7 Questions With...

Dr. Mark Daniel, Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent
Aug 7, 2023
Jeffrey Crane
7 Questions With...

Freshly into his fourth year as Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) Superintendent, Dr. Mark Daniel is hard at work ensuring students are properly prepared and equipped for life after high school. He shares with us challenges and wins he’s experienced, the impactful partnership FWCS has built with local businesses, and advice he would give to today’s students and educators.

Q1: The last time we caught up with you was in 2020, during your first year as FWCS Superintendent and in the midst of the pandemic! What do you feel has been your biggest win over the last three years, and your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been the pandemic and its after-effects. When I started as FWCS Superintendent I could have never imagined how long we would have to deal with the pandemic itself, but even today there are still so many students, especially, grappling with what they experienced from 2020-2022. This year’s graduates, for instance, didn’t have their first “normal” year of high school until their senior year. That was the first full school year they attended school every day without pandemic restrictions. Our challenge continues to be how to address students’ mental health needs while also addressing the academic losses many students experienced during the pandemic. On the flip side, one of our biggest wins was fully recognizing we can no longer expect today’s students to sit in a classroom and learn language arts separate from math separate from science and so on. Today’s students demand – and rightfully so – an education that will prepare them for life after graduation. Whether they are enrolling in college, finding employment or enlisting in the military, they need to build real-world skills before graduation to be successful. 

Q2: Are there any exciting initiatives or plans in place for the upcoming 2023-24 school year that you can share with us? 

At the start of the 2022-23 school year, FWCS opened Amp Lab at Electric Works, an innovative entrepreneurial program for 11th and 12th grade students, and we started 3DE, a transformational educational platform, at North Side and Snider High Schools. This year, Amp Lab will be in its second year, which will allow about 60 seniors to participate in in-depth entrepreneurial experiences. This could include an internship, a capstone or research project, or other opportunities. At North Side and Snider, 9th and 10th graders will engage in challenges with local businesses that allow them to use their knowledge and skills to develop creative solutions for real issues facing the businesses. Already this year, we saw how our students excel at these types of challenges, and our business partners were blown away by the ideas our students developed, and the research and presentation skills they gained. This year, we will also work with Junior Achievement of Northeast Indiana to expand 3DE to our three other high schools: South Side, Northrop and Wayne. The first cohort of students in 3DE at these schools will begin in the fall of 2024.

Q3: What is one goal you wish to accomplish during the next school year? 

In April 2022, we began working with Ford NGL (Next Generation Learning) on developing a Portrait of a Graduate. Collaborating with more than 200 business and community leaders, representatives from higher education and nonprofit groups, FWCS teachers, administrators, parents, students and other key partners, we spent many hours discerning what knowledge, skills and attributes our students need to have to be successful in life after graduation. From those sessions, we developed the Portrait of an Explorer (elementary students), Portrait of a Connector (middle school students) and Portrait of a Graduate (high school students). With the Portrait developed, we then worked backward to create a master plan to get there. Over the next year, we will begin implementing this master plan as we establish a new structure for our high schools that we are calling Schools of Success. By the fall of 2024, all students entering high school will start with a freshman academy, which will prepare them to be successful throughout their high school years. We will be sharing much more about the Schools of Success over the next year.

Q4: How do you feel the FWCS system has grown over the course of the last five years? How will it continue to improve?

A major focus for FWCS has been strengthening our partnerships with the business community. For students to be successful, they need to have access to experiences that will prepare them for future careers. Some children have always had access to business and industry leaders through their parents or other family members, but that is not the case for all of our students. Local businesses need our students to be prepared to enter the workforce, and our students need to be prepared to enter fields where they can find success. By working together, we are developing opportunities such as 3DE challenges, Amp Lab experiences, projects at New Tech Academy, internships through the Career Academy and others, that benefit our students and local companies. These partnerships must continue to grow for our region to remain economically viable.

Q5: If you could give one piece of advice to students in today’s world, what would it be? What advice would you give to educators?

My advice to students is to continue to be perseverant. Today’s students learned how important that is during the pandemic, and those who are most successful recognize the importance of not giving up and celebrating progress. I hope students will be passionate about learning and take advantage of experiences available. I encourage educators to remember why they became teachers. It is easy to get bogged down in the regulations and criticism we face in public schools, but our students come to us needing educators to help them get ready for life. Since the day I started, I have told teachers they cannot possibly teach all the state standards and they shouldn’t beat themselves up trying. We need to focus on literacy, numeracy and well-being. If we can find success in those areas and focus on each student as an individual, our students can’t lose. 

Q6: Do your work responsibilities slow down during the summer? Do you have any fun getaways or vacations planned?

There is a lot of work to be done in the summer to make sure we are prepared for students on the first day of the 2023-24 school year, but I am a firm believer in taking time away and relaxing. Without that balance, employees will start the school year with an energy deficit and burn out. My daughter is getting married in the fall so we don’t have any big vacations planned, but I will have time away from the office. My ideal summer weekend is spending time at the lake with my wife, my daughters and their families.

Q7: The last time we spoke, you and your wife had started Cross-Fit! Have you stuck with it or have you found a new preferred work-out method? 

Cross-Fit is no longer a part of my fitness routine. I do still work out and I continue to work on healthy eating habits. My wife is much better about sticking to a plan than I am.

 

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