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Q&A with Mike McNeff, Rugby Public Schools Superintendent

By Staff | Sep 12, 2014

Tribune reporter Bryce Berginski sat down with Rugby Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff on Tuesday to discuss changes and goals the school district has planned for the 2014-15 school year.

What goals did you have last year for the district? Would you say all of those goals were met, and if not why?

Our number one goal is to create an environment where students and people feel safe to be here. Student achievement is always a priority. How are we impacting and improving student achievement and how are we improving student engagement in the classroom? Those are always goals, but we do have accreditation goals that we follow as a district and those will be revamped as we had our external visit from our accreditation team. They’ve established new areas for us to focus on. We’re kind of in a transitional period when we’re starting to look at our mission and vision, and what are our goals are. That’ll be something that will be coming around this school year.

What new goals does the district have this year?

Part of our advanced ed accreditation program requires we have a review team come in every five years and look at our teaching, our classrooms, what’s going on in there, our curriculum. Part of that has established three actions that we’re going to address. The first action will be improving how we use data to improve instruction. That’s a primary focus that we’ll continue to work on with our new committee. It’s a five-year process, last year was our review. Now we’ll start again and evaluate what those goals are.

Our second goal will be improving student engagement in the classroom, and that’s something we’ve been trying to do with our professional development. That is primarily where we are using our professional learning communities that occur every Wednesday. We start school at 9 a.m., and we’ve restructured some time there where teachers can collaborate and work together. We’re using that time again to talk about engagement, to look at research-based strategies to improve engagement. Often times if a kid is sitting in a classroom he or she looks engaged, but are they engaged or are they just compliant? That’s something we’re looking at improving.

Our third and final area we’re looking at addressing is providing professional development that helps teachers to use data more effectively. Those will be our three focus areas will work on over the next five years.

In trying to achieve these goals, what projects may increase costs to the district?

I think we really need to look at how we spend our dollars in terms of how much focus is based on professional development. That is an area in which we need to build human capacity, we need to be able to build the capacity of all our teachers and use those resources thoroughly how we need to use them. Professional development increases will occur over the next five years.

In trying to achieve these goals, what possible setbacks or obstacles may occur?

I think anytime you implement change, or you do things differently, there’s a level of buy-in that may or may not be there for people in your organization. That’s in any organization, such as schools. You have to do it in a way that includes stakeholders, you have get them playing high-roll on that process, which is what we try to do. It’s not just top-down decision-making, it’s bottom-up, putting our administrators on the same level as teachers. That, to me, is the biggest pitfall, buy-in. We need to have buy-in for these changes and things we’re trying to do in our district and that takes time, it’s not an overnight process.

This year, what are some things you would like parents and students to pay attention to?

I think in terms of students, be active. Take part in the many activities we are able to offer in our district. Get out of your comfort zone. Take some risks. Accept failure. We just had a good discussion with the seniors last week about failure and success. We really feel like failure is OK, it’s not the end of the world. All that is is pushing ourselves out of that comfort zone and being willing to take risks.

In terms of parents, we’ve got to do a better job including parents in our district. I think we’re doing that with our parent advisory committee of about 15-20 parents that take part in that on a monthly basis during the school year. We have opportunities like (speaker) V.J. Smith coming up for parents Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. It’s a good opportunity to bring parents in to see a really good speaker for free. We’ve got to do our part, it’s a two-way street in getting parent involvement.

What kind of changes – physical, policy, procedural, etc. – are expected to occur or have occurred in the district this year?

There’s been minimal changes to policy this year, just housekeeping changes. One change we implemented (Tuesday) would be a change to our tobacco policy and adding e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco devices to that.

Physical changes, obviously the project over at Ely is being wrapped up. We have a few minor things we have to get set up when we’re there, but for the most part that project is done. That entailed a new front door security system. We didn’t want to set it up where it was prison-like, we didn’t want that. So it’s a nice balance between inviting parents in and providing additional safety to our kids. Also the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) updates we’ve made over there have been pretty nice as well. Each classroom now is air-conditioned. The climate in there has made a big difference.

Over at the pre-school (the old art/vocational ag building) we did some work. It’s a four-phase project, we’ve done phases one and two, next year we’ll address the HVAC in that building. Phases one and two included adding a kitchen and putting in walls for two classrooms. It used to be a large, open building.

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