Mount Airy City Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Little shares a feeling of trepidation with many educators nationwide as the looming “fiscal cliff” casts a shadow on federal and state funding as the year winds down.
“First and foremost in my mind as the biggest issue we will face is the budget,” said Little. “Our budget forecast is uncertain right now. We are facing the possibility of significant federal funding cuts through sequestration.”
Little referred to a situation where federal education programs face more than an eight-percent budget cut next year unless the U.S. Congress intervenes. The sequestration process, which is an across-the-board budget cut of 8.2 percent in federal funding, was enacted under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Reportedly, bipartisan negotiations are under way in Congress to develop an alternative to sequestration. Traditionally, school districts nationwide respond to drastic budget cuts through a variety of means including larger classes, fewer courses, less access to intervention programs as well as summer school and after-school programs, less extracurricular activities and teacher and staff layoffs including the loss of reading teachers and teaching assistants.
“We are still unsure as to how new legislation will fund us on the state level,” added Little. “Our county commissioners have been incredibly supportive in a tough budget year.”
He said the district could once again find itself in a situation where it is doing more with less despite recent positive economic news.
“Our budgets are always a challenge. These cuts are not happening in a vacuum,” said Little. He said Mount Airy has found itself involved in what amounts to a five-year run of consecutive budget cuts and diminishing revenues. Another challenge the system faced this year was the rolling out of the new Common Core curriculum and new measurements of student learning.
“There have been so many changes from the state level in North Carolina,” said Little. “It’s been a fast and furious process. So much has happened in so little time. Adapting to these challenges is going to be one of our primary tasks this year. At the end of the day, parents with children in the Mount Airy school system demand a world-class education regardless of all the challenges. That’s what we aim to provide.”
Little said the district’s goal for the coming year was “to become a national leader in education” known not only regionally and in the state but nationwide.
Crucial to this process is the ongoing school strategic plan being drafted to guide the district in the upcoming years. Part of this process involved identification of positive aspects in the school system that will be used as “leverage points” for improvement. Little cited the school system’s strong staff and teachers as an important asset for its future.
“We also want to find ways to improve what we’ve been doing to get the most bang for the buck. We will continue to tweak and refine areas.” He said a steering committee of school, business and community leaders have helped to craft the strategic plan which is a road map to move forward.
Areas highlighted in preliminary drafts of this plan set the system’s highest priorities at academic achievement, support of staff and strengthening the educational culture and climate within schools.
“The common element that brings these together is a focus on student growth. Proficient is not enough. Many of our students are already proficient. I don’t think we should say fine, and push them aside. We want all of our kids to grow and flourish. Each child should show grow every year and we must support this same capacity in our teachers.”
Little explained that one part of this initiative will be to establish a “growth mindset” philosophy championed by Stanford University psychologist and author Carol Dweck. Parts of this mindset include teaching students to be problem solvers and risk takers showing persistence in the face of challenges.
He explained part of this process is establishing a culture valuing hard work and effort as important in achievement in all areas.
“I believe ultimately we are involved in the development of people not merely supporting a program. People solve problems. Programs don’t solve problems. The feedback from our strategic plan steering committee has been tremendous. To see the dedication and commitment they have demonstrated. They fact they are willing to get up so much of their personal time has been humbling.”
Reach David Broyles at dbroyles @heartlandpublications.com or 719-1952.