Keeping with tradition while thinking outside the box are qualities local residents want in the next superintendent of South Middleton School District.
About 15 residents gathered in the Boiling Springs High School auditorium Monday night to offer input into the process of selecting a new chief executive by July 1.
The school board hired Templeton Advantage of Newport to advertise the vacancy and to consult in the search for a replacement for Al Moyer, who stepped down in August.
Earlier Monday, Tom Templeton met with teachers, administrators and staff to get their input on the strengths of the district, the areas in need of change or improvement and the leadership traits they feel are needed in the next superintendent.
Templeton posed the same questions to an audience that included a retired school principal and a teacher who lives in the Boiling Springs area but works in an adjoining district.
Templeton will use the input he received Monday to help the board develop questions and assess the qualifications of applicants in the lead-up to the first round of interviews scheduled for mid-February. A second round could take place in late February or early March.
Carol Yanity is a reading teacher in Cumberland Valley School District who moved into the Boiling Springs area in 2008 with her husband and children. “As a parent, what I love about this school district is the community,” Yanity said.
She cited how the high school band plays during the community Christmas tree lighting at Children’s Lake. There is also the large percentage of graduates who return to teach in the district.
Bethanne Sellers graduated from Boiling Springs High School and returned and to raise her children in the district. “The traditions I had as a child are still continued,” she said. “It’s so important.”
“Our students are well-rounded and very empathetic,” said Sellers, adding the district creates a sense of citizenship that compels students to look outside themselves.
Denny Clepper, the retired principal of the W.G. Rice Elementary School, identified staff stability as a strength as seen in the relatively low turnover in faculty, administrators and teacher’s aides.
However, Clepper also mentioned that while protections exist for students who are classified as either gifted or in need of special education, no classification exists for students who fall between those categories.
This can create disparities in class sizes, in staffing and curriculum decisions when there really needs to be a balance, Clepper said.
Yanity said school districts across Pennsylvania are seeing more children who are living in poverty. “There needs to be more support for staff to provide services for those students,” she said.
Sellers said South Middleton School District also needs to have stronger intervention programs to help students who are struggling, especially in literacy.
A lot of time and attention Monday was focused on identifying the ideal leadership qualities of the next superintendent.
The person needs to be innovative thinker who is capable of juggling a $1.5 million deficit and the gradual loss of funding from a local hospital, Clepper said.
He was referring to the projected shortfall in the budget for 2018-19 along with the gradual step-down in revenue after UPMC Pinnacle Carlisle was designated a nonprofit by Cumberland County. The hospital was once the largest single taxpayer in the school district.
“I hope you are looking at the longevity the person had in any of the positions they held,” Clepper told Templeton. “Has the person had the opportunity to initiate some plan or action and see it carried through or are they jumping from position to position without any real track record? That concerns me very, very much.”
Clepper said proof of staff development also has to be looked at carefully especially because South Middleton is a small school district.
Whoever is brought in needs to value the traditions that make the South Middleton School District what it is, Sellers said. She added, however, tradition can be a double-edged sword if it prevents the district from changing with the times.
“We need sometimes to be pushed in a positive way to what is in the best interest of our students,” she said. She added that the person hired should also be someone who has been exposed to a variety of managerial experiences. The small size of the school district will make it necessary to wear a lot of hats, Sellers said.
“Our administrators and our teachers are interwoven into our community,” said Howard Burkett, a resident and parent. By that, he means that the staff live within the community and have children who attend the local schools.
To get someone in from outside the school district could change the dynamics and disrupt that sense of tradition and community that makes South Middleton strong, Burkett said.
“If they are outside the district, I would hope that they move into the district,” Clepper said. He said that while the board cannot make such residency a condition of employment, having the person move into South Middleton Township would definitely make a statement.