The Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents (IAPSS) selected eight district Superintendents of the Year for 2016.
Winners are selected by other school superintendents in their area for their qualifications, accomplishments and their instructional leadership, especially in a time of limited resources.
For the month of February the winners from Districts 1, 2 and 3 are featured. Each District Superintendent of the Year was asked to respond to several questions. Those response can be found following the overview of their District accomplishments.
Dr. Peggy Buffington, superintendent of the School City of Hobart, was chosen by members of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents as the 2016 District I Superintendent of the Year.
Buffington has been Hobart superintendent since 2008, although she previously served as the district’s assistant superintendent and as director of technology.
During Buffington’s tenure as superintendent, the district has saved money by consolidating four elementary schools into three and opening the Early Learning Center, which she describes as “the best place on earth” that paved the way for full-day kindergarten available to all students as well as pre-school and Building Brickies (birth to 5 programming), and initiated a magnet high ability program.
Buffington serves as co-chair of Ready NWI, the education arm of the One Region, One Vision leadership team to improve the quality of life in Northwest Indiana. Ready NWI meets every two weeks with its partner sponsors of the Center of Workforce Innovation, Higher Education Partners, and the College Acceleration Network to raise the percentage of people with postsecondary degrees in the area to 60 percent. The group has grown to include 30 sister school districts.
In the School City of Hobart, College and Career Readiness is evident by dual-credit completion increasing to over 50 percent and the number of students going to college has increased to 60 percent.
Buffington also serves on the board of the St. Mary Medical Center and on the advisory boards for The Times Media and Purdue North Central.
Buffington earned her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue University.
The superintendent of Westview School Corporation in Topeka, Dr. Randall J. Zimmerly, has been named 2016 Superintendant of the Year for District 2 by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents.
Like school districts throughout Indiana, Westview School Corporation has had to make budget cuts. The district has been able to reduce staff through attrition, reassign staff to put more resources in the classroom and add three professional learning days to the calendar and use its own staff for much of its professional learning. The district recently adopted the Professional Learning Communities school improvement structure.
Zimmerly and other county superintendents worked with local realtors, business owners and media partners to hold a joint news conference last March during the legislative session to ask legislators to consider budget relief for school districts in LaGrange County.
The district of 2,300 students includes 40 percent of students in grades K-8 coming from Amish homes as well as a large settlement of first-generation Yemen immigrants. The community has made a promise to support students by starting 529 college savings programs, an initiative Zimmerly hopes to expand.
Zimmerly is a graduate of Goshen College and earned three advanced degrees from Ball State University. He served on the LaGrange County Economic Development Commission from 2006 to 2010 and the LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce board from 2009 to 2013. He currently serves as a board member and director of coaching for the Westend Community Soccer League.
– The superintendent of Community Schools of Frankfort, Donald DeWeese, has been named 2016 Superintendent of the Year for District 3 by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents.
DeWeese has served as Frankfort superintendent since 2012, and was the district’s assistant superintendent from 2009 to 2012.
When the Community Schools of Frankfort was confronted with a $950,000 budget shortfall a few years ago, the district reduced its administrative, business office and maintenance staff by four people. Those cuts allowed the district to maintain its low student-to-teacher ratio. DeWeese considers the district’s small class sizes to be a key strategy to adequately serve a large number of non-English-speaking students.
Approximately 70 percent of the district’s 3,200 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals and 48% of the students are Hispanic.
Another cost-saving measure the district initiated was “Operation Little Fridge – Seek and Remove.” Asking school staff members to voluntarily remove classroom microwave ovens, refrigerators, fans and heaters as well as lowering thermostats and turning off lights resulted in annual energy savings of $120,000.
DeWeese led the district in getting community approval for a $30 million referendum in 2015 to make facility improvements to Frankfort High School.
DeWeese has established a partnership between Frankfort High School and Frito Lay, creating six scholarships to Ivy Tech for students to earn their Certified Production Technician degree. He is also a member of the area’s manufacturing forum, where local industrial and education leaders collaborate bimonthly to prepare students with the necessary skills for careers in the local manufacturing industry. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Indiana and earned master’s and Ed.S. degrees from Indiana State University.
1. What programs or activities in your district that focus on improving student learning do you feel are most successful?
Our Full Day Kindergarten program has allowed hundreds more students to attend a full day program gaining valuable learning opportunities and positive school experiences. Prior to 2012, only 50 kindergarten students per year were full-day. Now, our full-day program serves approximately 265 students per year.
Our High Ability program continues to provide a large number of students a challenging and engaging HA curriculum.
We provide a New Teach Academy to all of our newly hired certified employees. The one-hour sessions scheduled from 4:00 to 5:00 pm one time per month provide our new teachers with a curriculum of Frankfort-specific learning opportunities. Examples: Teaching with poverty in mind, teaching the English Language Learner.
2. What have been your most significant challenges as a superintendent and how have you dealt with them?
Working my way through the ranks of teacher, coach, principal, and assistant superintendent, I have been successful with taking care of the ‘school’ portion of the job. My challenges have been with working with seven elected officials and with working with the district budget. I had no preparation for how to communicate, problem-solve, educate, seven board members. Learning how to lead elected officials has been my biggest challenge. I am still learning through trial and error on what works. The district budget is such a large and constant work-in-progress. I have attended all of the IASBO trainings and seminars. All of the IASBO trainings have been invaluable to me and I would recommend these opportunities to all school leaders. I have worked with a budget consultant for two years and have learned so much during this time. But, there is still so much to learn.
3. If you could improve one aspect of K-12 Education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?
I would like to see our district budgets be more predictable from year to year. I understand the reasons why the budget process takes so long, but the lengthy process and the uncertainty of funding often places school districts in tough situations that ultimately disrupt the education process for our students.
4. What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?
Make sure you are in the business for the right reasons. A superintendent must love students and the education process. A superintendent must gain satisfaction and enjoyment from watching our students learn and grow while under our care. If not, there are too many distractions that will derail the professional and personal satisfaction that come with the superintendency.