SCNUD superintendent candidate interviews

CRITERIA 1: How would you go about developing and communicating a three- to five-year strategic budgetary plan for our school district?

Q1: Tell us about yourself and why you are interested in becoming the next superintendent of South Central Unified #5.

OTERO—She grew up in Superior before heading to Gunninson, CO, to study business. Eventually she moved back to Nebraska where she served as an assistant superintendent at a Lexington school, and worked at the Lexington Public Schools from 1998 through 2011. For the past seven years, she has served as the superintendent at Centura Public Schools. Otero has a Specialist Degree from the University of Nebraska-Kearney; an Assessment Certification from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and a Masters of Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Texas in El Paso. Otero said she was excited to apply for the SCUD superintendent job because of the Career Pathways Program that is being constructed, but also because she enjoys the location, as she is closer to her home roots.

DEFRANK—Originally from Pittsburg, he started out in the restaurant business before he decided he wanted more time with his family, and miss less holidays. Afterward, he went back to school for teaching, focusing on working with kids. He said his interest in the district came from it being financially solid, communities backing it, and the fact that the district is on the cutting edge of education with the Career Pathways Program.

MEYER—Currently serving as the superintendent at Snyder-Scribner, she has also served as a curriculum director for 10 schools. She started as an elementary teacher at Battle Creek for fifth and sixth grade. She heard about the forward and progressive thinking at SCUD and believes pathways are a good thing for education. “Every kid is good at something so it’s the job of the teachers to figure out what that is.”

Q2: How would you go about developing and communicating a three- to five-year strategic budgetary plan for our school district?

OTERO—She said currently at Centura she and certain staff members do a walk-about of the facilities and see where each facility is at. From there, items are ranked, starting with the most important item to accomplish. Otero said at Centura the former track was dug up and a new one put in, along with some new stadium seats. The project was paid for through the special building fund, no bonds included. Having a list and knowing what we can take care of is helpful, as well as having the input of several people, she said.

DEFRANK—He said he does not have much in terms of budget experience, and has been on the shoestring budget system where he makes a dollar stretch and make it work. He added that maximizing your reserves and having a great rotation with everything, while keeping the student’s best interest into account, is a solid foundation to go from. “You base your budget off the previous year and plan for the worst,” he said.

MEYER—She is in charge of creating the budge for S-S currently. Meyer said she talks with boards on a strategic plan, earmarking money for bigger projects and needs. They look at opportunities for students and she is always communicating with the school board about the budget. She added that they should have a reserve account to fall back on, if necessary, and that there should be documentation available for the public to see how the district is spending money.

Q3: Describe your budgeting process and who you involve in it.

OTERO—If a school district has someone take the time to come into the school(s) and make recommendations then the district should take those recommendations into consideration. She added that the district would look at the school improvement process and the hierchy of building improvement needs. Additionally, in the budgetary process, Otero said she would look at instructional material that needs to be replaced, if any. Involved in the process would be a facilities list, administrative team, and transportation people.

DEFRANK—Listen to what the staff has to say in how the budget is spent. “A lot of the teachers don’t want that responsibility, they just come and say this is what they need. Teachers always go cheaper because they care about the kids and know money is short, but I also know areas where I know we’re OK to spend a little more.”

MEYER—She said she would have a meeting with the school board and figure out a strategic plan. Figuring out payroll and using staff efficiently and officially would be a big part of that planning. Meyer said meeting strategic needs is important and then in early September setting a levy with the board.

Q4: What is your experience in facility planning and management of building construction projects?

OTERO—Throughout her many positions in the school system she said she has learned updating techniques for a school. She also learned how the budget works and knows a district cannot go over the set budget, but also how to get the best possible outcome with a set budget on a project.

DEFRANK—While he does not have much experience in this area, he said he is in touch with several people who are builders. DeFrank said in talking with people who have already accomplished a building construction project he can learn from their experiences.

MEYER—When she arrived at S-S, the school had fire code issues. The district attempted to bond it but it failed, and they were back to square one. There was a second building behind the main school building that was not being used. With in-house help and a small lease, the district was able to remodel the second building into a six-room school house that allowed them to get out of the main 1920s school building and away from fire code issues.

Q5: What have you done in your current or previous roles to improve efficiency within your staffing plan and ensure consistent allocation of resources to all within your district?

OTERO—“Whenever you’re in education, people say it moves forward slowly, but when you look back and go over the programs, everything moves rapidly,” she said. At Lexington, there is a program where she makes sure there were staff with the skills to help students. “Sometimes you don’t know who is going to move into the district,” Otero said. On the special education side of things, Otero said they sometimes had to make changes in the staff to accommodate the needs of a child.

MEYER—Most of her staff wears one hat. As a district, they are always making sure classes are full of students, and if a class has no students signed up, then that teacher takes on a new role for that class period. They make sure teachers are always busy.

CRITERIA 2: Forward thinking, creative instructional leader that can maximize our emphasis on career pathways while also emphasizing teaching and learning throughout preK-12th grade areas.

Q6: What do you accept as evidence that teachers are effectively teaching and students are effectively learning?

OTERO—“It doesn’t matter what grade or class, one of the things I’ve learned is that in order to ensure that students are learning is that it needs to be strategic,” she said. She continued, saying instructors need to come up with key concepts and have the same expectations for all students in a grade throughout the district. Using the knowledge of a teacher and having them collaborate with one another is a good way to keep teachers learning and helping their students learning. Keeping in the mind the state standards can serve as a basis as to what a student needs to learn by the end of the year. Don’t give students permission to forget things. Students are told to study for this test and that test, but once the test is over the students forget about the information. Giving the students assessments throughout the year on information they’ve already learned makes them review and absorb a subject and its information.

DEFRANK—“The best way to find out if a student learned anything in a class is to go ask the student. If the student can relay the information then the teacher is doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. If the student isn’t retain the information, then he would talk to other students to see if the teacher needs to relay the information in a different way, or if just one students isn’t understand/paying attention/etc.

MEYER—Students should not be defined by how they do on one test, such as the state standards. Students need a more personalize learning where they are offered different pathways to find something that they’re interested in. This will drive work ethic and responsibility on how to manage their time and get into the right classes and accomplishing what they need to. “A portfolio is more effective than a test grade,” she said. “Adults in the building are helping the kids shine in something they have skills for. Help them find their niche.”

Q7: Describe for us how involved you are in curriculum, instruction, and assessment in your current job and what do you see your role being in these important areas if you come to South Central Unified #5.

OTERO—She said she is heavily involved. Otero added that she doesn’t believe in dumping something out and starting again if the something isn’t completely working. Instead, she gives that something a year to either turn into something new or build something up again.

DEFRANK—Staff is brought in to help with curriculum to get different perspectives, and he relies on experts for this. DeFrank added that asking the students is necessary in what they want to take. There needs to be a balance of how many times the students are assessed because eventually the kids get tired of it and don’t want to try anymore. Working with kids and making sure you’re focused on their best effort is necessary.

MEYER—She serves as the assessment coordinator and curriculum director. She focuses on NeSA and new tests in order to give students the opportunity to know what will be on that test. Meyer added that she looks at everything under the school improvement umbrella, making sure everything is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

Q8: What are your experiences with preK-fifth grade curriculum and instruction? How will you ensure you provide the necessary leadership to our elementary so they can continue to improve and prosper?

OTERO—Find out the rotation for instructional material and support content areas for elementary teachers.

DEFRANK—“Sometimes we put too much on the younger ones,” He said. “We need put more focus on building foundations in play, getting along, math, reading…don’t rush the kids.” DeFrank added that connecting elementary kids in programs with high schoolers. Plant seeds by making those connections.

MEYER—“It’s important to do a lot of foundational skills so that students can be successful during the rest of their educational career,” she said. “The curriculum needs to reflect that.” Meyer added that teachings and interventions tie into foundational skills and well-rounded schedule. Having a 90-minute reading block should done with fidelity and consistency, with few distractions.

Q9: what do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for our exciting venture into expanding career pathways?

OTERO—Having CAPS is great; it’s a great opportunity and not every community will be able to create a program like this. She suggested welcoming other students from other school districts for students who don’t get the same kinds of opportunities. Another item she discussed was applied learning for core classes. “Whatever is being taught in CAPS are going to have to be as rigorous as being taught in regular class; those standards/skills will have to be the same across the board,” Otero said.

DEFRANK—Opportunity and challenges are the same thing and that’s what interested him in applying. There’s opportunity with NCAPS to grow the surrounding towns. Getting more projects and learning into the communities is how everything would tie together. Building foundations and helping to stable the towns and keep them thriving is a challenge—how do you connect al of the towns?

MEYER—Help kids see that they can be successful in the college course and understand their opportunities. “The challenge is keeping some of those kids excited in that venture…keep it exciting for them.” She continued with discussion on understanding that some kids don’t want to go to a four-year college, and the district also needs to recognize and help the students who only want to go to a two-year college or even go straight into the workforce after graduation.

CRITERIA 3: A strong, confident leader with integrity and a great work ethic that has high expectations for themselves, staff, and students.

Q10: Tell us about a program, initiative, school building, or school district that you’ve helped take from “good” to “great.” What are your strategies for getting an organization to “the next level?”

OTERO—Training by skill level and getting teachers to train other teachers on items they’ve learned.

DEFRANK—When he arrived at the school he is principal of now in Grand Island, the staff didn’t trust anyone at the central office, the administration, or really anyone. He started giving ideas out to the staff but no one was taking the ideas, so DeFrank asked the staff what they wanted done. He figured they had been there a long while and would know the school better than he would. So he worked with the staff on their ideas and got things done, establishing trust along the way. He then told staff that taking the students out of the building would reduce some of the behavioral issues he had witnessed, and at first the staff was hesitant on this. DeFrank said it was good for the students to know that they had a trusted, reliable group of people behind them, and eventually the students were taken on a field trip, which he said went well. They’ve seen higher graduation rates since then.

Q11: What will you expect of your principals and teachers and how will you ensure those expectations are met?

OTERO—First and foremost she said having a positive relationship with the students. “You can have the most skills in an area, but if you don’t have a relationship in a positive manner, then it doesn’t matter what skills you have.” She added, “I expect principals to know student’s names and know where they’re at academically, and how to help students succeed and work to enrich them.” If the principals and teachers need something done Otero said she expects them to come to her and have her help them figure out how to accomplish it. Although she said harmony is her preferred way to go, she said she has let teachers go due to not meeting her expectations or not doing well for the students.

DEFRANK—He said he talks to people to get to know them, and said “if you give teachers and administrators very clear expectations and goals then the money will pay off. The teachers are working hard when they’re with the kids; when the kids are there it’s 110 percent focused on the kids.”

MEYER—“I’m a rule follower,” she said “Principals have jobs to do—I don’t want to micromanage them—but they [principals] need to be well-versed in different learning strategies to give to teachers to help students become better learners…principals as leaders of learning help teachers be more flexible.”

Q12: What are your expectations of student behavior? How will you ensure that we provide an organized and disciplined learning climate in all buildings?

OTERO—Make sure to have a collaboration between students to increase academic achievement. Have a disciplined framework, but it will look different at each grade level. She added that she would see what behaviors are occurring. Usually she gives a student a warning, before calling the parents and then possibly setting up a meeting, if needed

DEFRANK—He has clear expectations—he doesn’t put up with cussing at teachers or bullying others. Students need to have respect for others and be kind to them. DeFrank added that making sure to build a positive relationship with the students can help keep those expectations into place.

MEYER—She has a high bar of expectation for students. She makes sure everyone is on the same page with the behavior plan. Meyer added that making sure the kids are continuously busy keeps them from getting into trouble. Teachers should correct poor behavior when they see it instead of ignoring it. Mentoring young teachers that they can say “no” is also a necessary step toward student behavior.

Q13: Tell us about a time that you have had to motivate an employee. What strategies did you use and what was the outcome?

OTERO—She had an employee on the tech side of things and had a bad attitude and wasn’t good to work with for anyone. Otero said the employee had a tremendous amount of skills about technology, so they moved her from the tech side to the curriculum and the employee became in charge of powerschool across the district. Having that responsibility changed her outlook on items, and she has a better attitude and is easier to work with.

DEFRANK—A staff member had been moved from an Elementary ELL Program and moved to an alternative program, where she was miserable. She didn’t have a great attitude, but he saw it was because she didn’t enjoy what she was doing. So he worked with her on projects and after a while got the district to allow her to go into elementary classrooms and teach a class. It’s a two-year plan but she has since taken on more responsibility and is enjoying her work more.

MEYER—Good leaders lead by doing and mentoring and modeling the good behaviors and expectations, she said. When there is an employee that isn’t working up to that satisfaction, she starts with a conversation, before motivating and giving ideas on how to reach those expectations. Meyer explained that the last Friday of the month the school does a Shoutout Friday to recognize certain teachers during the month, to say thank you for doing their best and reaching high.

Q14: Describe a typical work day in your current job for us.

OTERO—It depends on what’s going on, but she gets to school early to answer emails or make phone calls. At 8 a.m., she greets kids coming in. Afterward, she’ll sometimes sign bills or head to Ord for school events. Other time’s she is catching up on items and see what students are doing in their classes. Otero said she is very visual and always has a mental list to accomplish each day.

DEFRANK—Due to illnesses, he hasn’t had a full crew since November, so he checks to see if any staff are going to be gone, and then looks to see if there are any students he needs to pick up (he explained their school has a system where staff can pick a student up who does not have means of transportation). From there, he has purposeful meetings with staff, constantly works with the students, and then meets with the middle school staff too.

MEYER—She gets to school at about 7:20 and checks emails. She then goes to monitor the elementary students in the commons area and then meets with the principal to make sure they are on the same page for the day. Meyer said she has a checklist to get done, including a five-minute walk-thru on iPads, going to two classrooms a day and working with students on iPads. In the afternoon she is working on paperwork and interacting with the kids.

CRITERIA 4: A community-minded leader that is a strong communicator and accessible/approachable in all of our communities who is able to positively promote our school district.

Q15: How do you establish an atmosphere of trust along with open and honest communication with all stakeholders in your school district?

OTERO—Just being in the communities as much as possible seems to be helpful. Joining organizations in one community or eating at a certain restaurant in another community, and trying to be available often is a step toward accomplishing that. She added that another way is to simply have conversations with people; update the website often; and give updates to the staff on Fridays on where the school and its students are at.

DEFRANK—He said it takes time to build trust because you have to figure out how to do that within the district. You have to learn the strengths and challenges, and how to fix the challenges. You have to keep your mouth shut and your ears open and learn about the communities by just listening to the people. He added that going to community meetings, talking up the district to everyone, and get projects up and running is another option.

MEYER—Communication is always one of the biggest problems people have, so Meyer said the best thing she could do is talk to people face-to-face. While she does communicate with people through emails or text messages, establishing trust with people and communities is best done in person. It’s important to see the administrator outside of school; however, she said it’s also important to bring people to the school. Meyer added having quarterly meetings with people to show what the district is doing and to let them know the why’s for everything is another way.

Q16: What ways can you, as our superintendent, be a positive ambassador for our school district? How involved do you get in your current community and what would you do here throughout all of our communities?

OTERO—Getting out in the communities and representing the district that way is a good way to be where people don’t expect a superintendent to be. She said attending the county fair or community events—even serving on a county board position—is a way to get information about the district to the communities.

DEFRANK—“Twenty-four/seven, 365 get out there and promote, promote, promote. Get kids involved. When kids are doing good things they’re excited then everyone is happy.”

MEYER—Taking kids out and participating in community service is a good start. “There’s ways to get out to other communities and show that there is a positive relationship with students and the school—being a part of the church or part of a club…living in the district where they work.”

Q17: Describe the communication strategies you would use with the board, teachers, and administrative team.

OTERO—She said she would elude pertinent information to the school board and keep them informed. She added using tools such as evaluations and even social media for the school district.

DEFRANK—He makes sure to be honest and open and tells the staff what they need to hear. But he also wants the staff to do the same thing. “I don’t want to hear what they think I want to hear. I want to hear what I need to hear.” He said using Google hangouts to communicate with staff while possibly using social media with the parents are options.

MEYER—She said she’d have face-to-face meetings, send emails, and even discuss with the staff about what happened at the board meeting. Social media does have its place, as does the district website. She gave the example that Scribner-Snyder School has an app that keeps the staff and parents up-to-date.

CRITERIA 5: A collaborative leader that is able to energize and unite staff members, students, and stakeholders throughout all communities.

Q18: How would you go about unifying and building a team-like atmosphere here throughout the entire district?

DEFRANK—The students he spoke with said they’d like more opportunities to work with students from each school. He said with the CAPS Program the district has the mechanism to bring people together.

MEYER—She said they need to do more items within the staff and do some professional development. Get the students from each school to unify more, but also unify the staff and make sure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal. A common goal would make everything easier.

Q19: In what ways will you involve parents and patrons from all of our communities?

OTERO—Establish a strategic plan and show the patrons where the school is going and how they’re going to accomplish it.

DEFRANK—Go out and about and talk to people. “You have to be available; people most often will not come out to a board meeting or to the superintendent’s office, but they’ll talk to you at a county fair or a community event.”

MEYER—“Inviting everyone community in.” No matter what the district is doing all of the communities need to be invited to the table. People want to know the “why” because it deals with the kids. Inviting members of the community into what the district is doing will help others be apart of that “why.”

Q20: What strategies would you use to make sure you are accessible and approachable for students in all of our buildings?

OTERO—Be there in the morning when students are arriving and greet them. She also said figuring out a schedule and make sure to be in the building so many times during a week and stick to that schedule.

DEFRANK—Go out and about and talk to people, while making sure he is available.

MEYER—Have an open door policy so students and staff can come in. She added that the superintendent needs to be present and attend to the students, staff, and their matters. “You need to have conversations and build relationships with the students. That shows those students that you care about them and what happens to them,” Meyer said.

MISCELLANOUS:

Q21: What did you do to prepare for this interview? What is something you have learned about our school district that surprised you?

OTERO—She looked at the school’s website and test results from previous years. She also talked with people in the area and did a lot of reading on the district, along with looked at the webcam of the construction. Additionally, she looked at the levy, budget, and projections.

DEFRANK—He and his wife drove around the district, stopping in the towns and talking to people. They went to Lawrence and Fairfield; stopped in Clay Center for a community vitality meeting; and went to Edgar and talked with a couple of business owners.

MEYER—She talked to people and looked at the district website and test scores. What surprised her is that not more people know about the pathways. She said possibly highlight the CAPS Program on the website could be a huge marketing tool for the district.

Q22: What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from “work”?

OTERO—She goes a two-mile walk everyday with her dogs, spends time with her kids and attends their activities, and when she has a chance she enjoys scrapbooking.

DEFRANK—He goes backroad traveling with his wife; renovates old houses; explores new towns; and visits kids.

MEYER—She has two kids so she attends their activities and spends time with them. Traditionally if she is not doing something for work she is doing something with her kids.

Q23: What strategies would you use to promote our NCAPS Program to surrounding schools?

OTERO—She doesn’t believe in reinventing the wheel, so she will use contacts around the state to help her out, using their expertise to get the word out.

DEFRANK— Once they [patrons] see the results of the projects completed, such as NCAPS, that’s what’s going to sell it, he said. “Promote when going out to businesses, but also invite businesses in.”

MEYER—Using graphic design students to create videos of the construction and what students are currently doing is a way to get the word out. Using social media and the school’s website is another tool possible. “Intertwine the kids with it and make it much more personable.”

Q24: Tell us about a difficult situation you have had to handle recently. What was the outcome?

OTERO—In the past few years they’ve had a student pass away and now they have one in intensive care. “We’ve had things come up and had a crisis team come in with a crisis plan. We talked about the funeral and decided to maintain a normal school day because there will be students who need a normal school day. They told us you’ll have 70 percent of students in school and 30 percent gone,” she said. For this funeral, 18 staff members wanted to attend, but the school didn’t have enough substitutes to accommodate all of the empty spots, so they decided to determine what staff was going to attend the funeral to support the students, while the others stayed at the school to teach the students in attendance. “No matter what happens you need to be able to react the same way each and every time.”

DEFRANK—There was this one student who was supposed to graduate but wasn’t on his way to doing so due to sleeping a lot in classing and not working on class work. The student was talking a Chinese course at GISH and one day disappeared an hour before he was to attend the class. DeFrank had several people on the lookout for him, and come to find out that the student left campus to get coffee before heading to classes. Although everything worked out in the end and the student was safe, DeFrank said he had a talk with the student about telling the school where he was going and when he was leaving for class.

MEYER—Recently an employee was put on administrative leave. They were well-liked but it was what was best for students.

Q25: What questions do you have for the Board of Education members about the position?

OTERO—What software does the board use for negotiations? (SCUD—Northstar). Do you work in the committee structure? (SCUD—Yes, there are three from Lawrence-Nelson and three from Sandy Creek on the committees). What is the board member longevity? (SCUD—Many of the members have been on the board exceeding 10 years; however, there are younger members who have served for five years or less).

DEFRANK—“Thank you for this opportunity. The candidate you picked were great, solid choices. You have a cutting edge district—there’s challenges but you can overcome them.” He reiterated that he is not much into the financial side of the being a superintendent; however, it’s a skill he believes he can learn, especially since he has a strong support system behind him. His added that his strengths are connecting people, being flexible, and getting kids out into the community.

MEYER—What do you look for most in a superintendent? (SCUD—Filling up the NCAPS Program with kids, but also getting those same kids to come back to the area and grow the communities. In that same notion, having several conversations on how to promote the program, while also continuing to work on building partnerships with businesses. Making sure the elementary is included the program any way they can).

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