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 March the winners from Districts 4 and 6 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.
Daniel A. Sichting, superintendent of Bloomfield School District, has been named 2016 Superintendent of the Year for District 4 by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. This is Sichting’s second time to be selected District 4 Superintendent of the Year; he also won the honor for 2014.
This small, rural school district with less than 1,000 students has suffered similar budget cutbacks as other Indiana districts, but is has also experienced budget reductions from declining enrollment. The district’s 2015 budget of $5.5 million for 858 students is 16 percent lower than it was six years ago. The number of students is 18 percent less, but the reduced funding doesn’t provide any margin for inflation.
At the same time the district’s budget decreased, the student poverty level increased from 28 percent in 2009 to 51 percent.
Despite the financial challenges, school achievement has improved. The district was on “academic watch” status in 2009-2010, but has earned an accountability grade of A for two of the past three years. The district’s rate for students in grades 3-8 passing both sections of the ISTEP+ test has grown from 67.6 percent in 2009 to an average of 78.4 percent in the last three years.
Using Lilly grants, Bloomfield Schools joined with the four other Green County school districts to form a new organization to jointly pursue additional grants. The resulting outside funding has been used to improve math and science instruction. During the 2013-2014 school year 88 percent of Bloomfield grade 3-8 students passed the math section of ISTEP+, and 86.5 percent of Bloomfield Junior-Senior High School students passed the Algebra I end-of-course assessment. Sichting and his administrative staff also created additional student science, technology, engineer and math (STEM) activities by forging a working relationship with the nearby NWS Crane Naval Service Warfare Center.
Sichting and his administrative staff arranged for an outside vendor to house the district’s longitudinal data at no charge. The data warehouse allows teachers to make data-driven instructional decisions and differentiate classroom instructional activities.
Sichting has served as Bloomfield superintendent since 2006. He describes himself as a “one-stop shop” superintendent. His duties include budget and finance, community relations, curriculum, food service, buildings and grounds and human resources.
Sichting is a graduate of Franklin College and earned a master’s degree and an educational specialist degree from Indiana State University. He serves on the Greene County Foundation board of directors.
What programs or activities in your district do you see being most successful that focus on improving student learning?
Bloomfield School District has used the 6 Traits of Writing from the Smekens Educational Solutions to train our staff on teaching writing techniques. This has been very beneficial in improving student achievement. The teaching staff K-12 has similar language and techniques in teaching writing to students. Bloomfield School District has also partnered with the M.A. Rooney Foundation for data warehousing. English/Language Arts and math teachers have access to real time data and results associated with formative assessments. Instruction is modified after teachers receive the formative assessment data. More and more students are reaching mastery levels in terms of English/Language Arts and math academic standards.
What has been your most significant challenges as a Superintendent and how have you dealt with the challenges?
Last year, angry patrons came to a school board meeting making allegations that our schools foster bullying among students. Obviously, the local news media picked up on the story. The allegations could become reality if a counter wasn’t introduced. Last spring, we conducted a parent and student survey. Additionally, we brought in Dr. Terry McDaniel and Dr. Brad Balch from Indiana State University to conduct focus groups on the topic. The results of the survey and focus groups were actually quite different from the verbal allegations made in our school board meeting. Although, a problem might exist in our jr.-sr. high school in terms of perception of how rules are applied. The overall consensus is that our students feel our school environment is quite safe. The children of the family making the allegations transferred at the end of the first semester last year to a neighboring school corporation. The children from this family returned to our school district at the start of the 2015-2016 school year. This was the first time to conduct a climate audit and focus groups and I would recommend the process to any school or school corporation with similar allegations. The climate audit and focus group results countered the negative message of the agenda from a small minority of people with negative attitudes and images were trying to perpetuate.
Funding in a small, rural corporation with dwindling enrollment is a constant struggle. The General Assembly’s funding mantra of funding following the child results in the immediate loss of funding. As a result, it is vital that as revenue decreases that expenses have to be cut. I closely monitor the General Fund expenditures and revenue. I cut expenses as revenue decreases. This keeps the overall financial health of the school corporation at a healthy level.
If you could change one aspect of K-12 education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?
It seems as though accountability and testing are going to be a part of our agenda moving forward. I would make a change in the accountability system moving forward. I would replace the high stakes ISTEP+ test and use data from formative assessments instead. I would look at the progress teachers make with their students from the start of the school year to the end of the school year. If 51% of the students in the class make progress the teacher should be given a positive evaluation result.
Additionally, I would fund technology at a fair level for every school in the state of Indiana. Currently, schools in areas with no circuit breaker impact have great technology. Schools in areas with circuit breaker impact have poor technology. Additionally, schools with smaller assessed values and Retirement/Severance Bond Debt can’t afford technology. Moving forward technology is going to drive instructional practices in the future.
What advice would you give aspiring or beginning Superintendents?
The Superintendent position is a very isolated position. It is important to cultivate a circle of friends or colleagues in which you can use as sounding boards for tough decisions or problems. Also it is important to take advantage of the professional development opportunities available to you through IAPSS or IASBO. I would also never be afraid to ask for assistance from fellow Superintendents.
The superintendent of Randolph Central School Corporation, Dr. Gregory P. Hinshaw, has been named 2016 Superintendant of the Year for District 6 by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents.
Hinshaw became superintendent at Randolph Central just as the Great Recession began. The district’s general fund budget plummeted 20 percent over the next six years. In addition Randolph Central experiences tax cap losses of more than 10 percent some years in its property-tax supported funds.
Despite the financial losses, the district has avoided reductions in force (RIF) and has put a focus on literacy and numeracy in its elementary schools. At the secondary level, the district has expanded its Early College program from two dual-credit courses in 2008-2009 to 22 in 2015-2016. It has also expanded its career and technology (CTE) programs to address regional workforce gaps, adding programs in advanced manufacturing and construction trades, and expanding the welding program. The program is open to students from all county schools and has drawn students from three districts. Partnering with the City of Winchester provided more than $250,000 in outside funding for CTE equipment.
Randolph Central has greatly expanded student access to technology and is an A- rated district with aggregate 2014 ISTEP+ scores above state averages in all four areas – the highest in district history.
Out-of-district enrollment has grown from 11 students in 2008 to nearly 100 currently.
Last year the district was able to build a new middle school and expand its high school after 20 years of unsuccessful attempts. The new construction did not increase tax rates, because older bonds were being paid off. In fact, the district’s total school tax rate has declined in each of the last three years.
In Hinshaw’s words: “Randolph Central is a small district that has truly learned to achieve great things with greater efficiency.”
Hinshaw has earned four different degrees from Ball State University. He serves on the Indiana Regional Works Council for Region 6 and is a member of the advisory committee for the Ball State University Center for Economic Education. He has served as the president of the Greater Randolph Interlocal Cooperative, an organization of five school corporations that has expanded programming to include pre-school, alternative school, suspension school and special education services.
He is a long-time member of the Randolph County Historical Society and has served as the county historian since 2004.
What program(s) or activities in your school district that focus on improving student learning do you feel are the most successful?
We have intentionally focused our K-8 curriculum and instruction on literacy and numeracy, ensuring that all students are taught a rigorous basic curriculum as a foundation for future learning. We have also worked to expand our curricular offerings at the high school level. I am most pleased with our emerging Early College program, which currently encompasses twenty-two dual credit courses, and our expanding career and technical education program, which includes everything from business and FACS to advanced manufacturing, construction trades, and agriscience. We have also strengthened our performing arts programs, as well, providing opportunities for students with widely-varying interests. We are proud of what we offer, particularly since we are a district of 1500 students.
What have been your most significant challenges as a supt. and how have you dealt with them?
Undoubtedly the financial changes that the district has faced since I started in 2008 have been the largest challenge. We have faced reduction in our general fund revenue of nearly twenty percent, and our levy funds have faced circuit breaker losses every year since 2009. It has been a huge challenge to manage the decline in revenue while expanding educational opportunities and making much-needed improvements in facilities at the same time.
If you could improve one aspect of K-12 Education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?
I support accountability measures; however, I believe that we have taken assessment and accountability to an unhealthy extreme. Legislators and other state officials need to work with public school leaders to establish high, reasonable achievement standards and to develop appropriate assessments that are not unduly burdensome. A single valid, reliable, annual assessment, which takes no more than a few days to administer, ought to be sufficient for state accountability determinations.
What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?
I would encourage superintendents to, as the ISBA Code of Ethics says, always think “in terms of ‘children first.’” I would advise all superintendents to have a positive attitude. Principals, teachers, and students will follow the superintendent’s lead. Finally, I would also encourage superintendents to hold themselves to the highest standards of conduct. The public does have the right to expect more of us than they would expect from people in other professions.