If you copy the same internal measures of success year after year, you are sure to get the same results year after year — which won’t produce improvement.
That was the consensus of the school board Monday night, which decided the district could no longer rely solely on internal assessments if it wanted to make real change.
The board approved paying an outside agency $20,000 to analyze everything about the district and everyone who works for it in the coming weeks.
The district will pay for the study with money it saved by reworking a copier contract earlier this year.
Not only did the district get all new copiers, it is saving $3,700 a month, said superintendent Ron Hitchcock.
Hitchcock figures the district could make similar savings in other areas, but it is often difficult to see these things when you have been doing the same thing the same way for years.
As the new superintendent, Hitchcock said he has been bombarded with suggestions from staff and the community on how do do things better. He said he partly expected this after the district instructed him to look at several hot-button issues.
“So the new superintendent said, ‘OK, I’ll go around and talk talk to about 200 people in the community and I’ll come back and I’ll be the smartest guy in the world and I’ll tell you what I found out,’” he said. “I have decided I don’t want to be the smartest guy in the world because I got a lot of information.”
Hitchcock said he needs help to weed through conflicting ideas. A third party has the advantage of not knowing anyone by his or her name, tenure or history. “So they don’t know who is the golden child or the red-headed stepchild,” he said.
They will interview all staff, conduct a confidential survey, do a walk-through of each campus and visit every classroom twice.
Effectively, they’ll poke around looking for problems and then offer suggestions.
“It includes everything under the sun,” he said. The assessment would first look at the district’s culture and climate.
“Every staff member that has wanted to have input would be interviewed,” he said.
After addressing the climate, the outside evaluators will look at other issues.
The work would be done between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the results available for the new school board.
“For those of us that have been here for five months and have a completely different perspective than those that have been here for 5 years or 15 years or 50 years, this is just another piece of data you can put alongside all that is done so our administrators or superintendent or board aren’t the ones doing the surveying of the staff or parents,” he said.
He said bias always poses a problem when the staff conducts its own assessment.
Board member Barbara Shepherd opposed spending money on the study. With the board struggling to save money, the study seemed to her like an unnecessary expense.
“We need to cut little expenses like this out,” she said.
Furthermore, she said the board, superintendent, achievement counsel, customer service counsel and parent advisory counsel already provide assessments.
“I don’t think that we should spend $20,000 that we don’t have for a sixth assessment,” she said.
Board members Rory Huff and Matt Van Camp disagreed.
Huff said his office saved a lot of money after it had an outside assessment done.
“Because you get into a rut… that ‘this is the way you do it’ and you just don’t see outside that path,” he said.
Huff estimated the school’s assessment would end up saving the district at least $60,000.
“If you have never read one of these, you are missing out. It is hugely enlightening,” Van Camp said.
He said the study would provide great insight into how the school district can do things better.
“This district has never done an outside assessment, we have always done it internally and those internal assessments always have prejudices in them that maybe protect some program that may be wasteful,” he said.