What program(s) or activities in your school district that focus on improving student learning do you feel are the most successful?
There are a few programs I am excited about. Our first program is our Transitional Kindergarten Program. This is for students who are a little behind those of their peers when entering kindergarten. We have a great teacher who works to catch-up these students. Our kindergarten retentions are almost nonexistent since the program started four years ago.
Second, is our Project Lead the Way Launch Program. The Launch Program is taught during our elementary science instruction time. Students collaboratively work on problem solving skills. So many students struggle with problem solving skills. Our elementary students just light up when they talk about working on the science modules.
What have been your most significant challenges as a supt. and how have you dealt with them?
After ten years as a superintendent at two very different school districts I have found my most significant challenge has been dealing with all the different school board members and their personalities. The best way to deal with this challenge is in building positive relationships and being honest with each board member. You will never get all board members to believe or vote the same way, but you can move forward as a district once board members realize you are open to suggestions and ideas and want what is best for all the children in the district.
Another challenge has been working with the current level of funding for education. It is extremely important to be good stewards of the tax dollars. Simply put, public education funding has not even met the increases in inflation. Lawmakers continue to require more mandates without new money. At Highland, we have been extremely careful by tracking every dollar spent. Our central office has not replaced some employees as they have retired, combining many duties. Each school has also tightened their belts. Learning to do more with less has been a challenge. We never add programs without subtracting programs. I’ve learned you will find success by doing three or four things really well instead of ten things average.
If you could improve one aspect of K-12 Education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?
I would change the state’s A-F grading system for schools and school districts. Far too much emphasis is placed on one exam and the growth data still is not calculated properly. Receiving C’s, D’s, and F’s can be extremely detrimental to schools and their communities. Unfortunately, the A-F grading system does not look at the “whole” child or all the positives the schools are offering for any child who shows up at their door step.
I would do what educational researcher Douglas Reeves recommends. Student growth should compare the same child and school during the fall, winter, and spring with a reliable and valid assessment. This would show true growth and give schools instant feedback on where students are deficient. Teachers would then be able to change instruction based on the data. Many districts are already doing this, yet the state continues to use ISTEP/ILEARN.
What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?
Ask lots of questions and be a good communicator. Our best communicators are great listeners. One of my favorite mentors used to quote a Turkish Proverb… “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”
Superintendents in your district and across the state are there to help you. Making connections with other superintendents will be more valuable than anything else you will ever do as a superintendent.
Finally, I have been more successful when I tackle a problem in a collaborative effort. School districts and communities are full of bright and caring people. Working together for a common cause is so much more effective than going at it alone.