More than two months have passed since I moved to Spokane to begin my career as the superintendent of Spokane Public Schools. It has been fast-paced and enlightening, and I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing the thoughts of people who live and work in our community. In fact, I want to hear more! I’ve dedicated this summer and the next semester to listening to and learning from our community and our staff. Here’s what I’m hearing so far.
I’m hearing that Spokane values our schools. I’m learning that our community wants more options for students. I’m hearing that teachers need time to fully implement changes in curriculum. I’m learning from business and nonprofit leaders that our administrators are valued as members of boards of directors and committees. I’m seeing that our community supports maintaining and improving facilities. I’m hearing that principals appreciate some autonomy but need a clear district direction.
Aside from listening and learning when meeting with groups and individuals, I’m also paying attention to the comments that are being made on our School Board and Superintendent Survey. We’re asking everyone to take a few minutes to tell us what they think our strengths are, where improvements need to be made, and what suggestions they have. Please share your thoughts by going to www.spokaneschools.org.
The survey results and the comments I’m hearing are helping me and the board of directors strategically plan for the next couple of years. For example, when I hear that the community wants more program options for students, I know that the board’s and my interest in expanding early childhood offerings such as full-day kindergarten and Montessori in our elementary schools is on the right track. When I hear from principals about their special programs at our high schools, I appreciate that the autonomy they request will result in continued growth in our graduation rate, another goal that the board and I share.
Local media have assisted me in spreading the word that I want to hear from our community. In addition to the invitation to write this column, I’ve been fortunate to sit down with the publishers, editors, producers and general managers of all the major local print and television organizations. On Sept. 13, I will take questions on KSPS Public Television from 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. You can email or text me a question at email@example.com or call (509) 354-7711 that evening. Another way to ask questions at any time is to click on “Ask SPS” on our website.
My preference, however, is talking face to face, and once school starts I’ll be doing a lot of that with students and staff. My goals are to meet with each staff at our 50 schools at least once before winter break and to have lunch with a group of students at each school by the end of the school year. I also plan to start a student advisory group with one or two students from each high school and our two student advisers to the board of directors. After hours will give me another opportunity to get to know students as my family enjoys attending school sporting events, plays and concerts. Students have great ideas, and I’ve found that they are eager to share them with you if you take the time to really listen.
I also look forward to continuing the practices that worked well in my previous districts for getting to know staff. For example, this summer I’ve met with every new hire since mid-July, giving each new custodian, secretary, groundskeeper and teacher a chance to share his or her enthusiasm for the position and me the opportunity to share my expectations with each of them. I will also give teachers the chance to put their name in a drawing for me to be in their classroom as a substitute. This gives me the opportunity to see their working environment, to use the curriculum, and to remind myself of the various challenges teachers face.
The board of directors and I agree on the importance of working together to set a long-term direction for Spokane Public Schools. To do this, we need to know what you are thinking. My open-door policy extends to everyone. If you are involved in an organization that would like a guest speaker, I invite you to contact my assistant, Rochelle Miller, at 354-7268 to schedule a time for me to visit. I promise that all input will be considered as we develop the strategic plan that will guide us the next couple of years.