By Tim Ashley
SYRACUSE — Opening up the channels of communication with the public and internally was a common topic of the third “Listen and Learn” meeting held by Dr. Steve Troyer, superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation, Saturday morning, Feb. 20, in the cafeteria of Wawasee Middle School. A small group of about 15 people, several of them school administrators, came to the meeting.
Troyer held the town hall style meetings previously at Wawasee High School and Milford School and the fourth and final meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, at North Webster Elementary School.
Troyer gave some background information on himself and noted values he wants to emphasize are all students and staff can grow, integrity matters, taking care of people, focusing on success and communication is key. He said communication is something he has heard about repeatedly in the meetings.
“We want to be better at communicating and to grow,” he said.
Priorities include instructional leadership, building and maintaining relationships and strong strategic planning. “Strategic planning is something I feel like we need to grow in and have not done really well at,” he emphasized.
Troyer said part of his vision for the school corporation is becoming a premier school corporation in northern Indiana. “I absolutely want us to become a premier school corporation,” he noted, saying the use of professional learning communities will move Wawasee toward that objective.
His goals are to listen and learn, strengthen the school board’s relationship with the superintendent, engage in the Wawasee community and develop a systematic process of communication. He said more works needs to be done on how the school corporation responds to information coming in from the public.
“We do pretty well at getting information out, though I can’t say we are perfect at it,” he said, “but we can grow on getting information back in.”
Troyer said the greatest strength of the school corporation is its five school buildings. “We have great people and staff at Wawasee,” he said.
The biggest challenge the school corporation faces is declining enrollment numbers. Each of the last six years, enrollment has decreased.
He believes changing demographics is part of the problem, but more importantly students and families are choosing not to attend school at a Wawasee school. “We need to take a solid look at that and do it pretty quickly,” he said.
During public comments Dave Stookey, a long time coach of track and cross country at Wawasee High School, said he believes having a strong athletic program ties in with being a strong school corporation. “Our athletic program has been less competitive in recent years,” he said, noting as an example the photos in the hallways of the high school more often show teams from several years ago winning sectional tournaments.
Stookey said it is difficult to compete against schools with larger numbers, some of which are more than double the size of Wawasee. He feels a committee needs to be formed to do a comprehensive study of Wawasee athletics.
Troyer said “we will be taking a look at athletics because it makes sense to do that now.” Later he responded to a comment about athletics by saying he wants the entire school corporation to be stronger, just not athletics.
Don Bokhart, school board president, asked Troyer what it means to be a premier school corporation. Troyer said it involves many aspects and he started by saying he wants to see improvement in academics. He feels the letter grades issued to schools by the Indiana Department of Education “are not reflective of where we are really at and the work our teachers and staff are doing.”
He also noted more work needs to be done in addressing the social and emotional learning needs of students and the perspective on customer service needs to change. “We need to look at that (customer service) more, we have some work to do,” he said.
Rob Fisher, school board member, asked what will happen with two way communication when this series of meetings is finished. Troyer said it is only the beginning. He wants the public to have more chances to give feedback.
He added improvement is needed on social media interactions and it would also probably be good to have someone on staff who can focus on communication issues.
Troyer also said an open school board work session will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 3, likely in the high school auditorium though that has not been confirmed yet. He will present his “state of the school” report to the school board at the meeting. An open work session, he said, would at least give the public a chance to see the school board interacting with him and other administrators.
A question was posed about AP and dual credit courses at the high school and if they are really preparing students for college. Troyer said part of the problem is the administration at the high school is still fairly new, but they are trying new ideas such as the AP TIP-IN program, which is designed to make the AP program “more robust.”
Another question was asked about talking to the students at the high school and finding out why they are going to other schools instead of Wawasee. Troyer said it is a real issue to him and “we have never asked why.”
He said there about 250 students living in the Wawasee district attending school outside it, but about 150 are coming in from other districts.