38 MINS

EPISODE 11: Randy Harris on Training Exceptional Leaders in Your Schools

October 09, 2017

Subscribe on iTunes

Today I’m talking with Randy Harris, who has been the Huntington County Community School Superintendent since August 2015.

Huntington County Community School serves all of Huntington County in Northern Indiana, including eight different communities with eleven schools and over 5000 students.

Since taking office, Randy has worked hard to keep student and teacher achievement high and focus on how to best allocate district resources going forward.

In our chat, we’ll cover how Randy maintains a high-level teacher-training program, what community considerations he’s balancing while developing a redistricting plan, and how he prioritizes the decisions that will have maximum impact on his district.

If you’re looking for some practical advice on balancing multiple district improvement projects, then you’re in the right place.

Topics covered:

  • (00:56) – Background
    • (00:56) – Randy discusses the path that led him to become superintendent of Huntington County Community School.
      • (01:03) – From theology to education to technology and business, and back to education.
    • (04:07) – The problems Randy’s district faced when he first started as superintendent.
      • (04:18) – Declining enrollment.
      • (04:59) – Students coming from broken homes.
    • (06:33) – Addressing these problems.
      • (06:33) – Reorganizing the elementary schools in the district.
      • (07:16) – Evaluating the middle schools.
      • (08:34) – Dealing with moral and motivation in the face of cutbacks.
        • (09:07) – Why Randy believes it is important to be visible in the schools.
        • (09:43) – Live streaming all school board meetings to the community.
  • (12:02) – Teacher Training
    • (12:19) – How Randy built an outstanding professional development program.
    • (14:28) – Randy shares some of the achievements within the district over the last two years.
      • (14:55) – Successful integration of technology into the classrooms.
      • (15:17) – Expanding the one-to-one programs.
    • (17:57) – How Randy is working to ensure longevity with the program.
      • (18:17) – Instilling a focus on leadership training.
  • (20:42) – Redistricting
    • (21:13) – Randy gives tips and advice for other education leaders going through a similar process.
      • (21:46) – Factoring in student travel times.
      • (22:09) – Building in equity in school sizes.
      • (22:20) – Managing class size to enhance teacher-student relationships.
    • (23:01) – The biggest obstacles Randy’s district has faced with the redistricting process.
      • (23:13) – Student transferring.
      • (24:13) – Dealing with rumors and misinformation within the community.
    • (25:15) – Randy illustrates the best case scenario post-redistricting.
      • (25:27) – The creation of an outstanding educational program for every single student that attends Huntington County School Corporation.
  • (26:55) – Prioritization and Decision Making
    • (27:15) – How Randy makes his decisions regarding resource allocation.
      • (27:35) – The importance of building relationships and effective listening.
      • (27:49) – Building trust.
    • (29:36) – The details behind Randy creating a high-achieving school district.
      • (29:47) – Focusing on excellence and on the students.
    • (31:19) – Lessons Randy learned from his experiences in the private sector that have contributed to his education leadership.
  • (35:03) – Parting advice for administrators
    • (35:11) – The advice Randy wishes he would have had when he first started his career in educational leadership.

Rapid-fire Questions:

  • (37:07) – What do you currently spend too much time doing?
  • (37:17) – What do you spend not enough time doing wish you had more time for?
  • (37:42) – What is one thing you learned in the education space over the last few years?
  • (38:19) – What are the leading trends in education that you’re keeping an eye for?

Resources mentioned:

  • Canvas (16:34) – Learning management system that Huntington County has used with success.
  • Jimmy Casas (18:45) – Education leader who provided Huntington County with leadership training.
  • In Search of Excellence (20:14) – Resource on building effective leadership that Randy recommends and has used personally.
  • Find Your Why(30:14) – Resource Randy has used to help his district focus on excellence.

Where to learn more:

If you would like to learn more from Randy or get in touch personally, you can find him on Twitter @RandyHarris7 or tune into the show to get his personal email address.

Transcript:

Pat: Hi listeners, today I’m talking with Randy Harris, who has been Huntington County Community School Superintendent since August 2015. Huntington County Community School serves all of Huntington County in Northern Indiana, including eight different communities with eleven schools and over 5000 students.

0:00:18.9 Since taking office, Randy has worked hard to keep student and teacher achievement high and focus on how to best allocate district resources going forward.

In our chat, we’ll cover how Randy maintains a high level teacher-training program, what community considerations he’s balancing and developing a redistricting plan and how he prioritizes the decisions that will have maximum impact on his district.

0:00:44.2 If you’re looking for some practical advice on balancing multiple district improvement projects, then you’re in the right place.

0:00:51.4 Without much adieu, welcome to the show Randy, thank you for being here.

Randy: 0:00:57.0 Thank you Pat, glad to be here.

Pat: 0:00:56.5 Awesome. How did the path to Huntington Country Community School Superintendent look like for you?

Randy: 0:01:03.6 Well my path’s kind of been a long and windy one. Started many years ago, but originally I went to college with – thought I was going to be a theology major.

Then I felt called to go into education. And once I got into education, I absolutely loved it. I took the traditional path, I guess you would say, in Indiana, in that I taught, I coached.

Then I worked on my Master’s degree. Obtained that and moved into school administration, where I spent a year as an assistant principal and athletic director and then moved into the principalship, where I stayed for another eight years.

0:01:42.8 And after 14 years of education, though, I left education. And I went into private business. I had done some things in the early 1990s with technology and so I then left to work for a company outside the Chicago area, where we developed a product called, Media Retrieval Systems.

0:02:03.0 It was a way of communicating using televisions in every classroom with VCRs and laser disc players. The technology is long since obsolete with computers and data networks and all of those things we have today.

And did that for eight years, and then I moved. 0:02:19.9 A friend of mind started a company selling school furniture. And in that business, I did that for six years. I did everything from selling to installing. Drove a delivery truck a few times. Ran the office as general manager. So a little bit of everything.

0:02:35.6 And after 14 years of that, I really missed educators, I really missed education and I already had got my Education Specialist degree, and had my superintendent’s license, so I applied and I started back eight and a half years ago now – almost nine, as the superintendent of Eastern Hancock Schools, which is just about 25 miles straight east of Indianapolis, Indiana.

0:03:03.2 And did that for six and a half years and then had the opportunity to move to a much larger school district here in Huntington County, and as you stated, I’ve been here since August of 2015.

Pat: 0:03:13.9 Awesome, that’s a great journey from theology to education to selling furniture, driving trucks, back to education and superintendent. That would really – I’m sure you have a really breadth of experience in going through these hoops, right?

Randy: 0:03:30.0 Well, I think that I do. I think it brings a unique perspective. I know many times educators get faced with the question, “Well that’s not the way business would handle it” and that was one of the things that took me into business, and I found out, kind of what a 0:03:45.2 [Inaudible] leadership in the business sector and did multiple things there.

But I just really missed education and love that I’m back in it and enjoy coming to work every day.

Pat: 0:03:55.9 Awesome, awesome. 0:03:56.2 [Edit out] So you’ve been Huntington County Superintendent for two years now. How did you go about building such an outstanding professional development program? I know that’s a little premature. Let me back up a little bit. 0:04:07.0 [Edit Out]

0:04:07.8 Let me ask you, what were the first – what were the problems your district faced when you first started and what do you have plans to address that? 0:04:14.8 [Edit out] And then we’ll come back to 0:04:16.2 [Edit out]

Randy: 0:04:18.0 I think probably the main things that we’re facing – not a lot different than other rural school districts – in Indiana anyway – and that is we’re facing declining enrolment. 0:04:28.1 Our enrolment here within the school district peaked back in the 1994-95 school year.

And since then we’ve lost approximately 100 students every year. 0:04:38.8 We’ve went from 7,000 students to this year we’re just a little bit over 5,000 students.

So, how do you manage losing those types of students, the revenue, all of those things that go with it is probably the number one thing that we’re facing today and has directed that we’re going into.

0:04:59.3 Other things is just – those types of things that administrators, educational leaders across the country are facing, is how do we deal with a population of students that maybe don’t come from a home with a mother and a father and all of those together.

0:05:19.5 How do we deal with our free and reduced rate, and our school district is about 46% I believe. So we’re dealing with some of those factors.

And all of those that are nothing out of the ordinary that are being faced around the country, but we’re dealing with them everyday.

Pat: 0:05:38.1 Good, good. It’s nice to hear another perspective, because I have spoken to quite a few superintendents how have a problem on the other end of the spectrum, how are actually at the receiving end of the population decline, which you’re talking about.

0:05:51.4 I have, for example, you know in the Tampa Metro area, we have about 1000 families moving into the Metro Area every week. That is a statistic right now. That puts additional burdens on the schools. A lot of schools are busting at the seams, trying to find new buildings. Building infrastructure. Finding the budget.

And, of course, that is a problem and now I’m hearing even the other end of the spectrum. Tightening your belts and lowering taxes and lesser funding. Those are a whole different set of problems.

0:06:27.8 Tell me, what was your plan. A lot of these are not in your control, so how did you plan to address those? You can dig a little deeper?

Randy: 0:06:33.6 Well, we’re in the middle of that right now. The school board vectoring, the summertime, we voted to kind of reorganize our elementaries.

Right now we have seven elementary schools, we have voted to close two of the elementary schools, but we’re reopening an existing elementary school that right now is working as our central office.

0:06:55.5 So, we’ll be going from seven elementaries to six elementaries next year. That also results than in redistricting the district which we have not done for a large number of years and so there’s the angst and the fear that goes through any types of major changes like that.

0:07:16.0 We are evaluating our middle schools right now. We have teaming in all of our middle schools. We have two middle schools, which means that our core curriculum teachers, the math, science, social studies and english teachers, they team together. 0:07:36.0 So they have a common approximately 100 students that they work with.

And this is one of those that has served us quite well, but we’re looking to – is there a way to keep teaming but decrease the staff needed to keep that endeavour going. 0:07:51.3 So we’re evaluating that.

We’ve already in the past two years, right before I got here, the school district actually had eliminated a number of high school teaching positions as well as elementary teaching positions.

0:08:06.4 So, we’re just looking to how can we be the most efficient possible and it’s interesting you talk about – the district I came from before here was a small district, but we were growing quickly because of transfer students and we were trying to figure out how do we grow. And that creates one set of problems, and how do you deal with declining enrolment creates another set of problems. So, that’s the side of the coin that we’re on right now, is the declining enrolment.

Pat: 0:08:34.0 Sure, sure. Dig a little – going a little deeper on that, especially with – I’m sure you have this experience in the business world – when you have a declining team, in the sense that a shrinking team – things like moral, things like motivation, things like you know, people looking over their shoulder, “Am I the next teacher to be on the chopping block?”

So these are you know, ever present issues you deal with. If you can tell us – insight into how you address those issues head on and how you’ve been dealing with them.

Randy: 0:09:07.6 I think the way we’ve addressed and the way I’ve tried to address them, in some respects has scared me to death. And yeah, I think they’ve been exactly on target. One way is that it’s important that the leadership, particularly myself, be visible in the schools. It can be looked at as the Great Oz that’s sitting behind a curtain that never comes out.

0:09:29.9 So, I think visibility is one very important detail of all of this. So that teachers, custodians, staff members, all have the opportunity to see me, ask questions, and know that I’m a real human being.

0:09:43.8 The other thing that we have done is since December of last year, we’ve started doing it, and that is that every one of our school board meetings are live streamed to the community. So we are very insistent that we are going to be transparent.

0:10:03.9 We don’t do things behind the scenes. It’s been a change for the community, it’s been a change for the school board, it’s been a change for me, and sometimes you really just want to shut the door and say, “Let us decide this and we’ll come out and tell you later.”

But it has really proved advantageous to the school district, to the school board, to myself, the fact that all of our meetings are live streamed, so people can come to our board meetings, but they can also stay at home and sit in their living room and bring us up on the internet and watch all of our live meetings to know what’s happening also.

0:10:37.0 So, I would tell you that sometimes it’s extremely frightening to be out there live and being out there and being so transparent and my past background, I think some of us would say, “Hey just take care of the decision on your own”, but we haven’t went that route and it has really benefited I think everybody involved with the transparency that we’ve had at the district this year.

Pat: 0:11:03.8 That is powerful, thanks for sharing that. And transparency like you said is a double edged sword. It can come back to bite you if you don’t do the right things, but at the same time, if you share with the stakeholders what you’re going through, they’re bound to be more empathetic and understand the decision making process – what you are making on their behalf. Yeah, so that is so vital.

0:11:26.7 And live streaming, wow! Awesome. I wish more districts were doing that and it could get more parents involved and make it more accessible so they understand what’s going on in the district. And that is something – if at all there’s a major takeaway, I think every district should think about this and live stream the district board meetings so it is more transparent and everybody has a stake into it and an insight into it. Thank you.

Randy: 0:12:00.3 I would agree.

Pat: 0:12:02.7 Alright, you’ve – changing topics a little bit, how did you go about building such an outstanding professional development program? You are know to have a 0:12:12.7 [inaudible] program in place and that is so very vital to leading an organization like such as yourself.

Randy: 0:12:19.1 I guess what I would tell you, specifically for me, the theory behind all of it is, “Don’t screw it up!” 0:12:28.8

Pat: Simple enough said.

Randy: 0:12:32.5 Whenever I came into the school district, Huntington County schools had been known for a long time to have some excellent PD people and doing some great things with professional development.

And while the PD team had just rolled over a little bit before I got here, what we do in our school district, is we have three full-time professional development people.

0:12:56.7 All of them have spent time – spent a significant amount of time in the classroom. We have one that’s dedicated to our high school, we have one dedicated to the two middle schools and then we have one that’s dedicated to our elementary schools.

0:13:14.1 In addition to that, this year we have a half-time person that is a former teacher here within our school district, and she’s really working with all of our teachers. Her main focus is on – I’m trying to think of it now – she’s working on the six traits of effective writing and going around working on writing skills with all of our teachers and staff.

0:13:39.9 Maybe to show a little bit of the power of it, it just so happens that those four people doing the professional development in our school district, one of those, the one that’s doing the half-time, was the 2012 Indiana Teacher of the Year.

And one of the other of our PD team, she was a top ten finalist in the Indiana Teacher of the Year two years ago.

0:14:04.9 So all of them bring excellent pedagogy, excellent skills from the classroom, and they share that out among the teachers as well as the teachers can come to those and say, “Hey, I need more information on this. I need some help, can you get information and bring it back to us.”

And they work very well with the buildings, with the principals and with the teachers and it’s outstanding what our PD is able to accomplish.

Pat: 0:14:28.0 That’s awesome. In the last two years, you have a long list of achievements which you’ve accomplished in your district. Would you be so kind enough to share a few of those with our listeners?

How far you’ve come so they can get an idea of the success rate of a great PD plan in place and you know a leadership that’s willing to back every individual in the district.

Randy: 0:14:55.5 I think probably the most important thing that we’ve done is that just prior to me getting here, the school district already in grades six through twelve were a one-to-one school district. All of the sixth through twelfth graders already had iPads that they used on a regular basis within the classroom.

0:15:17.5 So that was one thing in place, but then last year, we expanded the one-to-one program and in all honesty, when they brought it into the secondary schools it took awhile to catch on, so what we learned from all of that and my past experience dealing with technology in schools, is last year we brought iPads, we put the iPads in the hands of the elementary students and we brought in MacBooks for the high school students.

But the big learning curve was those elementary teachers. 0:15:48.8 And we had already done some things the year before, giving them some basic training on it, set the parameters in place, but when we started school last year, the focus of the entire PD team, all of them, were on the elementary teachers. And they would go in, focus for two to three days at one elementary school and then they went to the next elementary school.

0:16:13.5 So we really gave a lot of intense training. I think the other thing that we had from myself on down, was we had very clear expectations. They were not – you know, we weren’t going to be the highlight of the world or anything like that, but we said, “Here’s what…”

0:16:34.2 We broke the school year down into nine weeks segments, into quarters and we said what we were going to do. In the first quarter of the year, the only obligation was that every single teacher in the school district was going to have a Canvas page 0:16:51.7, which was a learning management system that we use here.

And they were going to have a page there that everybody could access. 0:16:59.3 Then they had to create a unit the second nine weeks. The third nine weeks and the fourth nine weeks, they expanded upon those units and the growth of it.

But I think having the very clear expectations and providing the resources with the PD team, we just – our elementary teachers have been outstanding. They really took off, grasped what we wanted to do with one-to-one education, and the transition to iPads to MacBooks at the high school level really went quite smooth.

0:17:27.9 It wasn’t anything new to them and the teachers already had a lot of the materials in place, so that’s probably the number one thing that we did in the last couple years.

0:17:39.1 The other thing that we’ve been focused on, particularly this year, is looking on our leadership and providing training to the building leaders. 0:17:48.1 And I think all flows down to the staff as we make some pretty big changes going forward here. Closing school buildings and those kind of things.

Pat: 0:17:57.9 Sure. So now, you know, putting a great program in place is one thing, but actually ensuring that the program continues to thrive long into the future long after you leave the district is a whole different ball game. So what steps have you done to make sure there is some longevity and that it is engrained in the culture, so to speak?

Randy: 0:18:17.7 I think the thing that I’ve tried to ingrain in the culture, is I’m very cognizant, and have been for a very long time, on leadership and what skills that I want to pass on to the leaders within the district.

I think somewhere along the line they talk about the leaders job is to create additional leaders. And I’m really working on that to build that with the administrative team.

0:18:45.5 We had two days in the summer – I don’t know if you’re familiar, but one of the people out there in education world, Jimmy Casas 0:18:53.0. He’s come and spent a couple days with our administrative team. He’s actually going to be back next week and spend another day with our administrative team.

And we focused on them as we’ve also focused on the teachers and the students. 0:19:08.9 So, it’s everybody coming together. And you’re right, I hope that I can leave a legacy behind. Huntington County, whatever I leave her, which my intent is to hopefully retire here, probably in another ten or twelve years.

0:19:26.3 And I really want to build the skills in it though that if any of our administrative team do leave, they have the skills to be successful wherever they go.

0:19:36.2 And another thing that I’ve talked about in it is the need for picking those mentors to look to, both internally and externally. And I know that I intentionally over my years in leadership looked for mentors in my life, around me.

Whether it’s people I work with directly or whether it’s mentors I have found via books. I say that my leadership journey started in probably the early 1980s when I was a very young teacher, and the book that got me looking at leadership more than anything else was one called, In Search of Excellence. 0:20:14.9 by Peters and Waterman. And Tom Peters is still one of the gurus in leadership in the business world. 0:20:24.0 That started me on the journey and I’ve carried that through with a lot of other mentors via books and studying over all these other years.

Pat: 0:20:30.8 Thank you for sharing that. In Search of Excellence. That’s something I’m sure a young teacher would love to get their hands on and take your word and actually flip through those pages.

0:20:42.3 So, shifting gears a little bit. You mentioned redistricting in your county. I know this process of redistricting is kind of very sensitive. Changing many of the buildings – what considerations need to go into making – you know, going through such a difficult and complex plan? What advice do you have for other leaders out there who are like, “Gee, I am coming up for these kind of issues, how do I handle it?” Tips and tricks for going through this process.

Randy: 0:21:13.8 Ok. Maybe the number one tip and trick that I learned, this is from a mentor many years ago also – number one: prayer. Any help we can get we need. 0:21:26.0 When I say that a little bit light hearted, but I also say it out of some seriousness.

But the other thing I think that we are trying to look at is, what should be the determining factors as we go through this redistricting process. There are a couple different things that we look at.

0:21:46.5 We have a, by Indiana standards anyway, we have a pretty large county to have the population that we have, so we’re looking at things such as travel times. How long is it going to take to pick up a student at his or her house and deliver that student to the nearest building. Whether it’s elementary, middle or high school. So we’re looking at travel times as part of it.

0:22:09.5 The other thing that we’re looking at is trying to build in an equity within the size of our buildings so that all of our elementaries are close to the same size.

0:22:20.9 But the bottom line is, we’re trying to figure out how to keep class sizes low. Our objective in ours is that once we are done, we are hopeful that we can keep our Kindergarten through second grade somewhere around 20 students in a classroom. And in the intermediate grades, three through five, with our elementaries, keep those no larger than 25. So, we’re really trying to keep some class sizes low.

0:22:47.4 We hope that builds the relationships between the teachers and the students that they need to be successful. So, that’s probably our number one focus. Is looking on and keeping the class sizes as low as we can, and yet providing reasonable travel times to all of the buildings.

Pat: 0:23:01.3 Sure, sure, sure. So, what have been the biggest obstacles you had to work on during this process, which was kind of going it, it was a little unexpected? If you can share any insights into that aspects.

Randy: 0:23:13.5 There have been lots of obstacles as we’ve came about this. One thing our district has done in the past is, we’ve allowed parents a lot of flexibility in transferring from one school district – one school elementary district to another elementary district. And we have indeed provided transportation between districts for various reasons that were made six or seven years ago.

0:23:39.6 So one obstacle is changing a little bit of a mindset, saying that if you live in an elementary district than you’re going to need to go to that elementary school, or you’re going to have to provide your own transportation.

0:23:51.0 I describe it to our transportation director – sometimes I think she’s a taxi manager rather than a bus manager. She does an outstanding job and our transportation services are excellent, but it becomes problematic when we have busses crossing, going across town and across the county. 0:24:09.8 So transportation and the districting have been one of the problems.

0:24:13.1 The other problem – it still amazes us that as transparent as we are, we continually fight the rumour mill that it’s amazing how quick rumours can build up. And we have no idea where they come from, because we haven’t even discussed some of the topics.

0:24:34.1 Dealing with social media, this is one we still need to get better at. In our case, particularly Facebook. One question or one comment taken out of context on Facebook can create a whole large media storm that then we’ve got to come back in and say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa here’s where we are today, here’s what we’ve done, here’s where we’re going, you can go back and watch our previous board meeting if you want to see what we talked about. 0:25:01.6 And it’s been about controlling the message for what we think we’ve been transparent on, but obviously it still gets garbled out there.

Pat: 0:25:08.7 Sure. So what I hear loud and clear is transparency and communication with all the stake holders.

Randy: Yes. You nailed it.

Pat: 0:25:15.1 Awesome. So when the dust settles on this whole redistricting process in your district, what do you hope to have achieved in the best case scenario?

Randy: 0:25:27.0 In the ultimate best case scenario, we’ve created an outstanding educational program for every single student that attends Huntington County School Corporation. This whole process, it is very easy for every single group to get hung up on themselves.

0:25:48.8 I think parents, sometimes get hung up on themselves and say, “We can’t do this another way.” There’s no doubt that the staff gets hung up on, “Here’s the way I’ve taught” or “Here’s the way my buildings work. Forever. And so how do you expect us to change?” And you know, administratively, sometimes we’re looking to try to look outside the box, but we don’t do a very good job of that.

0:26:11.0 And so, when we’re all done with this, what I want the people to understand and to hopefully reach at least some consensus on, is that we are going to be a better school district when we are finished, we’re going to be more efficient with our resources i.e., our tax dollars, and all of this is going to result in a better education for every single child that goes through our school district.

0:26:34.6 Because no matter how much we want to get distracted with our own goals and objectives, we have to realize that we have been hired to provide education for the students. That’s what the community expects, that’s what the parents expect, and that’s what we have to expect out of ourselves. And if we can create that when we’re all said and done, I will be very pleased.

Pat: 0:26:55.1 Great, great. So now, I just want to dig a little bit into your leadership style. Your prioritization and decision making, if I may. I want to ask you, what framework do you use to decide where your district resources should be focused at any given time? As you go through your daily work.

Randy: 0:27:15.3 I think a lot of it comes from experience. And probably the way that I try to group it, I have a – and I’ve went back and forth with this. I think number one priority – and it’s been brought back to me even more recently – that’s building relationships.

0:27:35.1 You can’t accomplish very much from a dictatorial standpoint and if you’re not going to listen to others. You need relationships, you need to listen to others, you need to have people that are confident in you and you confident in them.

0:27:49.8 When I came into the district two years ago, I told the administrative team then that the number one priority for me was that we had to build trust in each other. And I knew coming in that trust could not be built in a month, or even a year. I’ve been there, I’ve had that ultimate trust within an administrative team. I know it can be done in a year’s time, and it’s still so frustrating at time knowing how much more we could accomplish if I trust my assistants or my principals and if they fully trust me.

0:28:26.8 But unfortunately, the only way I’ve found anyway, of getting that ultimate trust is sometimes you’ve just got to go through some bad times. You’ve got to go through some battles. You know, it may be the principal, calling and saying, “Boy I really ticked off these parents and they’re going to be calling you.” I go, “Ok what’d you do?” And I say, “Ok, I can support that.”

Then they find out that I support them, we just built a little bit of trust. 0:28:45.8 When things are going smooth, when things are going easy, I’m not sure you get better as a team. And so, these battles and these communications and all of these things we’ve had with – for myself, I know I have multiple meetings with teachers, with custodians, with cooks, with all of the staff and my administrative team, and every time we sit down and talk through a problem, we get a little stronger and a little better.

0:29:12.8 So, I think there’s a thing, because as leaders, we want things to flow smooth. We want it to be easy. We want everybody to feel like they have part of it, and that’s just not the world we live in. And in fact, I’m not sure that we get any better if it was all that way.

0:29:31.0 So, it’s fighting through these battles, it’s fighting through these challenges that make us a really good and a really strong school district.

Pat: 0:29:36.6 Sure. So my next question could take an entire podcast to cover, but at a high level, what went into building such a high achieving high school in your district?

Randy: 0:29:47.9 I think the focus on excellence and the focus on students. You have to focus every single day on what’s being done, what’s being provided to provide the best education for the students. It’s not about the adults, it’s not about the parents, it’s about these kids and so we’re continually reminding everybody about this search for excellence.

0:30:14.8 And I think another book that we’ve really relied on, we’ve talked about the last couple years is, Simon Sinek, Searching for Why0:30:26.3.

Pat: Searching for Why.

Randy: 0:30:31.0 I don’t think I’ve got the title exactly right there, but I don’t see it right in front of me. At the beginning of the school year, we had all of our staff, we asked them anyways, to write down their ‘why’. Why are they doing their job. And I have it hanging on a bulletin board in my office and I know many of the other teachers also do, and my ‘why’ is these kids. 0:30:50.0 How can I make a difference in their lives and make things better for them. And that’s what guides our whole process to be better and to be more excellent tomorrow than what we are today.

Pat: 0:31:01.8 Randy, I think your passion for your student achievement really comes out in the way you address each one of these problems. Because everything is focused on your students, and it has to be about the students because we are all here to serve that one purpose. If nothing else, that one purpose only.

0:31:19.0 Yes. So moving back to your experience with private industry. What are the lessons from private industry which have been really helpful in your return to education administration?

Randy: 0:31:31.4 Unfortunately, or fortunately, probably the thing that I learned from private business, was how important profit, return on investment and some of those things are. 0:31:51.0 When I first got back as a superintendent, about I think my first or second year as a superintendent – and we had a 5% cut across all districts in Indiana. And I know most superintendents were at a real loss of, “How do I deal with this big of a downturn in my finances?”

0:32:11.2 And I look at it, in that case, really from a business perspective of, “How do we take a budget that just went into the deficits and how do we put it into the positives?”

0:32:24.0 It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t fun. In the small school district where I was located then, we eliminated many positions and probably, I would tell you that, not the first day I’ve ever had in education, but the second worst day I had in education, was – I went around with the principal and I talked to every employee that was going to lose their position. I did a face to face and I shed many tears. I hated doing it, and yet I knew ultimately for the school district, that that was a decision we had to do. Again, I was open, honest and up front with them and it wasn’t easy.

0:33:03.4 And I don’t ever want to be in that position again, but I probably learned that from business. I think our school district jumped to make some personal cuts way faster than most other school districts did, and ultimately it proved to be a positive that got us back on the right track quicker than most other school districts did.

Pat: 0:33:23.1 That is so powerful Randy, thanks for sharing that insight. And it’s – I don’t know if the listeners caught on to that. Personally, a leader going down to telling your employees, “You’re being fired. Hey it’s not about you, it’s nothing personal, but it is about the downturn, it is about the larger business, which is shrinking some other things which are outside of them.”

So it helps them in kind of recuperating their lives back from being fired. So that is really powerful that you were out there with your team and trying to explain that on a one-on-one basis.

Randy: 0:33:59.3 Well to kind of give the other side of that story, I guess – because like I said, that was the second most difficult day I’ve ever spent in education. The positive was, the four or five years after that date that I was in the school district, it amazed me how many of those employees said, “Hey, I want you to know I got another job doing whatever.”

And I think almost everybody was able to get another job whether it was as a secretary or as a some other job or as a teacher. 0:34:29.0 So, it made me feel good that they also got jobs somewhere else, but I think they appreciated the fact that I dealt with them one-to-one and I dealt with them on a personal basis. I didn’t just send out an email, I didn’t send out a pink slip, but I sat down and talked to them and it wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing to do.

Pat: 0:34:49.6 That’s what separates a good leader from a great leader. And thank you for sharing that. I’m sure other superintendents out there, you know, put in your position wondering how they should handle it, this is a great takeaway, thank you Randy.

0:35:03.9 Now moving a little bit, what advice do you wish somebody gave you when you first started as a superintendent?

Randy: 0:35:11.6 Well, I guess the advice I wish somebody gave me, he did give me. I’ve passed this on to some others and sometimes we want to get in a leadership position and think it’s all about us. I’ll tell you, this gentleman is still alive and I think he’s probably in his 80s or 90s and his name is Bill Fischer. And he actually was the superintendent when I graduated from high school.

And when I got my first principal position, he was the principal at an adjoining school and I called him up and I said, “Hey Mr. Fischer, will you meet with me?”

And he said, “Absolutely Randy, come on over and sit down and talk.”

And I went over and I said, “I just got hired next door here.”

And he goes, “Yeah, congratulations”

And I said, “I have no idea what I should do. What advice and what tips can you give me?”

And I don’t remember everything we talked about that day in his office, but I remember this, 0:36:01.2 and he said, “Understand Randy, that you have the skills to be a good leader, and you’re going to make decisions that are going to make people happy, and you’re going to make some decisions that make people upset. But all you can do is your best. And the one thing you need to remember is when you make those decisions and you get people upset and they come to your office and yell, and they will, they’re yelling at the chair. They really don’t – they’re not yelling at Randy Harris is a bad person, they’re yelling at the chair as the Principal, or the Superintendent, or whatever that position is that they just need to get it off their chest. And remember that if you have done the best you can, they’re just yelling at your chair and you have done the right things for kids and you’ll be ok when it’s over.”

0:36:47.2 And I remember that when people get mad at me and get upset at times. I keep telling myself, they’re just yelling at the chair and seems to get a little bit better that way.

Pat: 0:36:56.9 Thank you. So now, before we wrap up, I like to ask all our guests a few rapid-fire questions. The questions will be quick but your responses don’t have to be. 0:37:07.8 The first one is, what do you currently spend too much time doing?

Randy: 0:37:11.6 I spend way too much time at my desk dealing with emails and paperwork.

Pat: 0:37:17.7 What do you spend not enough time doing wish you had more time for?

Randy: 0:37:20.2 Being out there with the kids and the teachers and in the buildings. And it may appear that I’m wandering around not doing a whole lot, but guess that goes back to Tom Peters and Waterman also from one of the things from In Search of Excellence, the whole idea management by wandering about. 0:37:38.4 I don’t do enough wandering about in the buildings and I need to do more of that.

Pat: 0:37:42.9 What is one thing you learned in the education space over the last few years?

Randy: 0:37:49.0 There’s a lot of really good stuff out there going on. And I guess the thing that I would say, maybe not one specific thing that I’ve learned, but what I would tell any administrator that there are great programs, there are great ideas, there’s a lot of things.

0:38:03.8 And maybe I learned this from, again, with the training that Jimmy Casas brought into us – what’s important is the people. And with all of the great things we have in education, we can do a lot but don’t ever lose focus of the people.

Pat: 0:38:19.6 Great. What are the leading trends in education that you’re keeping an eye for?

Randy: 0:38:25.5 We’re definitely looking at one-to-one instruction and continue to look at how we can integrate technology better into our classrooms. When I say integrate, technology’s not the solution, education’s the solution, but how does the technology help to facilitate that. We’re really looking at that.

0:38:42.6 We’re looking at actually going back I guess you would say. There’s so many ideas out there that I keep talking to the teachers and to my PD team and that is, going back to the old days of reading, writing and arithmetic.

0:38:54.5 We have to ensure that every one of our students is good at reading, at writing and at math. If we get those three cores down, the students will be fine in science and social studies and the arts and all of those kind of things. So we really focus on the basics to get those right and we’ll let everything else take care of itself.

Pat: 0:39:13.2 Thank you. That was great. So if listeners want to learn more from you or want to reach out to you to follow up on something we talked about today, what is the best way for them to do that.

Randy: 0:39:24.0 I’d love to hear from other people and I think probably the two best ways of getting ahold of me is – when I’m not too busy here in the office, I try to get out there in the twitter universe and I’m just @RandyHarris7 on Twitter or they’d be more than welcome to send me an email to my school account and that is at Rharris@hccsc.k12.in.us. So those are probably the two best places to get ahold of me.

Pat: Awesome. Thank, thank you Randy. I just want to say thank you so much for your time today. You know, we could have taken off in so many directions. You know, your passion really comes through in this conversation and it was great being able to pick your brain, and I’m sure listeners will be able to get a lot out of it. And if they have any follow up questions, I’m sure they will be reaching out to you. Thanks again, it was great chatting with you today.

Randy: Well I appreciate that, I just want to, you know, if anybody’s listened all the way to the end of this, I know that it was – I got turned on to you, I’ve been able to listen to some of your other podcasts, and I encourage people to listen to this podcast and get some great tips on educational leadership. So, thank you for all you’re doing out there.

Pat: Thank you, absolutely.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to top