Students, staff, parents weigh in on superintendent search

Focus groups give feedback on issues of concern, strengths

By Shelby Stewart-Soldan
Staff Writer
OXFORD TWP. – During the Oxford Board of Education meeting on Feb. 27, Sarena Shivers of Hazard, Young and Attea Associates presented a summary of all of the feedback received during the focus groups HYA conducted for the current superintendent search.
“I wanted to share with you that part of putting together the compilation of this document was talking with individuals as well as small groups,” said Shivers. “So we met with individuals and groups, and we asked each group the same questions. This document does not necessarily represent the majority of each respective group. What it represents are themes, maybe consistent comments, and ways in which the individuals or groups kind of came together around a particular topic.”
Across the 16 focus groups, around 150 individuals participated. The focus groups were in five categories: school staff, students, community and parents, school board members, and victims and families of victims of the Nov. 30, 2021 tragedy. The purpose was to get a profile of what the district and stakeholders would want to see in a future superintendent.
HYA asked participants to say what the strengths are in the district, what challenges the district is facing that they would like a new superintendent to know, what characteristics they are looking for in a new superintendent and if there was anything else they wanted the new superintendent to know.
“We didn’t always get to that last question because sometimes that answer had already come up before we got there,” said Shivers. “There were some themes that were almost consistent across all groups. So those themes were things like the amazing strength and care of staff. That came up in some shape, form or fashion in almost every group that we spoke to.”
Other common positives that came up included the opportunities for students, including athletics, arts, the Oxford Virtual Academy, the early college program and more. Most people also mentioned the benefit of the close-knit community, and that it fostered a sense of belonging.
“Some of the challenges that were consistent were budgetary concerns, and as you can imagine, safety concerns were also brought up in some shape or fashion across all groups that we spoke with,” she said.
Shivers highlighted the answers that were unique in each group, such as the parent and community group expressing that there was a lot of help for students who were struggling in the district.
A negative was a lack of cohesion across the different schools for parents who had children in multiple buildings.
“Parents that have kids in multiple schools thought that there needed to be more cohesiveness from one grade level to the other,” she said. “Often impacted by calendars. That was brought up. Being able to get more on the same page between schools would be really, really helpful.”
Each school board member was also interviewed individually, and most of them highlighted the Oxford Virtual Academy as a district strength. They also said a challenge for the district is the recovery from the Nov. 30 tragedy, including the financial recovery.
During the staff focus group, participants said that the safety was a highlight for the district, and that they are treated well.
“People were extremely proud that you all take care of your people here in the district,” Shivers said. “Staff recognized that they are treated well, that there are opportunities for professional development, professional growth, but they also talked about strong benefits and employee services in the district.”
At the same time, staff said they felt like they weren’t involved enough in decision making in the district.
“Staff mentioned in various groups that they didn’t feel like their voices were always heard in decision making,” Shivers said. “They are requesting this be looked at going forward. Staff would love to be more active in decision making.”
She also said that staff recognized the benefit of having a close community, but found it was also a challenge for them.
“Many staff recognized that while it was a strength, it could also be a challenge because everybody knows everybody,” said Shivers. “Sometimes it’s hard to hold people accountable or hard to set boundaries.”
The focus group containing students included students from OVA, the early college program and the high school, across all four grade levels.
“Students said they felt like teachers, staff and the administration – and there was strong emphasis on the administration – are very caring and supportive,” she said. “They felt like they give them the space that they need, that they have opportunity to share their concerns and their thoughts, and that there really is a strong check-in system at the high school to make sure that they are well.”
One of the challenges that the students encountered was a lack of communication.
“Students felt like communication to students was not good,” she said. “They felt like their parents know, but often times they don’t know. They kind of all were in agreement that they don’t use S’MORE (a communication tool used inside the school). They all said they don’t use it.”
Shivers also said that students brought up budgetary and financial concerns, and that they were very well-versed in the financial challenges the district faces.
“One of the things that they brought up was their understanding that these budgetary concerns are tied to the safety measures,” she said. “And what they are hearing is that as budget decisions are having to be made, some of the safety measures that had to be put into the high school may be gone. And I promised them I would share this. Their biggest concern was that some of the underclassmen, the safety measures that are in place is all they know. If those things go away, they’ve never experienced high school any other way. So I promised I would share that.”
The students also said they wanted more communication to the middle school students about what actually happened in the high school regarding the Nov. 30 tragedy, to ensure clear communication with younger students.
“They felt like, on the other hand, a lot of security measures were giving them a false sense of security,” she said. “And they also said that they felt like safety and security measures were inconsistent after school, and for evening events. I told them I would share it, and I thought they were very insightful and aware of what was going on in their environment.”
The final focus group, which was requested by the school board, had comments very similar to other focus groups.
“This was a group of parents who had young people who were unfortunately victims of Nov. 30, as well as a staff member who was a victim,” she said. They said staff was incredible, programs were incredible. They highlighted the arts and the athletics and how fortunate they were to be in a district where there is no pay-to-play, that it creates an equitable experience for all students to take advantage of the rich offerings here in the district.”
The biggest challenge the group found for a future superintendent was related to consistency and accountability
“Getting their arms around what they perceive to be a lack of consistency, accountability, and rules, procedures being followed through with and then the transparency and the communication around those issues,” said Shivers.
The full report can be read at in the Feb. 27 board of education packet.
“I personally have developed fondness for Oxford,” said Shivers. “We do look forward to, and we have been spending a lot of our time to, find an exceptional candidate, as well as resources to help you all move forward and heal.”

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