Dr. Larry Veracco, superintendent of Lake Central School Corporation, was chosen by members of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents as the 2018 District I Superintendent of the Year.
Veracco has been Lake Central superintendent since 2010, although he served the district as assistant superintendent from 2007 to 2010 and as assistant principal of Lake Central High School for eight years before that.
Shortly after Veracco became superintendent, the state announced a mid-year funding cut for all Indiana school districts at the same time Lake Central School Corporation was asking the community to support additional funding to upgrade dilapidated school buildings. Between 2010 and 2012, Lake Central Schools cut $7.25 million from its budget, mostly through additional efficiencies in transportation and custodial maintenance. The budget reduction also increased class sizes and caused staffing adjustments. When the savings began producing budget relief, the district was able to create a budget surplus, rather than operating on a small margin. The adjustments have allowed the district to focus on creating competitive salary structures and improving student services.
Despite operating with meager increases in funding from the state formula, Lake Central implemented a teacher mentor program at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. This support of teachers new to Lake Central by dedicated veteran staff members has been beneficial, especially for staff members who are new to the profession.
Veracco notes that Lake Central is one of very few districts with similar demographics to make significant academic progress without the benefit of an operating funds referendum.
Veracco is a member of the Schererville Rotary and the Dyer Chamber of Commerce and is the 2017-2018 chair of the Northwest Indiana Superintendents’ Study Council. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Purdue University and a Ph.D. from Indiana State University.
District I includes Fulton, Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Marshall, Newton, Porter, Pulaski and Starke counties.
What program(s) or activities in your school district that focus on improving student learning do you feel are the most successful?
We have implemented math instructional coaches in the last couple of years and we feel it is impacting the quality of daily practice in our math classes. When some of the top instructors in our district expressed interest in sharing best practices with all other teachers in our schools, we were fairly certain it would be successful. Even veteran teachers are looking for better ways to transmit certain topics and this model has helped in this regard. We have also hosted numerous math instructional practice in-service days for our entire teaching staff. The survey responses reflect strong feedback regarding the ideas shared including teachers stating they look forward to additional help with math instructional practice.
What have been your most significant challenges as a supt. and how have you dealt with them?
Lately, the most significant challenges have centered around keeping staff members proud of being educators in an era of many national and state leaders blaming educators for an abundance of societal problems. Our industry has attempted to take on many tasks outside of academics and receives very little acknowledgment for the effort. The challenges presented by deficiencies in cognitive function, emotional issues, and poverty are significant and must be recognized by leaders who are determined to continually compare test scores. We do our best as an administrative team to recognize the efforts of staff members who come to work every day to help children. We also continue to receive messages of thanks from our students and parents and this acknowledgment from the people we serve is incredibly meaningful.
If you could improve one aspect of K-12 Education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?
I would seriously ask our legislators to strongly review every public education mandate (outside of financial reporting) that is not currently required of private schools to ask if it is not important enough for every child why is it not optional for public schools. We have to find a way to take some stuff off the plates as we continue to add all the technology skills etc. to what we do in schools that requires time to accomplish. I would also make sure that while we attempt to maximize the potential of every child, we do not use language that puts down students who choose to pursue pathways that are not in preparation of a 4-year college degree. Language that demeans the career preparation side of “college and career readiness” does harm to some of the very people who should be choosing a non-college pathway.
What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?
I would recommend to every new Superintendent to join IASBO, attend local meetings and even consider the annual meeting for the first couple years of your tenure. While we all might prefer to focus primarily on instructional leadership, as Superintendent there is no more important responsibility than the stability of your district budget. You must understand where the money is coming from and where it is going and it should be tracked monthly. I would also recommend that you religiously attend your local Superintendent study council. You will learn a lot and get ideas that will be useful as you solve problems in your own district. As with every other position in which you have found success, hang around the movers and shakers and continue to live the profession and you will find success as Superintendent as well.