Teachers, staff and students at Mineral County schools are growing rapidly and infused with a new energy, but many difficulties lie ahead as the district pushes hard to improve the educational system, Chris Schultz, Mineral County Superintendent, told the Mineral County School Board on Dec. 19.
“I see some real positive energy, and I think that’s fundamental,” Schultz said. “I think that staffs are getting it from their leaders. And at the same time […] if we ask for more there’s going to be greater discomfort, there’s going to be greater opposition because growth, getting better, is a lot harder than coasting. So I would expect — when you push this hard for teachers to improve — a lot of discomfort.”
“I’m not sure I have the words to express what I see from my leadership team in how they’re supporting each other,” he added.
Schultz made his comments during a discussion of the performance improvement plan he and the board agreed on in September. The board took no action on the discussion, although a full evaluation is expected to appear on an upcoming agenda.
Schultz said the energy and excitement is palpable in the district, citing as an example two maintenance workers who volunteered for “water tech” training so they could develop a new skill.
The energy is even seen in students who are failing their classes. Schultz said he’s seen students who are getting D’s and F’s ask principals and teachers about their scores on standardized tests.
“Those kid’s don’t want to know [their scores],” Schultz said. “They shouldn’t ask that question. They’re asking it because they’re seeing the positive results in their classroom and they want to see that it’s paying off. There’s a real change in the attitude.”
But there are obstacles the district still must overcome.
“We’re going to face opposition,” Schultz said. “We’re going to face opposition from our community, from people who are comfortable with where they are and what they are and who they are, and that’s enough.”
Schultz said he also expects negative reactions from parents, upset with the learning standards, and teachers and district employees, frustrated they’ve been asked for more but who aren’t growing to meet the standard.
Another obstacle is the discomfort caused by growth.
“If everybody’s happy and we don’t grow as teachers, as educators, and with our students as learners, it really doesn’t make any difference,” Schultz said. “We’re not just trying to be happy. We want to have kids be happy because they’re succeeding.”
For the first time in recent memory, Schultz was also vocally supported by members of the public.
“I have never seen this level of excitement and positive growth that I’m seeing now,” said Cindy Nixon, a 14-year district veteran.
“It’s finally starting to happen. This district has been in a real sad, sorry place for a long time, and nothing and nobody is going to fix it in a matter of one year, one and a half years, maybe even three years. It’s going to take a while. And I hope that we can all take a positive outlook.”
Shelly Hartman, executive director of the Mineral County Economic Development Authority, said the changes in the district are also bearing economic fruit.
Part of Hartman’s job is courting businesses, and wooing them to bring their resources and jobs into the local market. Until recently the quality of the schools in the district made it difficult to tempt new jobs into the county.
“I’ve had companies turn us down over this school district,” an emotional Hartman said. “I now have a company excited about your school district. Let’s keep working together to build this, let’s not tear each other up.’’
Hartman also said Schultz and the district have been more involved with the community, one of the major areas of criticism from the board in his previous evaluation. Hartman pointed to her frequent meetings with Schultz as some of the evidence for the change.
“This school was a silo…and I couldn’t engage them,” Hartman told the board. “And now I can, and I’m really excited about the direction you’re going.”
The evaluation discussion may also have laid the foundation to clear up another long-standing criticism from Donna Glazier, the board clerk.
Glazier has often attacked Schultz, demanding that information be relayed to board members before it is made public. At the meeting, the board discovered neither Glazier nor Beatrice McMinn-Conway, Schultz’ other vocal opponent, receive Schlutz’ weekly email updates, or many of his private updates to board members.
They were excluded from the emails because of an apparently technical problem that prevented emails from being forwarded from district-issued email addresses to their personal accounts. District technology specialists were working to fix the problem the morning after the meeting.
But the meeting wasn’t all roses for Schultz.
He faced withering attacks on several occasions from board members.
Schultz’ performance improvement plan lists numerous required actions on his part. He accomplished more than two-thirds of the required actions, but each time he missed the mark, he was met with an icy silence from the board, or pointed questions from board members.
After a lengthy discussion about preparing district technology for the thrice-annual Measures of Academic Progress tests, McMinn-Conway asked “Just a yes or no question, have you identified the [Information Technology] requirements for the next round of MAPs testing?” quoting from the improvement plan.
“No,” he responded. “I don’t have the IT requirements, my IT guys are working on it.”
“And again, yes or no, have you prepared a plan for the implementation and testing of the system prior to the live MAPs testing period?” McMinn-Conway fired back, again quoting from the plan.
“Absolutely,” Schultz said. “And what we did was–”
“Just yes or no,” McMinn-Conway interrupted. “That’s all I need.”
When Schultz again tried to explain the actions he had taken, Mc-Minn-Conway cut him off a second time, before being interrupted by Keith Nevile, board member, who explained how the district had prepared for the tests.
This exchange, in many ways characteristic of how the board and Schultz interacted at the meeting, drew the ire of some of Schultz’ present supporters.
“All I heard was negative attacking,” Nixon said. “[…] If I was sitting and being [evaluated] at the end of the year, May 1, and I was evaluated in that manner, I would get up and walk.”
Others felt the board was being hypocritical in its evaluation. Much of the discussion focused on how Schlutz and the other district employees get along.
“You’ve got to value your people,” Hartman said. “You’re talking about [Schultz] valuing his people; have you valued your superintendent at all? Is it going to be an attack every single meeting?”
A summary of other issues the board took up during the Dec. 19 meeting, including an agreement to share services with Mineral County, will appear in a coming issue of the Independent-News.