ESC of the Western Reserve
Unique Like Me is a storefront vocational skills training site. The store is operated solely by the ESC staff and students. Pictured is a student creating wood flower arrangements.
By Mary Flenner
While many parents have never heard of the Educational Service Center of the Western Reserve, a large majority have probably felt the benefits from their outstanding educational support in Lake and Geauga counties.
“The ESC of the Western Reserve is kind of the unknown, behind-the-scenes operator. We always wanted to be behind the scenes to help. We’re here to support the schools and act as a partner,” says Jennifer Felker, superintendent of schools for Educational Service Center of the Western Reserve.
Established in 1914, Educational Service Centers have been making a difference in Ohio’s schools for the past 100 years. The law that initiated ESC created 88 “county school districts” and charged them with the task of “elevating the state’s system of education to a proper standard.”
Formerly the Lake County Educational Service Center and Geauga County Educational Service Center, the two merged to form the ESC of the Western Reserve in 2019. The ESC of the Western Reserve is technically a county-wide school district, although they have no school buildings of their own. Most of their programs and services take place in the schools that they are partnered with.
The ESC provides support for public, nonpublic and private schools, and while they initially partnered with smaller schools, they have since grown to work with larger schools of all sizes.
They operate with a shared services model. The ESC provides countless programs including latchkey, nutrition services, job training, special needs support, tutoring and transportation services.
“We offer the kind of intensive support needed for special needs, as well as gifted programs. We provide a variety of contracted services, consulting and support to schools. We offer professional development, access to substitute teachers, business development opportunities and more,” says Felker.
“Small districts may not be able to host their own programs. Things like hiring multiple teachers and aides, can be financially draining for schools. So we share costs across counties to be more cost-effective,” explains Felker. “We also provide cost savings for schools through consortium pricing, whether for technology, business operations or fiscal software. We try to get reduced costs through a large purchase.”
“One valuable service is that of granting access to shared programs and resources. The ESC is the mechanism through which districts can share resources that would be too impractical and/or costly for an individual district to design and maintain independently,” shares Richard A. Markwardt, superintendent of West Geauga Local Schools
Another goal of the ESC is to provide legislative support for schools. “I act as an advocate for education in legislation, whether in budget and finance or lobbying for various bills that need to be put forward,” says Felker. “From legislative lobbying, business development, consulting services and consortium purchasing, we are involved in every aspect of education.”
The ESC has received over two million dollars in grants, which were used for various initiatives, including their new tutoring center and remote education initiatives.
"The ESC of the Western Reserve has built a reputation on building quality programs for schools. The collaborative spirit between districts has been a direct result of Superintendent Felker's leadership and her desire to provide high quality services and programs to all the districts in Lake and Geauga counties,” says Angela Smith, superintendent of Madison Local Schools
“We’re here to support the schools, families and the community. I’m proud of the services we offer our schools and kids, from business development to the day-to-day operations of the school,” Felker concludes.
The ESC operates with a nine-person governing board, including five members from Lake County and four from Geauga schools who are selected through a public election. To learn more about the ESC of the Western Reserve and its offerings, visit www.lcesc.k12.oh.us.