Dr. Killion is congratulated by Glenda Ritz State Superintendent of Public Instruction
West Lafayette Community School Corp. superintendent Dr. Rocky Killion has been honored as the 2015 Indiana Superintendent of the Year. Dr. Killion is from District 4 of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents.
District 4 includes, Benton, Clay, Fountain, Greene, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Owen, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Tippecanoe, Vermillion, Vigo and Warren counties.
Winners are selected by other superintendents in their district who consider the qualifications and accomplishments of area colleagues and their instructional leadership.
When Killion took the superintendent’s job in 2007 he quickly found the school district had been in deficit spending. Coupled with a 2009 reduction in state funding by $1,200 per student, Killion knew he had to take action to maintain education success and retain faculty and staff.
With the assistance of the West Lafayette Community Foundation the district started the Save Our Schools (SOS) campaign, which raised $217,000 and saved five teaching positions. Recognizing this was a one-time fundraiser, he realized that a general fund referendum must be considered to maintain the school district’s award- winning academic, arts, music and extra-curriculum programs. In May of 2010 the community supported the district by a 2 to 1 margin approving a general fund referendum.
In the past year Killion became a documentary producer of Rise Above the Mark (www.riseabovethemark.com ), a critically acclaimed movie examining issues confronting public education. The production, which was shown at national conferences of educators in 2014, is generating revenue for the Education Foundation to help assist the school district’s academic programs. The film was narrated by award-winning actor Peter Coyote.
West Lafayette is home to about 30,000 permanent residents, with more than 54 nationalities living in the city. As part of its college preparatory curriculum the district encourages its students to take college-level courses at Purdue University. For the past 25 years the percentage of graduating seniors going to college has consistently been 90 to 95 percent. The high school’s 2013 graduation rate is 99.47 percent (IDOE.)
Killion has served the West Lafayette Community School Corp. as superintendent since 2007. Before that he was assistant superintendent serving Lake Central School Corp. from 1999 to 2007. He has been published in numerous education journals and was nominated for the 2014 Leadership Through Communications Award by the American Association of School Administrators.
He serves on the following community boards and organizations: Purdue Community Relations Council; Purdue Teacher Education Council; the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce as the public school representative; and the Tippecanoe County “Read to Succeed” initiative.
Dr. Killion responded to following questions asked of each District winner and several questions as they relate to his selection as the Indiana Superintendendt of the Year for 2015:
A. What program(s) or activities in your school district that focuses on improving student learning do you feel are the most successful?
As superintendent, it continues to be my direct responsibility to improve student achievement. Maximizing student achievement requires a systemic approach, and is a continuous process. First, I have ensured my school district’s leadership team is committed to employing the best, most qualified personnel. This includes certified, classified, administrative, and support staff. I cannot over emphasize the value of quality people. Effective schools are effective because of effective personnel. Second, 40 school district stakeholders assisted with the creation of West Lafayette Community School Corporation’s (WLCSC) five-year academic strategic plan to address curriculum, instruction and assessment. Third, as the instructional leader, I ensure that our school district is constantly monitoring itself, striving for excellence. The collection of data is important in this process. Improving student achievement is data driven, is ongoing, and is done in light of community, state and national standards. WLCSC must not only exceed state and national standards, it also must meet expectations that reflect and exceed community standards.
I believe there are three components for improving student achievement and academic growth. The first component is teacher quality. Education research supports that student achievement is highly influenced by teacher quality and effective school leadership. Therefore, in order to improve overall academic performance of students, the WLCSC Board of Education and I agree that we must attact and keep highly effective teachers, staff, and administrators. Highly effective teachers, staff, and administrators not only influence student achievement, they also ensure their students are growing academically. Student achievement, defined as the product, is what the student knows at the time of any given assessment. Academic growth, defined as progress, is where the student started and how much progress the student has made over a period of time.
The second component is defining a “highly effective” teacher or administrator. Teachers and administrators who are highly effective have several commonalities. They know their content, have successful teaching experiences, hold professional certification, and have demonstrated high academic ability. Some might argue there are highly effective teachers and administrators who lack one or more of these commonalities. While this may be true, overall, I have personally found the presence rather than the absence of these commonalities is more likely to ensure academic growth and achievement.
The third component is the instructional process used to engage students and report their academic achievement. Highly effective teachers and administrators are educational risk takers. They ensure ALL students are actively engage in their learning by any appropriate means. They also provide their students and parents with meaningful academic feedback.
As superintendent, I help ensure that all of the above are implemented throughout WLCSC. The aforementioned research-based instructional processes have been the most successful in improving student achievement for WLCSC.
B. What have been your most significant challenges as a supt. and how have you dealt with them?
Since being appointed Superintendent of Schools for WLCSC, my school district has faced major financial and political obstacles disguised as “education reform”. The most significant obstacle has been the legislative stranglehold placed on my school district. Indiana legislators, driven by “corporate-style” education reforms, are diverting the school district’s tax-supported revenues to charter schools and private schools. In essence, these “reforms” are leading to the dismantling of public schools under the guise of providing school choice. This dismantling then paves the way for national privatization of public schools by state legislatures whose efforts often are supported and rewarded by large corporations and foundations. You’ll note the glaring absence of educators in this process. The following initiatives implemented by my school district leadership and staff brings me the greatest satisfaction because we are still providing all of our students with what they need to academically succeed despite these obstacles:
1) Five-Year Academic Strategic Plan: In June 2009, approximately 40 WLCSC stakeholders (teachers, staff, administrators, parents, community members, business partners, Purdue University representatives and legislators) met for three days at Ivy Technical College to develop the WLCSC’s Mission, Belief Statements, Strategic Parameters, and Objectives. Dr. Janet Emerick, former superintendent of the Lake Central School Corporation and licensed by the Cambridge Group as a strategic plan facilitator, facilitated our meetings to help us develop our strategic plan initiative.
During the 2009/2010 school year, eight action teams were formed to develop action steps to implement the strategies for this strategic plan. Then, in June 2010, the core strategic planning committee met again with Dr. Emerick to review and provide input on the developed action plans. Based upon the core strategic planning committee’s input, the action teams met for a final time in October 2010 to finalize the action plans. In December 2010 our Board of Education formally approved our five-year academic strategic plan. WLCSC now has a five-year road map to help fulfill its mission which is to “engage our students in a world-class educational experience that prepares them to be well-rounded, innovative, creative, productive, and adaptive citizens who will shape our global society.”
2) Fulfilling Our Mission: WLCSC continues to improve student academic outcomes despite deep budget cuts and a “one size fits all” model of so called education reform as mandated by Indiana legislators. Using the academic strategic plan, and in collaboration with my school district’s staff, parents and community, WLCSC administrative leadership continues to focus on effective strategies and practices that help ensure our students are academically successful in a real-world setting.
3) General Fund Referendum: In 2009, the WLCSC leadership team began setting the stage for our community to consider raising the school district’s tax rate, per year, for the next seven years of up to $0.43 per $100 of assessed valuation. After scores of community meetings, canvassing the school district and educating the community about why this was needed, on May 4, 2010, our community voted by a 2 to 1 margin to support the school district’s referendum request. Since then the state has cut WLCSC’s general fund by nearly 20 percent. However, since our community supported the referendum, we have been able to maintain our award winning arts, music, and co- and extra-curricular programs.
4) Promoting WLCSC: Over the past three years, my school district has been in the process of developing a public relations strategy to promote WLCSC. With the assistance of the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation, we have created platforms to provide our alumni, parents, community members and foundation organizations with reasons they should support WLCSC. Over the past five years, the Education Foundation has raised over $1,000,000 for student scholarships, Save Our Schools (SOS) campaign, and the implementation of the academic strategic plan. Also, my school district has just released an education documentary titled Rise Above the Mark. The main purpose of the documentary is to educate the general public about what is happening to Indiana public schools. I do not think the general public has a clue about the corporate takeover of our public schools and the diversion of public school funds to charters and vouchers. Rise Above the Mark is a call to action for each community to rise up to save and support their respective local public school.
5) Effective Instruction Evaluation Process: For the past four years, my school district’s Instructional Design Team has been reviewing research-based effective instruction components to implement within our school system. In 2012, we finalized a research-based process that is centered on an instructional process that all teachers are now using their classrooms. The main purpose of this evaluation process is to improve instruction. While most school districts in Indiana went with an IDOE model of staff evaluation called RISE, my school district’s leadership team in collaboration with our teaching staff created our own “research-based” model, which was approved, by 85 percent of our certified staff.
C. If you could improve one aspect of K-12 Education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?
I would minimize the authority of state and federal control over public schools. Over the last 30 years, public education has been the whipping post for everything wrong with America. What many fail to realize is this: education is at the mercy of political agendas and special interest groups. The party that is in power will invoke its agenda on public education. Then, when that agenda doesn’t work, educators, not politicians, are blamed for the failure. The National Center on Education and Economy, in its report titled Tough Choices or Tough Times, indicates that the problem we face in public education is caused by the political system, not by the educators. “We have built a bureaucracy in our schools in which, apart from the superintendent of schools, the people who have the responsibility do not have the power, and the people who have the power do not have the responsibility” (p. XXVI).
For an annual cost of $3 billion, or less than one week in Iraq, our nation could underwrite a high-quality preparation of 40,000 teachers annually–enough to fill all the vacancies taken by unprepared teachers each year; seed 100 top-quality urban-teacher-education programs and improve the capacity of all programs to prepare teachers who can teach diverse learners well; ensure mentors for every new teacher hired each year; and provide incentives to bring expert teachers into high-need schools by improving salaries and working conditions.
Students will not learn at higher levels without the benefit of good teaching, a strong curriculum and adequate resources. Merely adopting tests and punishments will not create genuine accountability. In fact, adopting punitive sanctions without investments increases the likelihood that the most vulnerable students will be more severely victimized by a system not organized to support their learning. A policy agenda that leverages equitable resources and invests strategically in high-quality teaching would support real accountability–that is, accountability to children and parents for providing the conditions under which students can be expected to acquire the skills they need to succeed.
In order for U.S. public schools to become competitive with the world’s best education systems, educational reforms that include early childhood education, equitable education opportunities for all students, raising requirements for entrance into the teaching profession, and paying beginning teachers salaries comparable with other professions must be considered. Countries that have implemented these kinds of reforms have risen above the mark. If, as a nation, we want to Rise Above the Mark, collectively we must consider implementing these proven reforms.
D. What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?
The advice I have has to do with being a highly effective leader. According to Lawrence Rossow (The Nature of Instructional Leadership), when school leaders have high expectations of their students, their students tend to achieve a high level of success. Highly effective educational leaders, at any given time, should be able to answer the following question about their respective schools: What are the curriculum goals for each grade level and what is your plan for carrying out these goals? This is what I call the “knowledge part” of leadership. There is another aspect of effective leadership that I call the “art part.” Eisenhower’s definition of leadership best describes the “art part.” “The art of leadership is getting people to do things you want done because they want to do them.”
Several years ago I was privileged to hear Dr. John Maxwell deliver a speech he titled “Leading Where No One Has Gone Before.” The heart of his message was centered around the following: Leaders know the way; Leaders go the way; and Leaders show the way.” In essence, he was speaking about the “knowledge part” and the “art part” of leadership. Capturing the “knowledge part” is easily achieved with time and study. Cultivating the “art part” is more allusive. How, then, can a leader best achieve the “art part” of highly effective leadership?
I believe that without trust the journey is over before it begins. Trust is strengthened when trust is proven. Once trust is established, then a true leader prepares for future events. Preparation should begin with a dream, not with reality. John Wooden says it best: “When opportunity comes it’s too late to prepare.” Part of preparation is that of selecting the right people for the journey. A big dream and a bad team equates to a nightmare. Having the right people in place will improve any situation and will create an environment of success.
An effective leader, having the right people in place, will remain persistent in the quest for excellence. Sometimes persistence creates resistance. Hammer and Stanton point out that resistance is actually a positive sign, an indicator that something significant is happening. It is a natural human response, not a sign that the vision is somehow deficient. So the next time you read or hear about resistance caused by a public school superintendent or administrator, you can rest assure that something significant is happening.
To lead effectively, I believe in the following:
1) Always make decisions in the best interest of students
2) Never back down from doing what is best for students
3) Challenge the system when it is hurting students, staff and public schools
4) Network with peers by being an active member of IAPSS
5) Never stop advocating for children
1) As you prepared for the National Superintendent of the Year competition what was your biggest challenge and what have you taken away from the experience?
I would say my biggest challenge was getting all the materials together for the SOY application. Each question involved a thorough response that included datum. Also, never being through this before, I wanted to do some research about the process and how I could best represent our association and Indiana public school superintendents.
2) Has your involvement in this process and the opportunity to look at the superintendence from a national perspective given you any new or different feelings about the role of the superintendent in today’s challenging educational environment?
The more I worked on this, the more I realized that most of our U.S. public schools are facing the same issue: Nationally, legislators and policymakers are trying to privatize public schools by offering “school choice.” With this mechanism, they are diverting public tax dollars from public schools and giving it to corporations. If public schools are dismantled, equal educational access for all children will disappear. The end result if unchallenged will cripple our society, destroy our economy and create generations of impoverished children.
A new organizational system must be considered in order to ensure all U.S. students will be able to meet the global workforce requirements of the 21st century. A revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) should include world-class standards, curricula and assessments for improving teaching. The federal government should support states in implementing educational systems for evaluating student achievement that are performance based–including assessments like research papers, essays and science experiments that are embedded in the curriculum and are assessed by teachers using common criteria – promoting academically ambitious learning and providing information that will improve teaching. Specifically,
1. Schools should be accountable for growth in student learning.
2. Tests should be appropriate for the students being tested.
3. Any comparisons between American schools and other countries should be fair.
4. The playing field should be level.
5. The system needs to be changed from being punitive to one that offers constructiveassistance.
As the U.S. proportion of the world’s population of college students has dropped from 30 to 14 percent, job market demands have increased to require not only advanced preparation in traditional subjects, but helping students to be comfortable with ideas, innovation and creativity. Many studies of the American educational system suggest the following structural changes:
- Develop standards, assessments, and curriculum that reflect today’sneeds and tomorrow’s requirements.
- Take affirmative steps to address the achievement gap of children living in poverty, minorities, and special education students through the support of universal preschool and early intervention programs in public schools.
- Create a system to recruit the top 1/3 of high school graduates into teacher training programs.
- Replace a “one size fits all” education with multiple models that provide alternative pathways to the same end and strong support to the students who need it most.
- Increase accountability at all levels of governance.
The American public education system’s organizational structure, which has been in place for over 100 years, should be the focus of true reform. The current system is a “one size fits all” model where some students succeed and some fail. Failure cannot be an option. The U.S. education system must be redesigned to ensure those held responsible for educational outcomes (educators) have the decision-making power over education.
If the U.S. is to have the best education system in world, the influence of political agendas must be removed from the equation. This does not mean that politics will never play a role in supporting the education system. What it does mean is politicians and policymakers must allow a public education system that empowers local school boards, administrators and educators to make educational decisions for their respective communities and then hold them accountable for their decisions. When this type of governance is truly embedded within the U.S. public education system, then and only then will true education reform begin to work because those working closest with the students, educators, are making the educational decisions and not some political or special interest group hundreds of miles away from the classroom.