What program(s) or activities in your school district that focus on improving student learning do you feel are the most successful?
There are several things that come to mind in answer to this question. First, Goshen is a TAP (Teacher & Student Advancement Program). We have been a TAP district for 8 years, and we believe this is one of the main reasons we went from a D district to a B, and have been able to maintain our B, even though our diversity keeps climbing (This year 54% Latino, 25% EL learners, 63% FR Lunch). In addition, we are in a collaboration with the Partnership for Educational Leaders, which is part of the Univ. of VA. This partnership has helped us to develop more effective leaders and has helped with our focus on data utilization. Also, we have academic pathways for our students. We have seven elementaries, and each has picked a unique inquiry-based path: Expeditionary Learning, New Tech Project Based Learning, Primary Years IB, CLASS Leadership, or Dual Language Immersion. We now have K-12 NT or IB available for our families. These inquiry-based programs are engaging for our learners and help our EL learners gain a better real-world grasp of English.
What have been your most significant challenges as a supt. and how have you dealt with them?
We changed our mascot from the Redskins to the RedHawks in 2014-15. I did not bring this topic to the forefront, some very determined community members did, stating that as a majority minority district, we needed to change the mascot. Well, since Goshen has been the Redskins for 90 years, this was a very difficult community conversation. There are still some angry folks out there, although the students and most of the adults seem to have moved on. I got fairly “beat up” during this time. Also, passing three referendum questions (in two elections) was very challenging as well. Whew! As any superintendent who has passed a referendum knows, this is a totally encompassing endeavor. Also, overall funding has been a huge challenge for us, thus the need for an operating referendum (one of our questions on the May, 2018 ballot). Goshen is hit hard by tax caps (over $32M cumulative loss) and we lost around 2% each year in the last GF funding formula, due to the change in complexity calculation. How did I cope? Nearly became an alcoholic! just kidding. I am surrounded by great staff and together, we dug in and made it through. I am very thankful for my team. I also tried to take care of myself by exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep. I always try to do that, but I made extra efforts during these times.
If you could improve one aspect of K-12 Education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?
I welcome the renewed interest in Social Emotional Learning, which seems to finally be making a “comeback.” I am a trained school counselor, and this incessant focus on testing of the last 10-15 years has been difficult, and in my opinion, is not best for children. It has caused too many schools to quit teaching the arts, PE, and other important character education pieces, which are also important in the development of well trained and well- rounded citizens. I am not opposed to accountability on the part of schools. We do need to be held accountable for our results, but this pendulum had swung too far.
What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?
Find a thought partner, another superintendent, or a trusted confidante in the district. It is important to have someone to talk with, to bounce ideas and thoughts off of, to share goals and with whom to be able to critically analyze happenings. Take time for yourself every once in a while. It is like the oxygen mask on the plane: before you are able to assist others, you MUST take care of yourself first and get your own oxygen mask adjusted! Over communicate on everything!