By Lauren Zeugner
MILFORD — About 25 parents and community members came out on a snowy cold night, Monday, Feb. 8, for the second Listen and Learn session hosted by Dr. Stephen Troyer, superintendent of Wawasee Community School Corporation. The second session was held at Milford Elementary School.
Troyer is hosting a series of community meetings to introduce himself to the community, but also to hear what stakeholders have to say about what is working and what needs improvement in the school corporation.
Troyer began by briefly giving his background. He was principal at Milford School. “This was a great introduction to Wawasee,” he said. Prior to that he served as an assistant principal at a high school. He then recently moved to the central office for Wawasee. “The last year or so has been a whirlwind for me, not just with Covid,” he said.
Troyer explained his values, which are, 1) All can grow, meaning students, families and school staff can continue to grow and learn; 2) Integrity matters; 3)Taking care of people, the school district has about 3,000 students and 400 staff; and 4) Focus on success, Wawasee has a duty and obligation to have a strong academic program.
Troyer told the crowd he believes a strong academic program is important to individualized success whether it’s a specific school building, grade level or a student or staff member.
Communication is also important to Troyer. He told the crowd communication with the community, with families and staff is paramount. “We want to establish two way communication, we want to hear from you,” he said.
His other values include instructional leadership, being a leader who is focused on improving the instruction and academic programs the district has to offer, and building and managing great relationships with the business community, area non-profits and even the faith communities. “We have a lot of people our school impacts in the community… We need to manage our relationships with our stakeholders to move Wawasee forward,” he said.
Troyer explained he hopes to take the input gathered from the Listen and Learn sessions and incorporate it into a 5-year strategic plan for Wawasee with the goal being a premier school corporation in northern Indiana.
“It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul which I’m really happy about because it means we’re doing a lot of things right,” Troyer said.
Troyer told the crowd the school district’s biggest strength is its five buildings, the students, their families and staff. “It’s really exciting to see the work that’s been done here the last few years,” he said. He said he wants to build unity within the school district while acknowledging the three elementary schools are in three distinct communities.
The biggest challenge facing the district is dropping enrollment. Troyer noted in 2015 student enrollment was 3,145. In 2020 it was 2,824 and its forecasted enrollment will drop to 2,500 by 2026. “Enrollment dictates school funding period,” Troyer said. “We don’t want to lose those programs that we offer. It’s an issue we’re going to have to look at.”
Troyer then opened the floor up for comments and questions.
One young man, a 2012 alum of Wawasee pointed out test schools for math and reading had fallen well below state levels since he was a student. He noted if the academics aren’t there, parents will pull their children from Wawasee and go elsewhere.
Troyer said where the school district is academically is important and the emphasis needs to be on academic success. At the same time, he noted state testing had changed significantly between 2012 and 2019.
Troyer also clarified his statements regarding enrollment noting school funding is also based on population and the population within the district has also been declining. “School choice is powerful. We have kids in our community that are choosing to go elsewhere and we have kids outside the district who are coming in,” Troyer said.
Vicki Haines suggested school staff receive some customer service type training. She related how when her older daughter was attending Wawasee High School and she had to call one specific secretary, her stomach would be in knots. Her daughter and friends were also scared to deal with this individual. Troyer agreed saying the corporation had to offer great customer service to its families and stakeholders.
Brandon Gall told Troyer he would love to chat with him about why his family chose to homeschool due to Covid. But he also asked Troyer if he knew how many families in the district had chosen to homeschool and was there a plan to encourage them to come back to Wawasee.
Troyer said the issue was something he thought about, but it wasn’t something the corporation had chosen to address in the past. He noted 89 students un-enrolled from July to December 2020 and he wants to change the dynamics.
Another parent brought up the situation with the current athletic director saying the community wants something done. “His salary is egregious considering the allegations and number of allegations leveled against him,” the father said.
“We are hearing that this is important and we hope to provide some clarity soon. We know it’s an important issue for folks,” Troyer said.
When asked if more extensive background checks would help, Troyer said it was more a matter of leadership, putting in building leaders who would hold people accountable and hold high standards.
Another parent with three children, one homeschooled, one in Wawasee and one attending another district, asked about a stronger relationship between the community and the school. He felt some collaboration had been lost between the school and community. He also noted he would like to see students celebrated in a way they currently aren’t.
Another father asked for clarification about unity between the three elementary schools. Troyer explained he wanted them to celebrate their individual communities, but at the same time, they should have the same academic goals and priorities so when the students arrive at the high school they are all on the same page academically.
The next Listen and Learn session will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20 at Wawasee Middle School.