In the community, Schools

Nyssa report outlines what community wants in superintendent

Patrons of the Nyssa School District want a superintendent who is invested in the community, holds themselves and others accountable and knows how to lead and bring people together.

These qualities were outlined in a 40-page stakeholder report by McPherson & Jacobsen, a Nebraska search firm hired by the Nyssa School Board to help hire a new superintendent. A hiring decision is expected by March 15.

Parents, district employees and students were asked through an online survey and focus groups last month to identify the best things about the school district and the community, what challenges and issues face a new superintendent and what qualities and characteristics they want the superintendent to possess.

Among the best things about the district and community is how closely-knit the people are and how they look out for one another, the participants told the search firm. Nonetheless, the focus group noted that sometimes a divide exists between the farmers and town people.

Those in focus groups also told the search firm that with a small, interconnected community, there are some who have a “feeling of entitlement.” Some of those people, the participants said, are district staffers, parents and residents.

Some participants said a new superintendent will need to stand up for their convictions and make a decision, explain the rationale behind decisions, and not “be swayed.”

Parents and Nyssa residents told the search firm another one of the Nyssa’s strengths is its diversity. The participants told the search firm the student population is 70% Latino. The parents and residents told the firm that there are “not many racial slurs.”

Some participants feel the dual language program, which is primarily a program for Hispanic students who are building academic skills in their native language, are concerned those students are given more attention. Parents praised the program and said the program was a “good thing,” however, “it still needs some improvement.” They told the firm the program had not been evaluated.

Meanwhile, another parent wrote that they wanted to have a superintendent who will research and apply for grants for “all” students. According to this parent, the district has “these migrant funds that only service migrants.”

The district’s migrant funding allows for the children of migrant workers to attend summer school, preschool and other supplemental programs at no cost to ensure they get a complete education while moving from place to place.

The parent said there are other kids who struggle, and many don’t come from families that can afford to pay the extra $300 to attend summer classes or even the elementary school summer program for $200.

A chief concern among each of the focus groups was the pending resolution of the state’s years-long investigation into the district’s migrant program. A state report found 19 current and past employees improperly had 58 children in the program receiving services they weren’t eligible for. Nyssa lost $350,000 in federal funding. The board also upped last year’s legal budget to $160,000 to navigate the legal fallout, double what the district spent last year, according to Crystal Rideau, Nyssa’s business manager.

The Oregon Department of Education is awaiting the findings of an audit by the state Department of Justice. The audit aims to establish a full accounting of how the program was managed.

Until then, parents and community members told the search firm that “the migrant program issue is not going away.” Dubbed a “fiasco,” participants said it hurt the reputation of the district and frayed the trust of the Latin community.

Nonetheless, participants from each group commented on how much the migrant program issues have improved and trust is being restored. Some employees pointed out that in the months that Ryan Hawkins has been the interim superintendent, he has “brought things together,” but the search for a permanent superintendent has “created uncertainty.”

Hawkins will be among candidates considered for the permanent post. Those employees “worry about another transition” and said the previous superintendent created “many issues.”

Under Hawkins, there is a “good energy” and “strong support,” participants told the researchers. One of the challenges an outside superintendent would face, according to the staff, is a lack of trust. Outsiders “have not had great luck in the past,” they were quoted as saying. “Outsiders do not work.”

If the board hires a superintendent from the outside, the employees said, that person would need to learn about the community and what it values. It’s important that the superintendent understands a rural community and the value of creating connections with kids and the community to build a solid base, the participants said.

The employees added that the ideal candidate needs to be someone who values input and can have difficult conversations and not hold it against someone.

Teachers and parents alike noted the communication from the top has not been good and there needs to be more attention on student discipline concerns. One parent wrote in an online survey that bullying in the district has yet to be addressed and their kids were victims.

The students told the search firm they want a superintendent with the “strength to change something that’s wrong.”

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