The superintendent of Center Grove Community School Corporation, Dr. Richard Arkanoff, has been named 2018 Superintendent of the Year for District V by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents (IAPSS).
Arkanoff has been superintendent at Center Grove Community School Corp. since 2011.
Because Center Grove is a large and growing suburban school corporation, it is challenging for the district to keep up with growth and simultaneously focus funding on advancing instruction and curriculum. The district has pursued outside financial support and has received well over $2.5 million in donations from community partners.
The district has designed internal leadership development programs called “Google U” and “tLead” to identify strong leaders in the corporation and enhance their leadership skills. The district uses teacher coaches in each building to improve instructional practices and review data.
Center Grove transformed a former maintenance building into an Innovation Center that serves both students and staff to learn from one another in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), project-based-learning and other topics. The center minimizes the need and expense of sending staff and students away for training.
By shifting a large amount of professional development to the summer, the district has reduced the cost of paying substitutes to cover classes during professional development days. Teachers are compensated for the time spent in summer professional development, increasing their compensation.
Arkanoff earned three degrees from Indiana University and his Ed.D. in school administration from Capella University. He formerly served as superintendent and director of special education for the Edinburgh Community School Corp.
District V includes Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Johnson, Marion and Shelby counties.
What program(s) or activities in your school district that focus on improving student learning do you feel are the most successful?
At Center Grove, our vision is to provide all students with exceptional educational experiences. Our staff continuously works to achieve that vision. We all understand that we must work at it each day. To do that, we know we need to continually improve our core instruction while continuing to be innovative. I believe our focus on being a Professional Learning Community (PLC) is the key to improving student performance. PLC’s are most effective when you have a curriculum that is crystal clear in describing student learning. We invest a great deal of time in developing essential learnings and proficiency scales as part of our guaranteed and viable curriculum. Every day our staff addresses the challenges our students must overcome to grow and learn. Some of these challenges are more intense than others and can distract from the main objective to educate. PLC’s provide that vehicle for the staff to stay focused on the four key questions:
1. What do we expect our students to learn? (Goals/Expectations)
2. How will we know they are learning? (Assessment)
3. How will we respond when they don’t learn? (Intervention)
4. How will we respond if they already know it? (Enhance)
Our dedication to the PLC process has reduced the isolation of teachers, increased commitment to the mission and goals of the school and amplified the vigor in working to strengthen the mission while increasing our shared responsibility for the total development of students and reinforce a collective sense of responsibility for students’ success. Our continued work to develop Essential Learnings and proficiency scales as part of our guaranteed and viable curriculum
While the PLC process hits at the core of the work we do as a school district, we also need to be innovative to provide all students with exceptional learning experiences. We do this through an in-house professional development program that provides exceptional educational experiences for our staff. Our professional development program requires a large investment in staff development. We provide Instructional Coaches for each building, and district level leadership that organizes and delivers training through our leadership development course “tLead”, our New Teacher Academy, and our Innovation Academy. We provide district level STEM Coaches for teachers and students at our Innovation Center where students and staff K-12 come together to engage in creative hands-on activities.
We continue to grow and focus on improvement. Our marriage between Professional Learning Communities, In-House Professional Development and Innovation are the trilogy we find to be the most successful formula to improving student learning. Of course, this takes hundreds of talented staff members working every day for children!
What have been your most significant challenges as a supt. and how have you dealt with them?
Building and maintaining strong relationships as a Superintendent is my favorite part of the job; however, it is the largest time investment. It is critical to have honest and open relationships with so many stakeholders from School Board Members to Students. I work every day to build trust among so many groups. The challenge is to be a good listener, reflecting on what is shared with me and genuinely considering every point expressed. Time and time again, I find myself balancing different points-of-view to find common ground.
First and foremost, Be Quiet! Just listen. I provide the speaker my full attention in a nonjudgmental way, while seeking to understand and express my understanding. These skills become so critical when working with the School Board or with community members, especially if they oppose the direction of the school district. These are the time I must reach out and build a relationship. I try to sincerely engage those that I know don’t want to engage necessarily engage. I start first to build the relationship, then I can have open honest communication that will result in understanding on both sides.
Relationships are delicate and need to be appreciated. I start with seeking to understand and when I express my thoughts I always check for understanding keeping in mind that “listening is in the ear of the beholder.” This is how I work to gain trust and building a strong leadership team in the board room and across the school district. The School Board and I realize the need to nurture and cultivate the relationship we have with each other and with our community. Each positive relationship drives the success of so many decisions for the children across school districts.
If you could improve one aspect of K-12 Education today, what would it be and what changes would you make?
If I could improve one aspect of K-12 Education, it would be to stop standardized testing. In theory, standardized testing makes sense. It’s a measureable way to see if a student knows the material. But there are just too many problems with standardized tests from biases against students of poverty and race to those with disabilities. Another problem is that the tests are created by companies who have little knowledge about the school system they’re testing. The tests are rigid and don’t take many factors into consideration. Standardized testing is also expensive, with millions of dollars paid to companies to create and mark the tests. It’s an incredible amount of money that could be spent on more effective strategies such as adding more teachers to reduce call sizes.
Less legislative involvement! An increased role of government in education can ensures equal education opportunities for all children across the state; however, education has traditionally been a local issue. An increased role of the government has added a tremendous number of unfunded mandates (laws passed with no monetary support). Decisions at the local level best serve the needs of students in the local area. Each community across the country is different and we should celebrate that difference by allowing each community to function by those who choose to live in it. I would love to see the return of local control to school boards.
What advice would you give to aspiring or beginning superintendents?
Be patient. Be honest. Be true to yourself. Don’t be stubborn. Make it a priority to stay connected to your colleagues and network with fellow superintendents.