What’s become clear to a new, yet veteran, superintendent.

I asked my good friend Dr. Bill Hagerman, who is superintendent of the Nickerson-South Hutchison school district, if he would write a guest blog post for me. I asked him to write about what’s become clear to him as he returns to the superintendency. Here are his thoughts. –  Steve Wyckoff

The question posed to me, “as a returning superintendent what has become clear to me” has caused me to reflect on two things. What was different about my previous life as a Director for KSDE and my current life as a superintendent, and was I glad I made the change?

When I joined KSDE as director of State and Federal Programs and then Director of Innovation and Improvement, I was glad I made the move. Very little of my direct skills as a superintendent applied to the work that I did as a director at KSDE. However many of the skills as a leader, attitudes toward change and the need for change, did apply. So I worked daily to help change our organization at KSDE and to help provide visionary leadership to consider what we could do differently. The work at KSDE was very different, but the need to supervise people who knew much more about specific programs or specific procedures was no different than coming into a district as superintendent and needing to work with many people who know much more about the district. In both settings there were people who had information that I needed from them. I had to get them to want to help the organization by continuing to do their job and help me get up to speed.

Now as a returning superintendent, I am having my second first year as a superintendent. I have reconnected with many colleagues who are very willing to lend their wisdom and experience – not really a new phenomenon. Superintendents always are willing to help. I also realized how much pressure the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – NCLB – is putting on schools and districts. When working at KSDE, even though we were at the very forefront of implementing the law, there was no way to be connected to the realities on a daily basis. Now I understand better, those realities such as such as the stress teachers feel who are responsible for a grade level or a content area that is assess; principals who have to decide what to do about serious discipline issues that could affect participation rates, graduation rates, and attendance rates; teachers in non-assessed areas who are worried about programs being cut due to “enrichment classes” being needed; and the list could go on and on.

Finally, what has become most clear to me is the fact that we need to change some things. We need to do a better job in our delivery methods – instructional strategies. While at KSDE, on February 13, 2009, the State Board of Education approved nine policy motions that, when fully implemented will ensure that all students will have challenging academic and technical standards integrated together to address today’s 21st Century workplace. These policies will eventually change how we do almost everything. Related to this is also one of the biggest concerns I have had and continue to have; how to make sure what we teach and hopefully students learn is relevant, and not just nice to know. Much of what students learn, even though it may lay some sort of foundation, is learned in isolation and the technical application of what the student has learned is rarely evident to the student. So, students get bored, or think that what they are asked to learn is only needed to pass “the test.” In my opinion, if we are ever going to get significantly different results, we are going to have to engage our students in their own learning, or we will continue need more money to get the same or close to the same results.

For these reasons and many others, I am glad I made the change, and I continue to get up each day to work on this challenge. – Bill Hagerman

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