An empty seat in the East Allen County Schools administration building boardroom couldn't be found Monday night during a special meeting of the board.
The board, Superintendent Karyle Green, central office administrators, teachers, principals and members of the public gathered to hear the results of a district climate survey by Daryl Yost. About 60 people packed in the boardroom to hear the presentation.
Yost currently serves as the director of certified technology at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, but was also the superintendent of EACS from 1973-1982.
Yost began his work on the survey in October to “help EACS be the very best possible for the students it serves.”
He said the survey was just that: a survey, and not based on research or statistics.
The survey is the result of 205 focus groups, conferences and “many, many, many emails,” Yost said with a total of 909 participants, the majority of whom were district employees but also included parents and taxpayers.
Yost gave the district commendations that he heard through the survey, including the hard work of instructional coaches, the high regard of English as a second language (ESL) teachers and the welcoming of dispersed Harding High School students.
But Yost also outlined five perceptions of the district that he recommended be addressed, starting with the board, and its misunderstanding of its role as a governing body.
Yost also said central-office administrators are perceived as “negatively confrontational.” He heard complaints that the district doesn't provide adequate time for collaboration or support for the staff to meet administration and state demands.
Another complaint was that the district needed to assess how best to use technology, which Yost said is “probably already being addressed” since the ending of his work, specifically through the district's iPad initiative to put the tablets in the hands of nearly every student.
Those surveyed said the board doesn't represent the district as a whole but its own specific communities, and it confuses its responsibility for governance with the administration's role for managing the district.
“I'm not here to mandate anything,” Yost told the board, who had heard information about the survey during a previous executive session, which was closed to the public. “Not all school districts are as complex as East Allen County Schools.”
Yost recommended the board look into changing the way its members are elected and further board training in its role as a governing body.
Yost said the review of central-office administrators being confrontational “hit (him) the hardest.” He said employees feel “undervalued” by the administration and are confused and frustrated at “the perceived chaos of initiatives” going on throughout the district.
Employees also complained the performance evaluations are focused on meeting state standards instead of improvement. Yost also found there was little confidence in the “transparency or integrity of the central office” particularly Superintendent Karyle Green.
Yost recommended the district listen to the problems and make an effort to fix them and not ignore them.
“The best ideas come from those closest to the work,” he said.
He encouraged re-evaluating the organization and length of the school day to enable collaboration. He also said the staff needed more support and professional development.
In the nearly two-hour presentation, Yost also included other areas the district could improve on, based on survey responses. The survey will be available on the district's website in the coming days.
Green declined comment following the meeting.
Board members discussed the next steps, which will likely be discussed in an upcoming executive session.
“We failed this one,” said board member Stephen Terry. “Perception is reality in East Allen County.”
Member Bill Hartman said the board should begin with itself and move down. He said Green is due for an evaluation.
Chris Baker, a New Haven business owner and board-member hopeful, said he thought the survey was an accurate depiction of the district.
“I want to see how they're going to implement this report,” he said.