Just last week I was standing at the grocery, buying eggs, and checking to make sure none of the eggs were broken. While concluding I did in fact have a dozen eggs ready for consumption, a very nice community member, the father of a student in our district, introduced himself to me. We had a pleasant conversation about my first year as superintendent. Towards the end of the conversation he asked, “What would you like to see for next year?” I, of course, entered into a recitation of our district goals. He politely interrupted and said, “I’m not looking for the company line – what areas do you think need to improve?”
My response . . . I apologized to him. I pride myself in honest, direct and open communications. I believe that in public education we are prone to “playing it safe.” Yes, we have a Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP) and we do, of course, set measurable benchmarks and goals. These processes are important; processes ensure consistent performance, integrity in planning and assessing progress and cohesiveness in the organization. Nevertheless, that isn’t what I was asked. So, what are my biggest areas of concern after year one as superintendent? Here is the plain, honest truth.
Elementary math and transitions in our math curriculum: We are at a transition in math instruction. We aren’t going back to a math textbook or series that everyone uses. We’d never expect an entire class of students to read using the same resources; we use a balanced approach to literacy instruction. We need to create . . . to build . . . a balanced approach to math instruction. We are on the right path, but we still have a long way to go. Our teachers need more resources and professional development. Our parents need additional communication. Math instruction today won’t look like math instruction did when we, as parents, attended school. We won’t have “drill and kill” worksheets and page 52, complete 1-52 even numbered problems. We are getting there . . . we have a vision, but this is a work in progress.
I am also concerned about the math transitions, from elementary to the traditional high school structure. We are teaching math using new approaches in the elementary, but we are then shifting students to the traditional Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II track in middle school. In fact, the state will be requiring end of course exams in these areas. We need to work on this transition.
Money, Buildings and Planning . . . and the conversations about all three. We have an amazing district – the people are what make this place so special. Our parents, teachers, students, community leaders, administrators, faith based leaders . . . this is truly a place with endless possibilities. It is easy to have the conversation “no one wants more taxes,” and I hate to be the bearer of bad news. At some point in the coming year or two we are going to need additional revenue. We have a permanent improvement budget of more than $4 million per year – it will cost more than $5 million to replace Davidson’s parking lot and roof alone. We have 28 physical structures that – like any home or business – need upkeep and repairs. We need roofs, parking lots, carpet and everything that is required to protect the community’s investment. We also need to have conversations about our older buildings; do we spend dollars to upgrade and fix aging structures or do we look at replacement options.
Thanks to our community, our forecast and operating budget have weathered the financial rollercoaster very well. In 2011 the district leadership promised that the operating levy would last three years – we will exceed that commitment by at least one year. Nevertheless, additional operating revenue will be needed in the coming years. The district does not see any significant increase in revenue without coming to our taxpayers. I am proud of the responsible manner that we operate. Our treasurer’s office does a tremendous job communicating our financial situation with the community – all anyone needs to do is ask and we provide the report, answer the questions or examine the concern. We have a number of resources on our website and consistently strive to provide information to the public about our finances in a variety of ways – but more is still needed. We must, as a community, have these conversations about our financial picture through an open and honest dialogue.
Winter weather and calendars. On a lighter note . . . it was a tough winter. I am hopeful the winter of 2014-15 will prove to be a return to normal with temperatures, precipitation and calamity days. The Ohio General Assembly has shifted our requirements from minimum days to minimum hours; this may be a change for some districts. Part of that legislation specifically states that this change takes place at the expiration of any negotiated agreements with bargaining units. For Hilliard, I don’t anticipate many changes in how we do business. And yes . . . we will still utilize technology (including potentially Blizzard Bags) if we have another Frozen winter . . . I’m hopeful we don’t get a visit from Olaf again!
So, here are some straightforward answers from the dairy section. If you want to know more . . . just ask. As I’ve written before, we are partners. As such, we must share the good and the bad; we must be willing to have tough conversations, maintain respectful interaction and remember our mission to “ensure that every student is Ready for Tomorrow.”