Paolo DeMaria left Bowling Green High School with the knowledge that there are great teachers and engaged students.

DeMaria, Ohio’s superintendent of Public Instruction, visited the school Friday, his first onsite school visit of 2020. He said he is excited to see things happening on the ground, including “the needs, the challenges and the great things happening in Ohio’s schools.”

“I was impressed by the students that I encountered, I was impressed by the teachers,” DeMaria said after the 90-minute visit. “There’s a great sense of belonging and people looking out for each other.”

The Bowling Green City Schools District has come under scrutiny after two elementaries, Kenwood and Crim, were named to the EdChoice program.

When asked, DeMaria said the legislature is aware something needs to be done due to unintended consequences from the policies.

“I expect to see something in the next two months,” he said.

DeMaria doesn’t agree with the opinion that the purpose of EdChoice is to dismantle public education. EdChoice allows students in under-performing public schools to take their dollars to private schools.

“I see great public schools doing great things. I get that there are people out there who champion (school) choice. … I don’t want to project myself as not being for choice. For choice has its place, but at the end of the day, strong traditional public schools are what it takes to educate 1.7 million school children.”

Financing education in Ohio and across the country is challenging, he said.

“Bottom line is, it’s always going to be an issue for debate every time there’s a budget process.”

As for a long-term solution to the funding model – which was ruled unconstitutional in 1997 – DeMaria said there are people working on the issue.

“A lot of it depends on the economy, a lot of it depends on some of the demographics trends going on in the state. I’m always optimistic.”

The issue of extensive state testing also was raised.

“A lot of it is federally driven. We’re trying to do the best we can,” DeMaria said, adding that one English test has been eliminated.

“For every state test, there are two or three local tests. People need to take a step back and think through some of the purposes of those tests.”

But more conversation is needed, he said.

DeMaria praised the high quality classes he visited on Friday in Bowling Green, and particularly appreciated time spent with students discussing Bobcat StepUp, a transition program for eighth-graders.

“He likes to get out into the field and see schools,” said Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci. “It’s an opportunity … to see some of the things going on in the building.

“I hope he comes away with seeing we have some really good kids here and we do some good things and we have some talented people working with us.”

Max Fausnaugh and Tressa Greiner, both seniors, were his student leaders on the tour of the school, which included stops in the classrooms of Jennifer Dever, Stephanie Conway and Gloria Gajewicz.

Fausnaugh said it was an honor to be chosen.

“I hope he sees how unique of a place this is and the unique things we’re doing here,” he said.

Greiner said that she was excited about being chosen as a tour guide, but admitted she didn’t understand the honor until her aunt, who is an teacher, said it was a big deal.

Gajewicz is the 2019 recipient of the Presidential Award for Math and Science Teaching.

She told DeMaria her goal is to have her students become problem-solvers.

“What’s really exciting to me is, they’re teaching me and I get to sit back and watch them take center stage,” Gajewicz.

Conway’s vo-ag class stopped their study of resumes and cover letters and took DMaria on a tour of the greenhouse and small engine repair area and “fish stuff.”

Dever’s AP Language class was studying the book ‘”Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.” Homework for the weekend included a paper on the most thought-provoking topics discussed.

When DeMaria sat down with the five students representing Bobcat StepUp, he learned the group formed in order to change how eighth-graders are introduced to the high school.

Sophomore Isa Herrera said the goal is for it to be student led. He said their message is “it’s not cool if you don’t participate. It’s all about school spirit and we’re hoping this program gets everyone excited.”

DeMaria said he is always interested in the culture of a school and what it takes to be successful.

Also sitting in on that discussion were juniors Kaylee Dean and Cole Neman and sophomore Katie Mangan.

Ginny Stewart, Bowling Green board of education president, said DeMaria’s visit was an opportunity for the district to showcase its teachers and school and “for someone at the state level to see what a terrific school district this is.”