School board hears about changes since audit

The Huntington County Community School Board of School Trustees heard a review of what kinds of changes have happened in the district since an audit was conducted and presented last year by researchers Mike Pettibone and Dr. Steve Yager.

During business brought before the board at their regular meeting on Monday, April 23, Harris presented a review of the “challenges” presented to the district as a result of that audit and where the district stands on what it needs to do better.

“It had many positives about our school district, and it had many challenges ahead,” Harris told the board. “I’ve just pulled out from that report the challenges that they presented to us a year ago, because I want us to look back, and I think that there’s some days where we can’t believe how much we’ve accomplished in a year, and there’s some times when it seems like that must have been three or four years ago that we started it.”

He added changes have not been entirely completed, but among changes that have been made since the audit was received are:

• The closing of Northwest and Lancaster elementary school buildings and the construction of a new Roanoke elementary building to address the needs of the three schools not in acceptable condition and needing additional focus and study.

• Meetings have been held with the elementary school principals to make all schools consistent with each other regarding curriculum and instruction. Harris said he expects that next school year they will all be focused and consistent for 85 percent of the school day.

• The formal process of redistricting has been completed. Redistricting includes having the entire student body from an elementary school feeding into the same middle school. Busing and transportation plans are still in the works for next year, Harris added.

• Redistricting also helped with making more consistent class sizes throughout the district.

• Literacy and math coaches that were recommended have not been added, as the district looks at how those positions will be funded; however, Harris says the state legislature has passed a bill that will require them beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

• Surface teaching has been addressed, with focus on deeper teaching methods such as a 90-minute literacy block and a 60-minute math block.

“There’s been a lot of foundational support put into that this year, for the beginning of next year,” Harris added.

• Addressing the challenge that “each building is an entity unto itself,” Harris said there has been a noticeable change in the culture and attitudes among schools.

“While we want to compete against each other, ultimately we’re all the same students, we’re all in the same school district, and we’re going to work together because, ultimately, it’s what kind of graduates can we turn out from Huntington County schools,” Harris said, adding that the principals have been looking at how to work with each other and how to gain strengths from each other, resulting in a positive change.

Harris also cited his weekly “Two Minute Tuesday” videos, in which he highlights something in the district, as another catalyst of changing staff members’ support for other HCCSC buildings.

• Lack of public relations for all schools has been a weakness, Harris said. A new district newsletter now goes out quarterly to the community. He said the district has been working on a number of other items he plans to present to the board in an upcoming meeting.

“I don’t think you’ll see a whole lot major here in the short term, but I think we’ve got a big impact that we’re going to be talking about going forward,” he said.

• A professional development coach has been brought in to create more leadership programs for district administrators. The coach will speak to the entire HCCSC staff at the district’s year-end breakfast on May 31.

• In the area of compensation, Harris noted in the last three years the district has given pay increases and stepped up to the challenge.

Harris also said a committee is looking at all of the compensation, and how to add classified staff. He hops to be able to have a plan in place by next September.

“We’re looking at what we do pay-wise,” he said. “Are they being paid appropriately with inside the district, are they being paid compared to competing forces outside the district, and is there a way for us to offer PERF or health offerings to that staff? We don’t have any answers for that, other than we are meeting now.”

• Staff received new Mac computers this past summer, answering the challenge that staff computers needed to be upgraded.

• Administrators are looking at upgrading the high school daily schedule, especially in regard to adding a study hall during the student day.

Harris said the time schedule is being modified, which will expand homeroom periods to become approximately five minutes shorter than regular instructional periods.

“While they’re not calling it study hall at this time, there are going to be study options, remediation efforts and all of those kind of things that they’re looking at the daily schedule for next year to address that concern and see if we can help the kids out a little bit on that one,” he said.

• Harris said there is more consistency this year in using an evaluation system for certified and classified personnel, and he expects it to be even more consistent next year.

• In transportation, Harris responded to a challenge in how extra curricular routes are assigned, in that full-time drivers are not given priority over substitutes, by saying that Transportation Director Vanessa Fields tells him that full-time drivers do get priority.

“While that was a concern expressed by some, I think the way in which Transportation handles that is fair for the bulk of our drivers,” Harris said. “While there are some people dissatisfied, it will probably remain so. I think our Transportation Department does a pretty good job of handling those things.”