Phase 1 Entry Plan Progress Update

Posted by Amanda Kelly on 4/4/2014

The First Phase of my entry plan was fast paced and focused on completing several critical tasks. The first was to complete the interview/discussion process I began in the Pre-Entry Phase with administrators, association/union leadership and Home and School Association leaders. In addition to helping me get to know the individuals who make up the support structure of our district, this process established the communication that shall serve as the foundation for a relationship moving forward. 

My meetings with the Methacton Education Association leadership during this phase helped me to understand the history and current status of our instructional staff and the relationship has had over time. Throughout this conversation, it became clear to me that we indeed have a uniquely caring and highly competent and energetic staff! Of course, I also spent a great deal of time in other meetings and classrooms, and I cannot tell you how pleased I am about how committed our teachers are to the art of teaching, how enthusiastic they are about their subjects, and how dedicated they are to Methacton! 

I also spent some time meeting with both the Methacton Educational Support Personnel and Teamsters leadership. While we did not spend significant time together, we agreed that it was in our collective best interest to establish a method of communication that will allow us to discuss items of mutual interest in the future. I shared my appreciation for the work that our support staff performs in order to operate the district.

During this time I have had significant interaction with my Board of Directors. As a result, the Board and I have agreed to establish a retreat, likely facilitated through a resource at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, to discuss non-school related items with a focus on defining roles and responsibilities, and establishing protocols for working together for the advancement of the district. In order to effectively and efficiently govern for the benefit of the students and families of Methacton, the recently reorganized Board will need to establish certain fundamental understandings, and processes. Other Board items include the initiation of a new board member orientation led by our past president, and the establishment of a new protocol for committee meetings.

I began attending the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit’s monthly Superintendent’s meetings. These meetings allow Montgomery County superintendents to collaborate on educational and operation issues that occur in our respective school districts and communities.  This collective group is a significant resource for me as a new Montgomery County Superintendent, in that it allows me not only to gain perspective and understanding that helps me to meet some of the challenges that we face in Methacton, but to foresee some of the challenges we have yet to face. 

A sub-committee of this Intermediate Unit group is currently working to address and deliver options for cost sharing opportunities within the county. The group works together to address local as well as state and federal education issues and weigh-in on how proposed and existing legislation impacts our schools. Recently, some of these conversations have touched upon topics including Special Education Funding, Charter School Reform, the Commonwealth’s funding formula, and PSERS.

As part of Phase 1, I scheduled and held building staff forums designed to introduce myself to the staff in a more intimate setting, while beginning a dialogue. Sessions in each of the buildings were met with full faculty attendance. I began each of these sessions with a short biographical description of who I am, my experiences, and a little about my family. I then placed the focus of our remaining time on the following three questions:

  1. Finish this statement-“I get the most satisfaction from my job when…”
  2. As you think about how the district currently operates, what gives you satisfaction and what frustrates you?
  3. What is the one thing that I, as Superintendent, can do tomorrow that would have a positive impact on how you feel about the Methacton School District and how students and parents feel about Methacton School District? 

The responses to these questions were recorded by me and will be shared in summary as part of my overall “Vision for the Future” document.

As I met with various groups of teaching staff, I discovered that there was an overarching concern about the implementation of new programs and their follow through over time. Examples were given of programs that were introduced over the past several years with a purpose, but staff later perceived a lack of follow through necessary to achieve the program’s intended outcomes. In addition to sharing their concerns on specific programs, the teaching staff has expressed a desire to have greater input prior to the introduction of new programs and significant change. I have noted their program concerns, and will address them in the near future.

I began discussion on current building/department goals with Act 93/Administrative staff. This discussion was in part a process for sharing among the group as well as an opportunity to learn for myself where the established priorities are or have been prior to my arrival. Additionally, this discussion has allowed me to better understand the relationship between these established goals and the current information I have been gathering in my entry plan.

Our pupil services department is currently under the administration of an interim director, following the retirement the previous administrator. I held meetings with employees that work under the supervision of pupil services, including Special Education, School Nursing, School Counseling, English Language Learners, and Home School Visitor Services. In part, the purpose of these meetings was to discuss departmental needs. Secondly, the meetings were geared towards soliciting an understanding for how to best fill the future supervisory position. As with all of my meetings with employees, the time is also used to introduce myself and develop a clearer picture of how the district’s employee groups interact with one another and administration, as well as understand concerns and needs in planning for the future of our programs.

As part of the interview process for the position, there was significant discussion regarding understanding of building capacity and enrollment. So as a result, I began collecting historical data related to the district’s enrollment, including Plan Con documents, and other reports associated with enrollment and building capacity. It is likely that the discussion on this topic will occur in the coming months and will help clarify, as part of our future direction, our educational, financial, and facility needs. 

Even prior to my arrival, Mr. Whiteleather and I have working together on the budgeting process and the establishment of a long term vision for the financial sustainable operation of the Methacton School District. This process includes a careful review of 10 years of financial data to ascertain trends related to expenditures and revenue in an effort to utilize that data as part of our future projection model. Together, Mr. Whiteleather and I devised an overall strategy aimed at addressing four concepts: five year budget projections, depletion of capital reserve, underfunding of our fund balance, and controlling of expenditures. We outlined these concepts on numerous occasions in administrative meetings, Board Committee meetings and at Board meetings and shared our plans for addressing them in a highly responsible manner.

I have dedicated a great deal of time to learning about Methacton, the community, and evaluating the programs and operations of the District during these first few months. The planned improvements to the high school athletic fields has been an extremely important focus of mine. There has been much discussion regarding this project, similar concerns have been raised with the fields at Arcola. Overuse, recent construction on that campus, and neglect have contributed to the current state of these fields, which are a programmatic to both Arcola and Skyview, but to our wider intramural athletic community. This is an important matter that will become an additional area of focus in the coming months.

I conducted facility walk through visits of all of the district’s schools, as well as the maintenance facility located on the Arcola/Skyview campus in order to become acclimated with the building layouts, historical perspectives of construction/renovations, as well as ongoing capital concerns.

Meetings were held with our general counsel, Dishell, Bartle and Dooley; as well as Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams, who represents us on matters related to special education. These meetings were designed to acquaint me with each firm’s relationship with the district historically, and allow me to understand how we are to move forward into the future. 

Our Coordinator of School and Community Information, Angela Linch, and I began working to develop a communications plan that utilizes our available resources and addresses key constituent groups and their information needs. Additionally, it is felt that we need a clear and consistent method of sharing the great things that we do in the district. 

Mrs. Linch and I are also working with School Board Director Joyce Petraskus on a Legislative Advocacy group designed to foster communications and build relationships with our local legislative bodies. Current progress is being made to organize an event designed to discuss important educational issues and define the priorities necessary to provide affordably high level education services. 

The winter of 2013-2014 presented us with a multitude of challenges! We had seven days off from school as a result of snow/ice or power failures, and the sheer amount of time monitoring and planning around this was monumental. Working with my staff and the associations, I was able to adjust the instructional calendar and maintain reasonable dates for the end of the school year and graduation for our seniors.

A community/parent survey was launched on January 31 via School Messenger and the website. Lower Providence Township and the Public Library also placed the survey on their homepages, and patrons who utilize the library for internet access were invited to use library computers to take the survey.  More than 900 people completed this survey. A staff survey was also launched, with 341 staff participating.

Working with the high school, students were surveyed over a two week period. More than 1,000 student responses were gathered. Now, I have begun the lengthy process of reviewing and analyzing the results.  

I met with township and other civic leaders, as well current and former school board members. Again, these meetings although primarily introductory, allowed me to gain a better understanding of various perspectives on the operation of the district, so that in time, I may utilize not only the shared information, but call upon these community leaders to assist me in establishing a vision for the future of Methacton.

In March, we began the process of organizing a focus group to help me synthesize the survey data and review preliminary vision steps. This group will be comprised of individuals who currently are not connected directly to the district. It is my hope that this outside group will continue to serve in an advisory capacity to the office of the superintendent, working to help shape the future of the district.

Several community forums were also held in order to help me meet with varied constituent groups to talk about my entry plan and the District. About 25 registrants attended the first superintendent’s community forum on December 9th at the Lower Providence Library. The forum included a brief overview of the district with a special focus on the challenges that the district is facing and will continue to face as we strive to maintain our position as one of the premier school districts in Montgomery County. 

The second forum was held on December 16th at the Shannondell Retirement Community and was attended by about 15 individuals.  Information was shared with attendees on how Methacton students are prepared for secondary education, the district’s funding challenges, the district’s curriculum, senior citizen outreach efforts, and more. The lively discussion went on for more than one and one half hours, and many who attended expressed an interest in future opportunities to learn more about the district and its students.

Two additional forums were planned and postponed due to weather. Both will take place in Worcester Township – one at the Meadowood Retirement Community and another in the Legacy Community in Stony Creek Farms. Plans are to reschedule these now that the weather has warmed.

One of the most difficult tasks has been getting through the various documents and data elements associated with the daily operations of our school district. I spent significant time with Assistant to the Superintendent for Personnel, Mr. Bob Harney and Methacton’s Director of Business Services, Mr. Stuart Whiteleather. Together, we reviewed numerous procedures, policies, and contracts associated with nearly every aspect of the school district. This review has already led to several changes in both process and procedure, allowing the district to operate with greater administrative oversight, while establishing protocol. This important work will continue, with additional items to be addressed in the future.

The documents subjected to review include:

  • Board/Committee meeting minutes
  • Board & Administrative policies
  • District Performance Profiles
  • Financials & audits
  • Student & staff handbooks & curriculum guides
  • Staff assignments & schedules
  • Strategic & school improvement plans
  • Annual reports
  • Enrollment data
  • Collective bargaining agreements & contracts
  • Community-District partnership agreements
  • Administrative job descriptions & recent evaluations
  • Crisis response & emergency plans
  • Promotional & Public Relations materials
  • Recent accreditation reports
  • Pending litigation
  • Plan Con documents
  • Recent hearing documents & decisions
  • Organizational chart
  • School committee structure & minutes
  • Capital improvement plan
  • Special Education reports

On a personal note, I’m happy to report that my family and I found a home and moved to Methacton School District in December. We also underwent the process of relocating and enrolling two of our three children in Methacton schools.

I continued to avail myself of the various community and school related events taking place throughout the district. I attended the Post Prom fundraiser with my wife, and together we attended many girls’ and boys’ basketball games; in fact, my middle daughter joined the 8th grade basketball team!