An Interview with Dr. Tracy Caddell – District III – 2017 Superintendent of the Year

Posted on February 8, 2017

Jim: What program(s) or activities in your school district that focus on improving student learning do you feel are the most successful?

Tracy: The two things I am most proud of at Eastern Howard that impacts student achievement are the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and our Comet College. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a program we provide to students BEFORE he or she becomes a Comet. My staff at Eastern (SO PROUD), through payroll deductions, fund the program which provides age appropriate FREE books to children, ages 0-5, so that children can start school with a personal library of up to 60 books. Since we have enacted the program, every child in the program has passed the 3rd grade IREAD exam. With literacy being the most important thing we do, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library gives students, and families a head start in preparing children for kindergarten. At the other end of the spectrum is our Comet College. Through collaboration with Ball State University (chirp,chirp) we have been able to give our students a jump start to college, with our students earning approximately 330 credits, which I think is tremendous for a small rural school. Finally, Eastern is an APPLE distinguished school corporation as we provide every student K-12 an iPad for school and home use. Teaching those 21st century skills embedded into the curriculum is helping to prepare our students for a world dominated by information.

Jim: What have been your most significant challenges as a supt. and how have you dealt with them?

Tracy: Long term, the most significant challenge I have faced as a superintendent have been, and continue to be the loss of funding due to property tax caps. One of the most frustrating things about the caps is school debt was approved by taxpayers, in many cases years before the law went into effect. If that debt assumed before the law was not applied to the caps, my district would be fined. Fortunately, we are able to spread the cap loss among all property tax-supported funds, so we have been able to survive. This is a serious issue, when added to the current loss in assessed value to changes in agriculture, is creating a financial challenge that will be difficult to overcome without legislative assistance.

Jim: If you could improve one aspect of K-12 Education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?

Tracy: As a former advocate of A-F grades I thought that giving parents a snapshot of their child’s school would be a good way of being transparent. Unfortunately, the A-F model has been used inappropriately to paint public schools with a broad negative brush, and has led to ramifications that have hurt teachers, and school corporations. I was naive at the time, thinking we were going to provide a service to parents. Instead, A-F has been used for political purposes. I no longer believe tying student achievement to schools, teachers, and corporations is a good practice. There are too many variables that impact student achievement, and to simplify the result to a single grade is a disservice to the great work our teachers, administrators, and staff do with children everyday. Teaching is about building relationships. You do not see that wonderful interaction on an A-F report card. The recent teacher performance grant is a prime example of how political decisions hurt, rather than help educators. We need to take teaching and student achievement out of the political process and return it back to the classroom.

Jim: What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?

Tracy: To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.” Powerful piece of advice for any leader.

Jim: Thanks and congratulations again on your selection,