A report on USD 231’s personnel and communication was heard by board of education members at the June 4 meeting.
At the meeting, Brian Jordan of the Kansas Association of School Boards said, “Every district has its challenges and districts that go through changes as significant as you guys have gone through the last several years, related to rapid growth, related to changes in leadership, there’s always symptoms that come out in systems or organizations when those changes happen.”
Jordan reviewed a number of areas, including unity of purpose, strategic plan processes, ways to improve current efforts and district wide staffing formulas.
The review of district operations was requested by the district to be used to provide guidance to the board and district administration regarding the design and structure of the school system.
“The Kansas Association of School Board’s offer varied services to school district members to enhance and improve school districts.  The school board, in cooperation with district administration, consulted KASB Leadership Services to engage in a long-range strategic goal setting process.  KASB provides guidance and considerations on the design and structure of a school system to best serve the students within a rapidly growing school district. The board and school administration will continue to work with KASB to prioritize and set goals to strategically plan for the future and the continued success of the Gardner Edgerton school district,” according to a statement issued by Rob Shippy, board president, and Pam Stranathan, superintendent.

As part of the process, employees were interviewed. Questions centered on three areas; job performance and support, communication and collaboration and aligning to a strategic vision.
The complete report is about 50 pages and is on the district’s website.
Results were provided to the board and ranged from good to bad including:

Job aspects considered most challenging?
“Lack of people in the district administrative roles that see the whole picture and the challenges that people are facing within the schools”
“Dealing with cultural challenges within the building I am leading”
“Typically the student behaviors and the time it takes away from being an instructional leader”

If there is an issue or concern related to your leadership responsibilities, how does that get communicated?
“Will visit person to person, Supt. Will come to visit, or go to Supt. Office”
“only hear from Supt if she is upset or something negative has happened, at times there are accusations made by the Supt. that indicate there is not a clear understanding of educational processes and the law”
“took steps to put professional development in place. . . and then there was an overstepping of role by Supt…”

What supports are available to assist you in carrying out the responsibilities of your position? How are these supports obtained?
“Great team members, I take a lot of initiative to figure things out and I go to other directors to figure it out.”
“Direct connection with Supt., directors over schools. . . are great support”
“No support, have not had a one on one conversation with the Supt for several months, a lot of job duties have been taken away“
“Strong nucleus elementary principals,this nucleus has shrunken in the last couple of years as great people have quit or left the district, there is no support or vision, or organization across the district. . .. “

How would you describe the level of autonomy provided by the person(s) that evaluate you: too little, just right, or too broad, elaborate on your selection?
“Just right. Allows directors to run their own show.”
“Professional development structure changed without input, without any explanation of ‘why,’ no guidance or insights as to why where we’re going. Supt. Has not been in my building for three years.”
“The district office is very willing to step in and provide guidance,it is always a supportive process.”
“I get left alone, my building’s culture is great, not really influenced too much by some of the struggles that have happened at the district office recently.”

What aspects of your job would you recommend being changed?
“Communication both within the building and district, is a bit reactive, and we are caught off guard when staff ask questions, there does not appear to be a ton of trust between district level and building level, if this was improved, it would improve a lot of other pieces.”
“Put in awkward situation a lot of the time, there is no communication about the vision of the district…“
“Feel like personal strengths and expertise of staff should be utilized more in decision making and planning work that is happening as the district puts pieces in place to meet student needs”

What do you need to be more effective in your position?
“Be given information, and freedom to share the information, given respect, and being valued as an employee.”
“Been supported most of the time when asking.”
“Communication about district initiative, more collaborative input.”

Shared decision making is a vital leadership strategy for creating buy in and momentum for changes, describe opportunities you have to provide input in the decision-making process.
“There is not a reliance on expertise from different areas or levels within the district and region around Gardner, these would be beneficial in guiding us through some of the difficult decisions we have to make.”
“In the past we would sit down as a team and trouble shoot, in recent years these opportunities have been lost, seems to be one or two folks making all the decisions, not a lot of opportunities for input, when input is asked for it is typically after the decision has been made.”
“Maybe look at bringing weekly cabinet meetings back…“

How do differences of opinion or leadership direction get resolved?
“Not a process in place for this currently, innovation is squelched, trust is nonexistent, example – survey for staff professional development, teachers were worried about filling it out due to fear of retaliation.”
“Supt. is always willing to talke and listen, once the Supt make the decision she will stick with it and not waiver.”
“It does not get resolved, not given a chance to have an opinion that is different, get pushed aside for having a different opinion, there is no true dialogue between the district leadership team.”
“There are no real opportunities to truly discuss and collaborate, folks make decisions outside the formal processes in place, because the culture within the formal processes is not collaborative.

How is the chain of command currently working within the system?
“Not currently working, there is no transparency in the current system.”
“Communication between the board and directors has gotten confused, regarding how the Supt fits in with this communication to the board and between the directors, need to utilize the chain of command to handle disciplinary matters involving staff and building level issues.”
“Don’t think it is currently working, building level issues should come to me first, before going straight to the top, often there is a reaction at the top, versus sending it back to the appropriate level,…“
“chain of command in the building works well, within district not so much, seem to have some board members who jump over the folks that can best resolve the matter which creates problems with communication and mistrust.”

How are you made aware of, or kept up to speed with the direction of the board and district overall?
“Board meetings and briefs, district leadership meeting provides a 30,000 foot view, elementary principal meeting takes discussions for district meeting…“
“Supt shares with us the board’s direction, some board members reach out…” Word of mouth through Supt, not real clear on what the board’s priorities are at this time…“

Other Comments
“Concerned about the relationship with the city this relationship has been damaged, due to the creation of the YCP program, trust in the current leadership is gone internally and externally, reputation has diminished greatly of late… “
“Do not believe Supt. Is qualified for a district this size, there are times the Supt will make statements about perceived poor decisions made by other districts, this is unprofessional.”
“the Supt tries to work with the folks that are at the district office, so it is hard to understand why people have turned against her”
“there was no real announcement when the new elementary director was put into the role, Gardner is a great district, I fear that we are losing some great people”