Public Education Matters

Throughout this school year, OEA has been recognizing exceptional educators who have been nominated by community members because of the impact they're making in students' lives. One of those Education Champions, Natasha Hurt-Hayes, is also making a big impact on how other educators are meeting students' needs by helping them re-think how their policies, practices, and perceptions are affecting the different groups of students they serve. This episode features excerpts from an interview with the Princeton City Schools School Improvement Coach for an Education Champions feature video.

Hear from other Education Champions | To see the full series of short videos highlighting Education Champions honorees around the state, including Natasha Hurt-Hayes, go to

Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • Natasha Hurt-Hayes, Princeton Association of Classroom Educators member
    • Natasha Hurt-Hayes, M.Ed.,Ed.S. - currently a school improvement coach for Princeton City Schools District in Cincinnati, Ohio - has served in education for 20 years in a variety of capacities. She is a proud product of Dayton Public Schools’ Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and her experience there as a student as well as her early work as an ELA teacher inspired her to advocate for greater change to ensure equitable outcomes for all students. Her love for the profession, inspiring young people to see the genius within them and her desire to help other educators grow has been the driving force behind the systems coaching she continues to provide through her current position as well as in her consulting work she does across the country! 
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About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May 2020, after a ten-year career as an Emmy Award winning television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
The interview featured in this episode was recorded on March 31, 2023.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Education Champions video excerpts 0:16
"Teaching is helping each kid find their genius." "The best part about my job is allowing students a safe place to have fun and to let their ideas be heard." "And every year is different. There's challenges; there's triumphs. And I think that's probably what I enjoy. (school bus horn) I am very appreciative of my job." "What I really try to focus on a student centered environment where the kids get a lot of choice and what they're able to do."

Katie Olmsted 0:42
Those are the voices of a few of the many educators across Ohio that had been honored this year as Education Champions. I'm Katie Olmsted. And since last fall, OEA has been asking community members -- parents, students and educators included -- to nominate excellent educators they know who are making an impact on students' lives every day. We have heard from every corner of the state about educators doing every sort of job in our schools. And we've been able to share some of their stories through radio and streaming TV vignettes, to help lift up the importance of the education profession, and to shine the spotlight on why public education matters so much. One of the most recent honorees, Natasha Hurt-Hayes, does a job many Ohioans probably don't know much about. She's a School Improvement Coach in Princeton City Schools, and she works with everyone from teachers, paraprofessionals, and librarians, to school principals and superintendents, to look at how the systems that are in place are impacting student achievement and student behavior, and what changes can be made to create better outcomes. She also works with them on disproportionality - that's looking at the curriculum at processes around support at educator knowledge and efficacy, and trying to see how that may lead to things like one group of students getting identified for special education more than any other group, for example. It's really about examining how bias may influence educators' expectations around students, and their learning. It is really important work, and Natasha Hurt-Hayes has a really important perspective to share. So we wanted to share more of her full Education Champions interview with you in this episode. Let's listen.

Natasha Hurt-Hayes 2:35
I was someone who was in the classroom for a long time, and I kept thinking, gosh, there's so much more I can be doing. Like I loved my students, every student that I've ever had will likely tell you Miss Hayes gave her all. Like she, she came every day and she poured into us because I believe that that's, that's my job as an educator. Like I say this all the time and professional learning that I do around here, in our district and outside of our district: As educators, we have the power every day to speak life or death into our kids. Every day. We never know what a kid is carrying into this space; we never know what even our colleagues are carrying into this space. And that's something that I promote here, as well, is we have to check in with each other. I don't know what you might be carrying. We have a lot of educators who have family members battling cancer and other illnesses. And they come in every day, and they give 1,000% of themselves. And so knowing that and understanding how to support them, our kids are no different. When you've got a kid who did everything they could to make it to school today, maybe they didn't have transportation, maybe they walked a couple of miles, because it was safer to be here and they knew that food was guaranteed; they knew that people were going to be excited about them being there, it is not good practice to meet that kid at the door, yelling at them about their hat or yelling at them to take their hood off, when this kid did everything they could just to be here. You know, make them feel like you were so excited for them to be here. So I definitely felt like I could be doing more. I'm impacting thousands of kids each year, but I could be impacting tens of thousands of kids if I'm working with educators. And so that that was for me the only reason that I that left the classroom. So.

Natasha Hurt-Hayes 4:32
It helps to have someone as a part of your team helping you to have those moments of reflectiveness. Like, hey, I need you to think about what your morning was like and I need you to think about like when I talk about privilege, it's dirty word people get all you know their skin gets to crawling and I'm like, there's so many levels of privilege that we experience every day no matter whether you're a marginalized group or a double marginalized group or not, right? You know, when I do through professional learning opportunities, and people come in and I start talking about privilege, I say, you all have privilege. You walked in here, no one came in here with an assistive device. No one had any difficulty sitting down at this lunch table. But every day, we have kids who can't sit at the lunch table with their friends. They have a table that specialized for them to be able to roll their wheelchair under. So what does that mean? That means they don't get to sit at some of the regular, you know, lunch tables, the way that they are set up, you know, to be able to interact with their friends. So how was that othering them already? Just by the sheer placement and proximity, they're being othered. You didn't have to worry about that. You got to sit next to your friend with no problem with no issue. Like, those are the things that we don't think about. You can read the board with no problem. Or even if you can't, you have health insurance. You're able to go to the doctor, you've got good health insurance, you can get the things that you need. And you know, helping people to kind of take that step back and reflect on some things and understand how, when we aren't mindful of all those things, sometimes we can have some problem blindness, you know.

Natasha Hurt-Hayes 6:12
So if I have to be the person, every time being the heavy going, Hey, we're leaving kids out of a safe space where they feel comfortable being able to use the bathroom. Do you in your 10 hour long day - because many of us are not here, 7.5 hours, we're here 10 hours, 11 hours, 12 hours - can you imagine having to hold it for 12 hours? No, but that's what some of our kids do.

Natasha Hurt-Hayes 6:39
So in part of the work that I also do in the district, I support our equity action plan. And it's a plan that predates me. It's a plan that the wonderful people here across the district across our eight elementary schools, our two high schools and our middle school along with central office staff as well, but staff at all levels from paraprofessional, on up to the superintendent took part in some learning from a young lady Katrice Quitter, who develop a program called One Degree Shift. And it was all about this idea that - and it comes from aeronautics, right? This idea that like, if there is a one degree shift, as a plane is leaving, like LaGuardia, right, in New York, or New Jersey, wherever it's located, and they are headed to LAX. If the pilot shifts by one degree, it is the difference between ending up on the tarmac versus ending up in the ocean. One degree. And when you think about one degree, it doesn't sound like a lot. But that is clearly a huge difference. And so they took part in this learning and they decided there are some things within our system that we need to work on in order to have more equitable outcomes. And thankfully, they had a Superintendent Tom Burton, Associate Superintendent Dr. Mary Phillips, and a board that that stood behind that idea and that need, right? And that's what you need. Really, you know, in order to be able to really engage in this work and feel safe, engaging in this work, given everything that we know is happening around the world, people have to feel like they can do the right thing and still be able to keep their job. And so they made it possible. And they, this team worked tirelessly, I want to say it was almost 50 people maybe that developed this plan. And they looked at every aspect of their system, curriculum, they looked at assessment, they looked at behavior, they looked at even hiring and retention practices, like every aspect of their system, and they came up with strategies and action steps to try to address some of those things. Well as a part of that work, we have learning that each of our staff members who's a rep from each building, they go to the district level where Dr. Mary Phillips and myself, we co-facilitate learning opportunities once a month, and then the - or sometimes it's a little less than once a month, depending on our calendar - but the reps come back into their building, and they provide learning. So almost like a train the trainer module. Well, then what we ask them to do is tailor it also to fit the specific needs of your building. So if you know that your building is having a difficult time having critical conversations, what's stopping those conversations? Is it trust? Is it that the staff doesn't trust each other? Is it that they don't know how to listen to each other even when they start talking? Right? And that kind of shuts things down? And so one of the things that the feedback from this building at the high school was, was hey, we can't have the conversation because a) people don't trust each other but people don't know how to listen to each other. And they don't know how to listen to seek to understand first and then be understood. And so we came up with - and I say we because it's a team of folks, right?- Our building reps came up with a couple of things that we felt like really needed to happen. And then our subcommittee was like, hey, we need to dig in this. But it needs to also be gradual, because some of our folks have been here a long time. And, you know, people get in that habit of, Well, we've always done it this way. And so we've got to kind of combat that in a positive way where we can bring people along and not shut people down. And so what we did was we developed, our most recent session was around empathetic listening. And the difference, helping people to understand the difference between having empathy for our students and our colleagues versus sympathy. When you feel sorry for people, then we fall into those equity traps and tropes of a savior complex. We don't need a savior complex. We don't need people feeling like they have to save kids. What we need is people who feel like, I am going to have high expectations of you, because I want you to accomplish all of the things that you want to accomplish, but I'm also going to provide you with every bit of support, you need to make that a reality and to rise to those expectations. And so it starts with even your ability to hear what kids are trying to say. When kids are communicating, whether it be verbally or whether it be through their behavior, how are you able to digest that, find root causes, and actually meet them where they are, and provide them the support that they need? And so we engaged in some, some learning around that, read some articles, kind of had some, you know, Brené Brown calls it rumbling. So we, we, you know, we rumbled a little. And really, it's about starting the conversation. And so we do a lot of talking. We do a lot of, you know, just kind of challenging each other and talking about our own experiences and talking about what's worked and what's not worked and how we can shift. And then they did role playing, because now I need you not to just talk about it, right? I need you to go beyond just the talk and book studies and article studies; I need you to go into how is this going to directly impact my practice. And so we gave them, you know, scenarios that are very, very, very similar to the situations that they deal with every day. And we asked them all right, so now based on what we've talked about, based on what you now know, based on some of the speaking, speak up and speak out strategies that we've learned over the course of the year, how would you approach this situation? How would you respond and why? And they had to kind of dig in and everybody's being held accountable in this. And then we give some some homework if you if you will. We don't really call it homework, we call it you know, some practice. Some practice. So yeah.

Natasha Hurt-Hayes 12:40
That's been my mantra my entire career has been, be the adult you needed growing up, right? My mom was a great mom. You know, my mom was a young mom. My grandmother was a great woman who instilled a lot of things in me, and so did my mom as well. But I recognize that like, there are times when I could have been pushed a little more, right? Or there are times that I could have done some things differently. And because my mom was a single mom who was, you know, focused on taking care of me, and feeding me and clothing me, she wasn't always necessarily there to affirm me, right? And so when I think about who I am as an educator, it's largely in part to my mother, my grandmother, but also Virginia Townsend. Virginia Townsend was my 11th and 12th grade ELA teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Dayton, Ohio. And I have to laugh because we had a rocky beginning. We had a rocky beginning. So my my 11th and 12th grade teacher made a comment that was not so nice, right? That definitely rubbed me the wrong way. And I responded in a way that I am not proud of. But my senior year, I was really doing the bare minimum. I was a kid that had always been on on a roll, was like one of those kids that didn't get in trouble. And I had like a C in her class. And I remember we were, we had moved to year round school. And everyone thought it was lovely because it's like, oh, wait, we get three weeks in the middle of like, you know, the year to just be out and having fun and hanging with our friends. And she told me I had to go to intersession because I was flunking her class with a D. And this is before you could just jump on Progress Book and check grades, right, so you just believe what the teacher said because you didn't know what your grade was until it came out on a on a paper report card, if that tells you how old I am. And I got up every morning, despite the fact that my friends were hanging out having a good time we got up every morning drove to Dunbar High School, sometimes got dropped off, to take this intersession course so that I could raise this grade. At the end of the course, the last day of the course, she tells me that I had a B all along, that I did not have a C, but that she felt like I should have had an A. And that had I done what I knew I was capable of from the start, I would not have wasted my own time. And I was angry. I was furious at her, like, you wasted my whole break, right? But in that moment, like she taught me this lesson of like, if you, if you just kind of half do things, if you don't put forth the effort, it's gonna cost you later, right? And if you really want to enjoy life, if you really want to enjoy things, then then give things your all, right? And I know some people may not have gotten that out of that. But that was what, that's what it did for me. And I remember thinking, she really must have cared a lot to even be bothered, because most people would have been like, oh, the fewer teachers, the fewer kids, I have to have an intersession, the better, you know? And here, she was challenging me to do my very best because she felt like there was more in me. And I don't know that there were a ton of people that did that. You know, everyone was kind of like, oh, you're doing great, you know? But Virginia Townsend, you know, was like, now you've got greatness in you. And that's, that's not it, you're being subpar. The second one would probably be Nancy White. She was my American Government teacher, who convinced me to apply for a spot as a US youth ambassador to Israel. And I, I remember thinking Israel?? And I was not I was not impoverished, but I definitely at one point, my mother had to give public assistance because she was laid off, and we did not have that money, you know. But that experience, opened up doors for me with college. It opened up so many other opportunities. And I would have never considered myself for that position, and she did. And so I think when I became a teacher, I kind of not that I modeled myself after them, but that piece of I'm going to help kids see, even if they don't believe it, I'm gonna believe it for them until they believe it about themselves, if that makes sense. And so, yeah, that helped me, for sure.

Natasha Hurt-Hayes 17:40
I am a proud product of Dayton public schools. I had educators along the way that poured into me that, that not only helped teach me the content that I'm so passionate about today, because I was for many years before taking on this role, I was a seventh through 12th grade ELA teacher. At one point, I even taught sixth grade. But I was poured into, from from kindergarten with learning about the alphabet people to my 12th grade year, people constantly poured into me. And I believe that public education has the power to shape our society. It does. It shapes our society, what we pour into our students and what we give them the space to be able to innovate and dream of and experience, it's what creates the society that we have right now. It makes me angry public schools are not made a priority. Because I know that in, in attending my school, my teachers, they gave me so much. But I also recognize that a lot of times it was out of their own pockets. You know, the materials that we utilize, the experiences that we had, the experiments that we did, a lot of it was something that they made happen, and not because of, you know, the right kind of funds that they should have had allocated to them. And I, I know that despite having some deficiencies in funding, public schools have done some amazing things. I just wish that public schools were given the level of priority and support that they should have to be able to do even more phenomenal things. And I've worked in, you know, public and other, right, so I've worked in in a couple of different types of schools. But I will say that in public schools, I feel like the people within that space, they rally for their students. They rally to make sure that each and every kid that comes to that building each and every student that comes through that building is able to do whatever it is that they set out to do. You know, and they don't make those limited resources an excuse not to be excellent. And so I am, I am a proponent for public education because I'm a product of it. I am. I know what can be done, and I know what can be produced. But I also know that for a long time, public education has not received, you know, its just dues. You know, it has not. And I think that there are a lot of people who make decisions about it that's not with the best interests of our students at heart, you know. It's just not. And so I think COVID was an absolutely clear example, that public education carries this country, because people lost their minds when kids couldn't go to school. You know, like when kids could not go to school and, you know, teachers had to and even then, what did our teachers do? Our teachers got on Zoom. And while also caring for some of them, their kids or family members at home, continued to care for other people's children. That's what public education does. We are in the the muck and mire and we, we get it done because we know that we value what we do. We value our kids, we value our families, we value our communities, and we know that what we do every day is going to either positively impact or negatively impact our communities. It's why I'm a champion for public education.

Katie Olmsted 21:47
Our thanks to Natasha Hurt-Hayes for sharing her thoughts. If you'd like to hear from some of the other Education Champions honorees, you can find the full series of short videos on OEA's website. Go to And while you're online, make sure you subscribe to Education Matters wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss an episode in the future. Until next time, stay well.

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