UPDATE: Haws is exclusively negotiating a contract with Racine Unified and has dropped out of the interview process for other positions she was interviewing for, according to a story in the Journal Times.
Original story: Lolli Haws, candidate for Racine Unified superintendent, told community members she was living the good life in Arlington, VA, when she felt called to jump into the urban morass of the District of Columbia School District.
"I was with the Arlington school district for six years, but I felt a moral outrage at what was happening just across the river," she said. "I felt called to try and make a difference."
So, that's what Haws did. She took a position with the DCSD and took the reins of a cluster of 13 schools, primarily elementary, and tried to turn things around. Haws said she'll bring that same kind of focus to RUSD if chosen to be the district's new superintendent.
"There are already good things happening here, great things," Haws continued. "So how do we build on that success to make sure every child crosses the stage after 12th grade?"
Community members got to know Haws a little bit Tuesday night during an hour-long Q&A session at Unified's central office building at 3109 Mt. Pleasant Street. Residents submitted questions and Gary Ray, president of Ray and Associates, the executive search firm who helped connect the district with Haws, did the asking.
School Board President Dennis Wiser sent out a statement Wednesday confirming the district has entered negotiations with Haws to bring her to Racine.
"The RUSD Board of Education is entering into contract negotiations with Dr. Lolli Haws for the purpose of hiring her as Superintendent of the Racine Unified School District," he wrote. "It is anticipated that the negotiations will take several weeks."
Here is how Haws said she would address three key areas:
There is no one answer, she said, because children are so different.
“But we need to start with good data that includes some information about individuals," she said. "Maybe this kid doesn't have any family support and another child can't read."
Intervention services will be key, she said, but so will approaching the gap from a slightly different angle.
Separating out children who need to slow down actually puts them further behind, she said, and it is better to accelerate their program. She suggested strategies like having teachers talk about upcoming lessons so students are familiar with terms and phrases when the unit starts.
"It gets kids thinking ahead so when they hear these words and phrases during the lessons, they can say, oh, yeah, I remember these things," Haws said. "And it really does work."
Family engagement is another important aspect. Haws said her experience with family engagement in her schools is probably different than the definition people may have. She said every parent loves their child and wants them to succeed, but some need better tools to help their children.
But not all parents can volunteer at the book fair or in a classroom, she said, so just like with the accelerated classroom model, they have an accelerated parent program, too.
"So instead of having a normal parent-teacher conference where a lot of time is spent on what's already done, the teacher outlines what's coming in the next six weeks." Parents are given resources like games or hand-outs that Haws said help them better engage in their children's education.
Working with the budget
Haws believes two sides of the same coin waste the most money. First, the belief that throwing money at a problem fixes it. Instead, she says districts should set priorities and use funds wisely. The second problem is jumping from one big idea to the next, without proper vetting and evaluation of the programs that were used.
"Fixing problems sometimes takes no money at all, but you have to set really astute priorities to use money wisely and for the best interests of students," Haws said.
Instead of wanting to improve education with pricey programs and then abandoning them for something newer when they don’t work quickly, she said it is important to find out if the program you thought would work is really being used in the manner in which it was designed.
She gave an example of the Reading 180 program, saying teachers hadn’t seen improvement and wanted to try something new. When they looked, they discovered the program was inhibited by the 47-minute reading class period, which teachers were using instead of the 70-90 minutes per day recommended in the program’s instructions. When they adjusted, she said, “Guess what happened? Reading scores went up just as they were supposed to do. It’s important to do the research on what’s working and then do it with fidelity.”
Racine Unified's image problem
"Perception is everything," Haws said about how she would evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the district. "It's how we judge quality that matters."
And that means reaching beyond test scores, she said to mutters of "amen" from some in the audience.
"We all know the success of a school or a district is so much more than test scores," Haws stated. "It's about surveying the community and engaging with constituent groups to provide schools that reflect the values and will of the community."
She said we have really good things going on in our schools and even better things on the horizon, but the community needs to believe that and then get that perception out into the world.
"When you have pride in your schools, the word gets out and people move here, get jobs here, buy things," she said. "And that makes more people move here, buy homes, get jobs."
Public schools are a reflection of the community, Haws said repeatedly during the forum.
"Your schools reflect your values, priorities and the dreams you have for your children," she stated.
In the end, Haws said taking the superintendent's seat in Unified is not a step on her career march up the education ladder.
"I am not in a trajectory path to move up, I want to be here to make a difference," she said.