Rocking out district meetings


Dawn Gould

Mr. Sears plays hopscotch with a SLE student, both with their hands in the air in excitement.

Jam sessions aren’t just for bands to write songs and practice. They aren’t for the singer to show off their amazing voice, or the guitarist to take over the entire song. Jam sessions create collaborative spaces for any type of team to play, discuss, and work together on their project. Everyone equally contributes to produce the final piece.

Greg Sears’ passion for ‘80s and ‘90s rock bands inspired the way he runs meetings with his staff. No, they’re not rocking out to Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Foo Fighters, or Pearl Jam, but the concept of jam sessions influences his meeting structure.

“The idea of a jam session is that everybody grabs that instrument and has equal contribution to create this amazing piece. But you often just start jamming, you start playing, and you make this, but it’s not one person dominating it,” Sears said. “So the purpose of that [jam session] is that we’re all working together as an equal team. Even though I might have the positional authority, as a team, we’re a team. And so my work is to empower people to be leaders. And so ultimately, that impacts kids.”

Sears’ highest priority as Superintendent is helping students grow and learn to their full potential.

“I want to give them the best chance of success no matter what they decide to do after they leave our district, whether it is directly into the workforce or two year or four year college,” Sears said. “I am committed to ensuring they are prepared for success in life and the experiences they get as they move through our district will develop their skills, tap into their interests, and increase their abilities.”

District administrators discuss upcoming plans and events in the district during their weekly jam sessions with Sears.

“The title of our meeting notes that we created is called our Central Office Jam Session, we meet every Tuesday. I don’t like to call things meetings, because no one wants to go to a meeting, everyone wants to go to a jam session, like that’s fun, you feel like you’re a part of it. And these aren’t all my ideas, I want everyone else to contribute,” Sears said.

The staff, including Assistant Superintendent Dana Martin, quickly welcomed these collaborations.

“Anytime you have somebody new, the nice part is the new ideas they bring, so that’s been really good to kind of bounce off new ideas. It’s been great for me to be like, ‘Alright, so here’s where we’re at,’” Martin said. “He’s brought some fun ideas around how we meet, and what we do in [school] buildings, so he’s brought some different ideas and thoughts around, like ‘As a central office, I’d like to structure things this way,’ [and] we were like ‘Oh that’s a great idea.’”

This is Martin’s first year as Assistant Superintendent of Educational Programs, and with Sears coming from his previous Teaching and Learning position at Forest Hills, she heavily valued his input as an experienced superintendent.

“For me personally, and [him] having the job before me, he’s really given me a chance to sit down with him and say, ‘Here’s what I think this job is, tell me what you’ve done the past few years. Am I hitting the mark, am I missing it, talk to me about it,’” Martin said. “So for me personally it’s been great to have someone who’s done the job right as I took the job. And he’s new and I’m new to this, so I’ve been able to really pick his brain a lot.”

Kim Pence, current Superintendent of Teaching and Learning at Forest Hills, remembers the day Sears introduced the jam session concept.

“The first day we met with him as a team, he showed us a clip of Jimmy Fallon doing the jam session with Metallica. You can see a YouTube clip, but they’re all like playing preschool, school-aged [instruments], like the kazoos and the little triangles and all that stuff. But he said, the issue is that Jimmy Fallon, Metallica, they couldn’t be more different,” Pence said. 

After three years of conducting jam sessions, Pence recollected on what made those sessions important. 

“They are using resources that you wouldn’t think they could do much with. But when you have people that come together with different skills, different interests, different ideas, different ways to problem solve, those people can come together and make beautiful music,” Pence said. “So he said, ‘That’s what makes a jam session,’ and he said, ‘I don’t want to have meetings. I want to have jam sessions.’ And so that’s where, again, it’s about the fact that we may disagree, we may have different opinions, but together when we bring our different ideas together, we make beautiful music.”

Outside of jam sessions, Sears grows his relationships with his coworkers by allowing them to give their perspective, and by maintaining compassion and fun, no matter the situation.

“Getting to know him on a work level is fun. ‘Cause we’ve kinda had a little bit of knowing each other beforehand, but it’s been fun to do anything from sit in pretty heavy meetings, to go walk in the homecoming parade together, so it’s super fun no matter what we do,” Martin said. “We can bounce anything off each other and know that we’re gonna leave like, ‘Alright, we both came up with a nice thought process and both thought it through.’ So that’s been easy, super easy to work with. And I would say that all of us would say that. Probably everybody says that about Greg.”

Sears also travels to the elementary, middle, and high schools to connect with school life. As the new Superintendent, he finds it pointless to stay in his office.

“It’s not that I don’t like my office, but being out in buildings, seeing students and teachers, and connecting with parents and community members is a great reminder on why I do this work,” Sears said.  “Seeing our students and teachers succeed motivates me to work harder to create the conditions for amazing learning experiences.”

His Twitter is full of congratulatory posts and pictures of recent sports games or academic ceremonies, and Martin admits that his work schedule goes after-hours.

“I think the other thing I’ve seen him do for the district is, you’ve seen him in the classroom, I think he’s been in every classroom already. Like I really think the man has been everywhere. And he’s always at sports. He has been at everything,” Martin said.

At the varsity football game against West Clermont, Martin and Sears watched the game together, as coworkers and long-time friends.

“My husband knows him so we’re down talking and he looks at him and he goes ‘Alright so my daughter has a volleyball game in ten minutes.’ And I’m like, ‘Go, you’ve been here a lot,’ and we’re winning by like 30, like ‘Greg, it’s probably time to go,’ and he’s like ‘I’m gonna go, should I come back?’” Martin said. “And I’m like, ‘No it’s gonna be 50 to nothing by the time you come back.’ Like nine o’clock on a Friday night? I don’t think you need to come back, I think you’re good.”

One of his main reasons for this commitment is his drive for those around him to be successful, whether that’s his coworkers, teachers, or students.

“I want to be successful, not just for me, but I believe if I’m doing work like that, then I’m going to help other people be successful, and ultimately, it’s going to impact kids, right? So it is all about, you know, trying to grow people, which has been a mission of mine,” Sears said.

In 2019, the Forest Hills Central Office elected Sears with the Wiseman Group’s Multiplier of the Year Award, an international award that recognizes leaders who amplify the intelligence of those around them, according to the Wiseman Group website.

“Several of us here in the [Forest Hills] office nominated him and wrote why we felt like he was the right person for that. He was chosen and he was able to be recognized, went to San Francisco, all of that fun stuff. But it was important, again, the idea, the concept of that multiplier, is somebody who’s not the center of attention, but really focuses on how to empower other people,” Pence said. “He was very funny when he found out that we nominated him, like he was mortified. He’s very humble. He doesn’t like that kind of attention. He’s just not that kind of person. But he most definitely deserved it. I think his reaction to it is exactly why he deserved it.”

Metallica’s lead singer, James Hetfield, and Greg Sears are onto something important. They both understand that maintaining humility and awareness of each member’s strengths and weaknesses keeps the band together. Hetfield explained this in a 2017 episode of The Nerdist Podcast, detailing how the balance of everyone’s perspectives kept the band together for over 40 years. Sears leads his work in education with the same mindset, recognizing that every connection he makes creates a supportive, creative, musical environment for all those incorporated, especially students.

“Education for me is about seeing growth and seeing, not just from a student standpoint, but also teacher’s, just seeing them grow over time into these young people that just have skills and abilities that are going to enable them to be successful beyond the walls of our district. That’s what education is, to me, it’s learning, unlearning, relearning, those types of things,” Sears said.