Schmidt, board narrow goals

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By Tris DeRoma

For the past two months, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt and the Los Alamos Board of Education have been talking about goals for the coming school year.

Recently, the board gave the superintendent five major goals: 1. Prioritize the superintendent’s Strategic Plan. 2. Increase his personal presence throughout the school district, 3. and 4. Initiate a thorough review of the Central Office and Classified Office and 5. Improve the school district’s long term financial stability.

In his most recent report to the board, Schmidt included a list of 49 smaller goals relating to the five major ones. They included goals such as improving the evaluation process for teachers and administrators, reassessment of the effectiveness of Saturday School and Academic Achievement time, researching salaries in other districts, implementing Master’s degree programs with area colleges and LANL, and developing a cash reserve system that protects the school system from fluctuations in funding.

During his presentation to the board, Schmidt said he realized he included a lot of goals, mentioning that the list was the result of ongoing discussions with the School Board President Jim Hall.

“These are some of the thoughts, not knowing how big this could be,” he told the board. “We are attempting to do a lot of things, when we could really focus on a few things, and really do them well. I’m looking for feedback and guidance from the board... are these the kinds of things you want my administration to focus on during the course of the next year?”

Hall then clarified Schmidt’s intentions, noting that these goals are really just a rough blueprint that would include further details if the board approved the general direction and goals of Schmidt’s to-do list.

Hall also suggested to Schmidt and his administration that the board’s job should be to approve the general direction and goals of the administration, while the administration should concentrate on the details.

“...I think the board can say that yes, these are reasonable action areas, reasonable tasks and we could offer suggestions, but I think the details is what the administrative staff has to sign up for,” Hall said at the meeting. “...I think you (Schmidt) can ask for details from any board member, but ultimately, this has to be the administration’s plan.”

Dr. Kevin Honnell who sits on the Los Alamos School’s “Continuous Improvement Committee,” asked what exactly the administration is looking for when it comes to the five goals. He was particularly interested in goals three and four, review of the Central and Classified offices.

“When all the work’s done, what will have been the purpose of all this; what is the actionable outcome. I want you to think about that,” Honnell said.

Schmidt responded that his goal for everyone in the Central Office is to understand what goals are for his strategic plan, and what role they play in that.

“My concern is, there may be departments that have different levels of commitment,” he told the board. “We want everybody to understand what the overall goal is.” Schmidt said he also had a desire to find out how efficient the Central Office is.

“For example, the board has made it quite clear that I’m not visible enough, can the same thing be said of my staff?” he asked.

As for financial security, Honnell focused on goal 5: “Deploy a strategy that maintains the current level or expands students’ enrollment in an effort to generate funding to maintain or expand educational programs.”

“It seems to me that presuppose an outcome that’s part of an important and even large discussion, and that is what the right enrollment here is,” Honnell said. “...My first thought of reading that was rather go in with the forgone conclusion that we’re going to expand our enrollment, which I take to mean more out-of-district kids, I think we need to assess what is the right size and a sustainable size given the demographics of the county, the trends and the laboratory (LANL) and whether that’s larger, the same or smaller will be open to what the data tells us.”

Schmidt said the ultimate goal is to keep the student population at or around 3,500, even though the population within Los Alamos has been in decline. He also said he is planning on reaching out more to Los Alamos’ home school population in an effort to stabilize those figures.

“In my four years here, I don’t know if I have reached out to the home school population as much as I could have,” Schmidt said, adding that due to recent changes in state law, LAPS is now entitled to funding in proportion to how many home schooled children the district includes in its educational programming.

Honnell also asked of the administration that it take a closer look at the student-to-teacher ratio in the district’s middle school and high school.

“So, in a year from now, we aren’t going back to the elementary schools to ask them to take another hit,” Honnell said.

He also wanted to see a stronger commitment to partnerships with LANL and other community institutions.

“I’d suggest discussing that with the current board officers to gauge board interest in exploring that, and if there is such a thing, consider including that,” Honnell said.

Board member David Foster told the administration that he was excited as well as interested in seeing the final draft, but was also a little concerned with the length of the list of goals Schmidt wanted to accomplish, especially when it came to the superintendent’s “Strategic Plan” imitative. “We’ve been talking about the Strategic Plan for three years now, and I think there are many people in the community that are anxious to see it done,” Foster said.

“I really encourage Gene to take a look at this and somehow prioritize it and perhaps add phases. That way, it doesn’t end up being a wish list that satisfied everything and anything that everyone would like to do, but actually is a list that gets things delivered to the district and the community.”Hall agreed with Honnell and Foster, and went even further when it came to the question of enrollment levels.

“I think that (enrollment levels) should be a subject for our Fall planning session, because I think that is a strategic district issue, about what size of a school district we want to be.”

Hall also said that for the majority of items and goals on the list, the administration should lay out a timeline at what should be done when.

“...I think that it’s less important that you complete every one of these, it’s much more important that you make demonstrable progress toward each of these goals. Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once, so we should use time as a resource,” Hall said.

Schmidt said he will have a more precise and exact schedule of goals for the next board meeting in August.