Guest blogger Dr. Blane McCann began his second superintendency in July 2012 at Westside Community Schools. He was previously superintendent at Shorewood School District (Wis.)
As I transition to Westside Community Schools, K12 Insight accelerates my ability to proactively get to know and understand the district and for the district to get to know me. It’s two-way communication. I can’t just wait for issues to come up, so I’ve been interviewing board members and administrators, key teachers and key communicators in the community to hear their perceptions of the district. That’s my biggest challenge — to understand the culture and the community’s perception of its schools.
Both of the previous Westside superintendents attended school in the district and then returned to work in the district. The unknown is always risky, so I’m trying to make sure people know who I am. I sent a message to parents following every visit I made leading up to my July start date. And, in June, the Omaha World-Herald published an op-ed, which K12 Insight helped me craft, introducing myself to the community. The op-ed was really important as it set a tone of transparent communication that is two-way, involving internal and external stakeholders. I heard nothing but positive feedback — the community appreciated getting to know me on a personal level and now sees me as someone who came in talking about transparency and is committed to that type of leadership.
I believe that communities across this country are ready for transparency and, toward that end, I’ve created a key communicator group, comprised of parents and business leaders. I intend to meet with them quarterly to discuss the direction of the district and to make sure they feel connected and to solicit their insight(s) regarding the direction of the district. While Westside has been a K12 Insight client for years, I want to sit down with folks here and talk about how we can better use the service for more two-way communication and the best way(s) to inform our constituents.
My K12 Insight Relationship Manager and I worked on adapting the District Climate Survey into more of a Transition Survey, as a way to reach out and identify the strengths and challenges going forward. We plan to launch the survey in September, and the pre-survey communication piece will explain what I want to hear from the community. I want to be transparent and assure them that I will follow up with results and action steps. It shows the community that I’m serious about getting to know them.
What I gained from working with K12 Insight at Shorewood is its expert facility with analyzing the data — they do it better than anyone else. Anyone can buy a database and dump data in, but K12 Insight provides a valuable service in objectively recommending areas we should focus on. Then we can put context around those issues. I used to have surveys sitting on my desk for weeks, but K12 Insight’s turnaround time allows us to quickly share results with the community. The empirical research is done for us, and then we can look at trends over time. For me, that’s the biggest benefit.
I’m still learning the strengths and challenges facing the Westside Community Schools, but I’m committed to outreach, committed to getting all the voices to the table so we can learn how the district works and is perceived. It’s one thing to have two-way communication, but you must actually listen. I’ve often said if you’re going to invite people to the table and ask for their input, then you have to listen to their ideas, but not necessarily use their ideas. Free speech isn’t about just what I want to hear. Being a good listener is one of the keys to successful leadership.