Saturday, December 20, 2014

Superintendent hopefuls agree on key issues

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 5/1/2013

They both are assistant superintendents. They both have doctorate degrees in education from Kansas State University.

And they both are hoping to become the next superintendent of Ottawa schools.

They both are assistant superintendents. They both have doctorate degrees in education from Kansas State University.

And they both are hoping to become the next superintendent of Ottawa schools.

Brian Kraus, interim Ottawa superintendent, and Jeanne Stroh, assistant superintendent for Hutchinson schools, were the first two finalists to interview for the Ottawa school district’s top administrative position.

Both candidates stressed the district’s need for a full-time curriculum director.

“If I were hired [as superintendent], I would have an ad in the paper the next day for a curriculum director,” Kraus said Tuesday during a 20-minute interview with local media as part of his day-long interview process.

Kraus, who has been assistant superintendent of human resources for Ottawa schools since July 2008, took over as interim superintendent when Dean Katt resigned March 1, and the board began its search for his successor.

During her interview Monday, Stroh also said hiring a full-time curriculum director would be one of her top priorities.

“A district of this size needs a curriculum director,” Stroh said. “Curriculum is the most important thing we do [as a school district] to prepare our students for college and careers after they graduate [from high school].”

Kraus said the Ottawa district has a good plan in place for instituting new Common Core standards that school districts across the state are implementing. He said the conversion should be complete in Ottawa by the 2014-2015 school year.

The interim superintendent said the district recently had purchased “BuildYourOwnCurriculum,” a curriculum management software that would allow teachers to share lessons among themselves and with teachers across the United States who use the same software.

“If you have nine fifth-grade teachers, and one comes up with a lesson that proves to be very effective, that teacher can share it with the other teachers in the district, and we can share and get [lesson material] from any district in the country that utilizes this software,” Kraus said. “This software also should help us in the conversion to Common Core.”

The Common Core standards will be important for a district like Ottawa, which seems to take in a large number of transfer students each year, he said.

“Algebra II, for example, is not taught the same way in every school district,” Kraus said. “But under Common Core, everyone should be teaching it the same.”

As assistant superintendent in Hutchinson, Stroh said she helped lead her school district’s conversion to Common Core last year. If hired as superintendent, Stroh, who also has served as her district’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support coordinator, said her experience with implementing Common Core would prove beneficial in helping guide Ottawa’s transition.

Other concerns

Stroh also had an opportunity to tour the district’s school buildings Monday and noted a couple of areas of concern.

“The window air conditioning units at Eugene Field are not ideal — they can be distracting when you’re trying to teach,” Stroh said. “I know that from first-hand experience, because we had those window units when I was a [kindergarten] teacher at Riley County.”

Stroh said she understood the district already had made some improvements to Eugene Field, but realized the building still needed additional attention. She also noted the science lab facilities at Ottawa High School could use some upgrades.

“I realize budgets are very tight everywhere, but I think we will see the economy improving in the next couple of years, and more funds will be available to make some facility upgrades,” Stroh said.

Kraus also talked about the need to upgrade the science lab at the high school during his interview. And he too noted the struggles with maintaining the Eugene Field school building. At some point in the future, Kraus said, he would like to see the music, drama and forensics students have a performing arts center at the high school. But he added funds were not currently available to take on such a project.

In developing a vision for the Ottawa school district, Kraus said he thought the plan could be divided into four areas — facilities, personnel, curriculum and technology.

“I feel like we have a solid plan in place for curriculum, and we will be using our technology to institute more one-to-one [teaching] initiatives, which is exciting,” Kraus said. “The one area where I think we still need to focus more attention is our facilities.”

Kraus, who did a study on bond issues for his doctorate degree at K-State, said that one of the driving factors in passing a bond issue was establishing a good line of communication with the community.

“One of the keys to passing a bond issue is to not just communicate with the community when you want money from them,” Kraus said. “You have to keep those lines of communications open at all times, not just when you want something.”

Kraus said he thought one of the strengths he would bring to the table is that of a good communicator.

“If you cannot effectively communicate your vision for the district [to the school board, staff and patrons], you aren’t going to be successful,” he said.

In looking at the district’s facilities, Kraus said it would be important to determine what would be palatable to the community.

“It doesn’t do you any good to propose a bond issue if it doesn’t have any chance of passing,” he said. “You have to work with the community and get patrons’ input up front, and then develop the best course of action.”

Stroh also listed one of her strengths as being a good communicator, and said she is adept at communicating with community members, teachers, administrators and state lawmakers.

Also listing technology as a key to success in education, Stroh said Hutchinson has been successful in implementing one-to-one teaching initiatives to help students’ succeed in the classroom and prepare for future careers.

Educational backgrounds

Stroh and Kraus have extensive backgrounds in education.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in 1982 from Northern Arizona University, Stroh began teaching second grade in Parker, Ariz. She had held several elementary and Title I teaching positions in Arizona, Colorado and Kansas through 1998, when she became principal of a Wamego elementary school. She served in that capacity until 2009, when she was hired as director of elementary education by the Hutchinson school district. She became assistant superintendent for student learning for the Hutchinson district in 2012.

Stroh has master’s and doctorate degrees from K-State and has received training from Harvard University’s National Institute for Urban School Leaders.

Kraus earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science in 1980 from Bethany College in Lindsborg. He began his career in 1980 as an English and behavioral science teacher and coach in Smith Center. He’s also worked as a counselor and coach in the Marion and Eudora school districts and as a high school principal at Colby and Santa Fe Trail before coming to Ottawa in 2008 as assistant superintendent, and now his current stint as interim superintendent.

He also has master’s and doctorate degrees from K-State, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA throughout his secondary education and was valedictorian of his class at Bethany.

Kraus said he is hoping to remove the “interim” from the front of his superintendent title.

“I think I’m a good communicator and administrator, and I think I would have a lot to offer the district — that’s why I’m applying for this position,” Kraus said.

Stroh said she’s not afraid to make the tough decisions.

“I’m impressed with the schools and the community,” she said late Monday afternoon. “With my teaching and administrative experience, I think I would be a good fit for this position.”

The remaining finalist is scheduled to be in Ottawa Monday for the day-long interview process. The school board is not releasing the finalists’ names in advance.

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