. You could tell that the teachers were taking the students feedback very seriously, listening with intent and already thinking about how they want to modify things in the future,” said Teresa Dempsey.

“This kind of work is not possible without the full support of the leadership, the administration, as well as educators who are saying, ‘yes’ to doing something differently,” said Rachel Siegel, design and innovation specialist at Lakeland Community College.

“You could just see by talking to them, and hearing them, and the expressions on their faces how much they (the teachers) care. When those kids know that someone cares and the teachers have that comradery amongst themselves, that builds an incredible school district,” said Board President, Foley. “The opportunities here are amazing. The school district not only provides opportunities for kids in growing, learning, and developing, but it also provides a lot of those other resources that a lot of our other families need and utilize through our Perry Service Learning Program.”

Dr. Malchesky added, “There’s much work to do, but we know our compass is leading us to learning that equips students for real-world work and to pursue greatness in life. We at Perry are preparing students to analyze, communicate, create, and understand who they are becoming, and lead the world to our future.”

To learn more about Perry School’s personalized learning programs, contact Dr. Betty Jo Malchesky at or at 440-259-9200 extension 9202.