March 2015 District Superintendents of the Year (Districts 5 and 6)

Posted on February 24, 2015

 

District 5

 Westfield Washington Schools

Leader Named Superintendent of the Year for Dist. 5

Superintendent Mark F. Keen Honored for Cutting Losses While Preserving Teacher Jobs and Educational Programs

The superintendent of Westfield Washington Schools, Dr. Mark F. Keen, has been named 2015 Superintendant of the Year for District 5 by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. This is the second time Keen has been selected, and he was the Indiana Superintendent of the Year in 2006.

District 5 includes Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Johnson, Marion and Shelby counties and portions of Grant County

The school district was facing huge losses due to tax caps – more than $6 million annually. Combined with a declining assessed valuation, TIF districts and road construction that displaced a number of residents, the school district confronted huge fiscal challenges. It is the seventh lowest district in general fund support from the state of Indiana. But Keen resolved to not let financial issues “cut initiatives, programs or teachers.”

Keen led the district in a successful operations budget referendum in 2010, and froze administrator and support staff salaries gaining $2.5 million.

The district looked to non-traditional revenue programs to supplement the traditional tax base. The school-supported child care center generated “healthy revenue while still under private sector costs,” he said.

Westfield Washington Schools has the highest non-waivered graduation rate in central Indiana. It has a high advanced placement passing rate and a 99 percent passing rate for end of course assessments (ECA) for graduates.

 

The school system has partnered with the City of Westfield on fuel, fiber optic management, servicing city vehicles, and various economic development programs securing $2.5 million from the City for facility development.

Keen began his educational career in Missouri where his last assignment was Superintendent of the St. Charles City schools. He came to Westfield Washington Schools as superintendent in1997.

He is active in numerous professional education associations and has had articles published in education journals. Keen is active in Westfield Chamber of Commerce, the County Chamber Coalition, the Westfield Youth Assistance Program and the Hamilton County Alliance.

District 6

New Castle Community Schools

Leader Named Superintendent of the Year for Dist. 6

Superintendent Stephen Fisher Honored for Education and

Financial Management

 

The superintendent of New Castle Community Schools, Stephen Fisher, has been named 2015 Superintendent of the Year for District 6 by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents.

District 6 includes Adams, Blackford, Delaware, Fayette, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph, Rush, Union, Wayne and Wells counties.

When Fisher came to the New Caste Community School system in year 2009 he found seven elementary schools operating as independent institutions. He united them under a single educational and financial system using the “8-Step” curriculum. The system provided a common budget, used staff more efficiently and created common standards and assessment for all schools

Fisher began an energy efficiency program that created a $1.3 million savings; collaborated with city, county and hospital officials and another school district to share a medical clinic, and changed insurance vendors, all with the single goal of providing educational opportunities for students and not having to reduce faculty.

He is active in the Jeffersonville Kiwanis, the Henry County United Fund, and the Henry County Economic Development, Board of Directors.

Fisher is a graduate of Franklin College, earned his master’s degree at Indiana University and has two post-graduate degrees from Indiana State University.

 

Each District Superintendent of the Year is asked to respond to four questions:

District 5-Mark Keen

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

I am not a programs person.  I believe processes are what drive improvement, so here are the three that I believe are contribute most to our district’s results:

Our HR process that identifies and selects staff; we select candidates who have a high student focus and a low teacher focus.  Teachers are also focused on collaboration with others to improve their craft.  The process has a research base to it.

Second would be our use of the Baldrige quality criteria to drive all of our processes.  A part of this is the Plan, Do, Study, Act(PDSA) cycle.  The criteria require the use of data for decision making.

The third process is our PLC or Rti process or whatever name you want to give to colleagues working together and using data to adjust instruction, curriculum, business procedures or selection processes for improvement purposes.

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

My significant challenges have been(and continue to be): working to keep Board members focused on their role as well as making them feel a part of the leadership team; staying out in front of the needs that are created by rapid growth; helping develop younger administrators and being able to help them see the big picture, not just their building.  I meet regularly with Board members, as well as having regular and consistent written communication and this helps with the first challenge.  I have regular communication with the City and the economic development people to stay in front of housing developments, so that we can plan adequately for growth. Helping younger administrators see the big picture is an ongoing challenge. Over the years, some have moved to central office positions and it is amazing how fast they grasp the “big picture” but from a principal seat, it is still hard to do.

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

If I could change one thing, it would be the legislative mandates.  Too often mandates are based upon “what I believe” and not what is fact; and even worse, do this one year, something different the next year, and we never have time to research whether or nor the mandated program or process had an impact.  An example to illustrate this is IREAD.  Based on the assumption that students would have a better chance at success if they were reading at the third grade level before moving on to 4th grade.  Had been tried in other states and the results from multiple studies showed students who were retained, dropped out of high school at a higher rate than those moved along.  Additionally, there was no review in the statute–there should have been something like this:  this bill is in effect for 4 years–during that time, the annual results will be reported and studied and after four years, the bill would have to be passed again, to remain in effect.  Right now, the law stands unless someone introduces legislation to repeal.

What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?

Advice for newbies:  you’re in education for students, so your decisions should be based upon what is best for them.

District 6–Steve Fischer

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

In 2009-10 we were invited by the DOE to join their first cohort of schools involved in the 8 step process for our K-8 schools.  We needed a program that would allow us to form a consistent curriculum and not have schools doing their own thing.  We have seen a steady improvement in our test scores and have had constant monitoring from the founder of 8 steps.  It has been allot of work but now that we are 4 years into the process it has paid huge dividends.

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

Our most significant challenge has been to try and balance the budget and comply with HB 1260 the state insurance bill.  We have had to make some major cuts in order to comply, while at the same time our teachers have not had a raise since 08.

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

We need a boost in funding so our teachers can be paid fairly and encourage younger people to enter this field and our current teachers to stay.  Just today I lost a very good third year teacher because she had an opportunity to enter another field with a raise and advancement opportunities.  We have to find a way to impress on our legislators the importance of helping our teachers, young and veteran to make a decent living.  I will continue to meet with legislators and serve on boards that urge them to fight for more funding.

What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?

Network as much as possible and do not hesitate to ask questions.  We are all in the together and none of us have all the answers.  The only way to survive is to be willing to learn from others.  The other point is always have integrity.  Dr. Boyd taught me, If you have integrity nothing else matters, and if you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.  Always remember this.