Position: Career Counselor
School: Van Wert High School
School District: Van Wert City Schools
City, State: Van Wert, OH
Music that Describes Kerry
Kerry Koontz was nominated by his principal, Bob Priest.
Mr. Koontz has been in education for over 30 years, and has shown no signs of slowing down! As a school counselor, he was interested in creating more for his students. He noticed that a large percentage of students graduated and attended a four year college, but didn't finish. Through his years as a counselor, he learned that students were doing this as the “next step” in life. Many students were attending college and didn't know why they were attending, but the expectation was that they should attend, and so they did. Through this experience, students were leaving college, accumulating debt, and moving back home, where they struggled to “get ahead.”
In 2015, Mr. Koontz created a student internship program designed to afford senior students a hands-on experience in a career field. Although the purpose of this program was to better prepare students for career choices, the result has changed his community and many students' lives.
On December 17, 2015, Mr. Koontz organized an event for local businesses to learn of a new program being started by Van Wert High School. The Career Education Opportunity (CEO) program is a student internship program allowing students to leave school for two of their seven periods of educational courses to gain “hands-on” experience in a career field of the student’s choosing.
At the event, Mr. Koontz explained that the statistics show the job market is no longer in need of students with a bachelor’s degree, and that training, certifications, and possibly associate’s degrees were in higher demand. The challenge is trying to get students’ parents to understand that it is “ok” for their son or daughter to not have a four year degree, and if they choose to pursue one, they should know what that major is, and the requirements for the career they are pursuing. He explained that the CEO program would give students hands-on experience that cannot be offered in a traditional school. Van Wert High School had committed to a Project Based Curriculum four years prior, and the CEO student internship would be the culminating event for such an education.
Over 50 businesses attended this kick-off meeting, but it was a difficult task getting them to open their doors, spend billable hours training students, and give students specific tasks which would benefit the organization. Needless to say, many businesses had strong reservations, and were reluctant to participate.
The first year of the program had eleven businesses willing to work with seventeen students. To be a participant in the CEO program, students must submit an application. This application is similar to what's required when applying for a job in the workforce. Participating students submit their application and a resume to Mr. Koontz in the spring. Mr. Koontz then reviews each application and learns where students' desired interests are. Once he knows this information, he seeks out businesses for internships. Mr. Koontz does not guarantee any student an internship and does not place any student with a business. He works to arrange an interview for the student, but the final decision lies with the business on whether or not to offer the internship. It is a competitive experience which mimics that of applying for employment.
While all of this time and energy was being devoted to the CEO program, Mr. Koontz maintained his full time position as a school counselor, and he coached a winter and spring sport. He was not slowing down, but increasing his commitment and being energized! It was common for Mr. Koontz to enter the building at 5:30 AM and not leave until 6:30 PM on a daily basis. This man was full of energy, and this energy was becoming contagious!
The program doubled during its second year and was the “buzz” of the community, which included the two remaining schools in the county. During the second year of the program, business leaders began asking why the program was not offered to the county schools and what needed to be done in order to accommodate them. Business leaders had now experienced and were discussing the abilities students possessed, and how valuable to the business these students were. These interns were no longer “kids," they were educated adults who had abilities greater than what was originally perceived.
In its third year, the CEO program opened to the students of the county schools, and it consisted of over 70 students and 35 businesses. In this community of just over 10,000 people, this program continues to be the talk of the town and is a direct result of the work of Mr. Koontz. The CEO program has made a big impact on the Business Advisory Committee (BAC), which works with local school boards. The BAC of Van Wert County consists of a superintendent from each school, and has business leaders from each area of business (service, manufacturing, healthcare, etc). Bringing these groups together has helped create more opportunities for educators to understand the needs of businesses, and for businesses to understand that demands placed upon education.
Mr. Koontz has been invited to speak about the CEO program at the High Schools That Work regional conference, the Ohio School Board Association’s state conference, and multiple community groups in Van Wert County. Numerous schools have visited Van Wert to observe the program, and Mr. Koontz was the recipient of the Dominion Energy Community in Action award. Additionally, State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria has visited to learn more about this program, and the school is being contacted by members of the Ohio General Assembly’s House Educational committee, who would like to learn more about the program and its impact. All of these accolades are noteworthy, but if a person was to ask Mr. Koontz which is most important, the answer would be clear: the impact the CEO program is having on students.
Because of this program, students have observed numerous surgeries, earned their STNA, and are working for pay at their internships. They have earned full time employment upon graduation, interned with the fire department, and are now earning their certifications for employment. As one manufacturing company was going through an expansion, a CEO student redesigned the entire floor plan of the business to make it safer and more productive. These students are changing the mindset of their community, and it comes as a result of their experiences in the CEO program. The success of this program and the students within it have prompted some businesses to offer tuition assistance in exchange for the student to return for employment. These initiatives are impacting the community and hope to provide a solution to the “brain drain” which had been taking place for decades.
There are other student successes that aren't as visible, including the number of students who interned in a specific field, only to learn it was not what they wanted to do. One student had been very successful in the biomedical program, and a nursing career had been her goal for a number of years. When the student was in the room the first time a patient had blood drawn, however, she passed out and soon realized this wasn't the field for her. Then, she pursued business, but that didn't fit, either. Finally, she pursued education, where she developed a passion and entered college with a semester’s worth of experience.
"On the surface, this may appear as a series of failures, but I see it as a series of successes," said Priest. "This student had learned that two career choices were not for her, and it cost her nothing. Had she entered college, she could have been thousands of dollars in debt before realizing it, and no one knows if she would have ever explored education."
Many students have discussed the impact Mr. Koontz has had on them. He not only established a program which has impacted their lives, but he has had made a personal connection with each student. His background in counseling has been extremely advantageous, as he helps to mentor each of these students. This past October, a graduate of the CEO program had dedicated a percentage of his proceeds from a local festival to the CEO program. The student proudly stated that he wouldn’t be where he was today without the assistance of Mr. Koontz and the CEO program. The student currently has his realtor’s license, as well as a side culinary business. He was a finalist for a local business entrepreneurship program, where he earned $2,500 to help start his business.
"As I watch the number of educators visit Van Wert to learn more about the program, I often wonder about the expanded influence Mr. Koontz will have on hundreds of other students whom he has not met," said Priest. "Additionally, will his efforts impact the congressmen working to reform the Department of Education, and will this lead to changes in legislation? The Ohio Department of Education has already established a Personalized Professional Pathway (P3) program which will provide funding for programs such as the CEO program. Leaders of ODE had visited Van Wert, witnessed what our students were doing, recognized the difficulty of maintaining these programs with no funding in place, and made changes. Again, not only does this benefit our students, but countless others around the state of Ohio."
"Kerry has directly and indirectly impacted the lives of students and has changed the direction of a community," said Priest. "He works relentlessly for the betterment of others, and seeks no recognition. His upbeat and energetic personality is contagious, and one simply feels better after spending a few minutes with Kerry Koontz."