Baldwin-Whitehall administrators work to meet goals set at beginning of year
By Stephanie Hacke
Published: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 2:21 p.m.
Thousands of messages already have been sent to parents this year alerting them of the goings on in their child's schools.
Baldwin-Whitehall School District administrators hold monthly “Braveheart” meetings where they discuss ways to improve teaching and learning in the schools. Safety handbooks and seminars were crafted to train employees in best practices, and a universal process is being created to ensure only the “best and the brightest” people are hired.
Meetings with emergency personnel have become routine to ensure they know the layout of all five schools and have access to district cameras, and communication — internally and with parents — has become a top priority.
“We're not there yet,” Superintendent Randal Lutz said, as he presented an update on the five goals he created for the district for the 2013-14 school year to the school board earlier this month. “We have a lot of work to do in the area of communication.”
Half-way through the school year, Lutz said many improvements have been made in the districts five goals and objectives of: Student growth and high academic achievement, human resource management, operations and financial management, communication and community relations and organizational leadership. Yet, improvements still are needed in many areas, he said.
The first goal for this year is student growth and academic achievement.
District leaders are striving to “increase academic rigor through continuous improvement of instruction,” Lutz said. “That's the most important thing that we do. It has to be our focus and it has to be our priority.”
To do this, they're identifying areas for focused improvement, established “professional learning communities” at each grade level to provide educators with opportunities to get together and talk about student academic achievement and monthly “Braveheart” meetings have been held for district administrators to discuss an academic topic.
Another focus has been human resource management, where leaders have worked to reduce worker's compensation costs by 10 percent, Lutz said. They even have created a return-to-work program that allows employees to come back after going on leave.
Creating consistent programs and education among all schools “is really critical,” Lutz said.
A district-level emergency management team has been working with police, fire and emergency medical services personnel in all three district communities to ensure a clear safety plan is in place for the school buildings, Lutz said. That even included the establishment of an open house for public safety personnel to learn the layout of the facilities, he said.
Improved communication, at every level, has become a focus of district leaders, Lutz said.
Teachers and district administrators, too, have focused on improving communication with parents, using tools like Skyward, to send emails or text message them updates about daily occurrences in the schools.
At J.E. Harrison Middle School alone this year, before Jan. 2, there were 4,483 Skyward messages posted by teachers, Lutz said.
A plan also is in place to begin responding to parent requests in a timely manner — within 24 hours, Lutz said. They might not have the answer, but a call back, at least, should be given to let the parents know where they stand, he said.
The superintendent himself also has been trying to improve communication with staff and community members, he said.
“We're in the people business,” Lutz said.
Lutz, with input from staff and administrators, created the goals as a road map for the school year.
“It allows me to be accountable to the board, to the public,” he said. “Every day really presents different challenges. This allows me and my staff to be focused on the things that will be most important.”
Everyone, from the teachers to administrators, needs to have the same focus, Lutz said.
“Is everyone talking the same talk?” he asked.
Continued support from parents and staff members is needed to continue making these goals a reality, Lutz said.
“Support is one piece. The other piece is time,” Lutz said. “We've done incredible things in 18 months. But I think, now we're just getting to the hard part. The folks that were excited about the change, they're there, they're ready to roll. Now comes the folks that will be the tougher sell.”
Board members applauded Lutz.
“I'm so glad that you're the superintendent,” board member Tracy Macek said. “Great job making people want to come to work.”
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