The Richmond Register

Local News

May 14, 2014

Thomas presents capstone project for his evaluation

Superintendent wants to ‘inspire excellence’ in Madison County Schools

RICHMOND — New evaluation procedures are being phased in for educators through the state’s new Professional Growth Effectiveness System. Madison County Schools Superintendent Elmer Thomas is participating in the evaluation pilot program for superintendents during his first year leading the district.

As part of his evaluation requirements, Thomas presented Tuesday an overview of how he has met the system’s seven standards of effectiveness. He also described some of the “tough decisions” the he and the board has made this year and his vision for “inspiring excellence” at Madison County Schools.

Thomas’ executive coach and mentor, Pat Hurt, assigned through the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, also attended to evaluate his presentation.

Hurt was a former superintendent of Metcalfe County Schools. She resides in Lincoln County, she said, so she is very familiar with the Madison County school system.

“I’ve always known that Madison County Schools stood for something positive,” she said, addressing the board members at the end of Thomas’ presentation.

Even if the board is not always satisfied with every decision its made, she said, the district “has a good reputation.”

“It’s about kids and its about learning. You’ve got to remember that, that’s your focus,” said Hurt. “Yes, you might have to raise taxes. You might have make those decisions that are hard for everyone to understand and embrace – but I think if you can show those student-learning results in the end … that is your main thing.”

She said the district is “going to get even better” under Thomas’ leadership.

After being hired in August, Thomas said board members had four items they wanted to see carried out in the district, the first of which was full-day kindergarten.

“I think before day one, it was very clear we needed to find a way to move forward with full-day kindergarten,” he said. “That was such a key decision for our district. It really did leave a foundation for everything else that we’ve done this year.”

Community stakeholders immediately “saw it as the thing to do,” he said.

Secondly, Thomas said it was clear that he needed to build trust and a culture within the district.

A third item was to build a process and be thorough on procedures throughout the district, such as with the development of the district’s new purchasing manual, a guide to making purchases and opening bids for a variety of services.

Thomas said as a former principal, he generally understood the district’s procedures for making purchases, but the purchasing manual has now streamlined the process.

With the new evaluation system, Thomas has been recording this year examples of his effectiveness in several categories.

Under “strategic leadership,” he pointed to the implementation of full-day kindergarten and the teacher-led mathematics task force, something he began working on his first day as superintendent.

“Both will prove to have tremendous academic gains for our kids,” he said

From speaking with other superintendents who lead districts with full-day kindergarten, Thomas said Madison County will not only see immediate growth in academics from full-day kindergarten, but the long-term educational benefits.

Thomas also outlined examples of his “cultural leadership.”

With nearly 13,000 students and staff, “the cultural impact of our district is gigantic,” he said. He has worked on being transparent through staffing, opening up bids for services and being more visual in the schools and community.

“When you have an open and honest approach, it leads to trust throughout the district … when you have a culture of trust, and you celebrate the accomplishments of other people, good things happen,” he said.

As former high school principals, Thomas and Chief Academic Officer David Gilliam (former Madison Southern principal), began collaboration with the local chambers of commerce and school principals to progress Madison County towards being a “work-ready community” and to encourage college- and career-readiness beginning in middle school.

Thomas said he also has met with the county educators association, the tax watch group and “really any teacher, or custodian, or bus driver who wants to meet with me … this helps shape the positive culture in our district.”

Under “human resource leadership,” two examples given by Thomas was the development of the district’s purchasing manual and the organizational flow chart.

A couple weeks ago a principal consulted with Thomas on a major purchase for their school and the superintendent pointed him to the purchase manual and to Human Resources Director Dustin Brumbaugh. The principal was able to buy the exact same product for around $4,000 less using the guidelines in the manual, he said.

“At central office, we’re here to be a support to our teachers and principals in our schools,” he said.

The organizational flow chart was developed as a way to best meet the needs of students with an understanding of the great size of the district, Thomas said.

While he tries to be an effective communicator with the staff, “sometimes you just have to follow the chain of command,” he said.

Although its okay if a school staff member comes to him with a proposal, but it must also go through the school principal, he said.

An example of his “managerial leadership,” he said, is his adherence to the staffing allocation formula, which is the number of teachers permitted at each school based on the number of students who attend that particular school. Two of the best ways to control costs is through sticking with that formula and monitoring expenses, he said.

Thomas cited his partnerships with local pediatricians, chambers of commerce and Eastern Kentucky University as examples of his “collaborative leadership.”

After a meeting with two Richmond doctors, they agreed to serve as medical directors for the district’s school health program. School nurses are permitted to carry out more procedures and prescribe medications if under a doctor’s orders.

Thomas and board chair Mona Isaacs also met with EKU President Mike Benson when he was hired to lead the university last year.

The meeting resulted in the university and the district aligning their spring breaks so that EKU employees and their children who attend county schools can take their break together. They also worked together to align the fall breaks.

For next year, EKU moved its spring break almost two weeks to accommodate the change, he said.

These collaborations have resulted in a “broad community engagement in Madison County Schools which continues to build a strong educational and workforce community.”

Under “influential leadership,” Thomas spoke on the numerous conversations he’s had with senators and representatives on school funding, technology, school days, teacher raises and instructional goals.

Thomas went on to outline some of the “tough decisions” and accomplishments made by himself and the board during his first year as superintendent, such as funding full-day kindergarten with a tax increase. To start of full-day kindergarten, the decision also was made to close Mayfield Elementary School to reopen it as a kindergarten academy.

The board voted last fall to begin full-day kindergarten in August, so the teacher reassignment process was started in January, letting teachers know early on where they will be next year, he said.

Moving kindergarten students to four academies also will help “maximize the space we already have in the district” and postpone the need for a new elementary school, he added.

The board also voted to renovate three elementary schools built in the 1960s and are scheduled to begin renovations on Silver Creek Elementary and Foley Middle School next year.

A new district facilities plan will be completed in the fall.

To conclude his presentation, Thomas said the way to see academic growth is to put together a strategic plan and “inspire excellence” in Madison County Schools.

But, inspiring excellence will take a commitment from all district stakeholders, he said, who need to have “open, honest conversations about the (district’s) direction, goals, vision and mission.”

He has planned for someone to work with the school board in September on developing its vision and mission for the district. After that, Thomas said he wants to bring members of the community to the table, such as the county’s two mayors or even the jailer, “so every aspect of our community is represented.”

He envisions a room of 150 to 200 people in facilitated discussion talking about “how to move Madison County Schools forward.”

Thomas said he wants to look ahead and envision what the future may look like in 2025 or even 2030 when next year’s full-day kindergarten cohort is graduating high school and beginning their careers or enrolling in college.

He also is considering a re-branding of the district with a new logo. The current logo has been around for more than 10 years, he said.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.

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