Next chap­ter

In step with Bar­bara Rus­sell, district’s new su­per­in­ten­dent

The Phoenix - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Devlin ede­vlin@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Eric_Devlin on Twit­ter

PERKIOMEN» While stu­dents and staff in the Perkiomen Val­ley School District had three months of fun in the sun this sum­mer, new Su­per­in­ten­dent Bar­bara Rus­sell had the un­en­vi­able job of try­ing to seam­lessly take the helm from her pre­de­ces­sor, Clif­ford Rogers.

Rogers re­tired in June af­ter serv­ing as Perk Val­ley’s top ad­min­is­tra­tor for nearly a decade, be­gin­ning in the sum­mer of 2008. Fill­ing his shoes meant Rus­sell wouldn’t be get­ting time off this year.

“It’s funny peo­ple asked me are you go­ing on va­ca­tion, are you go­ing away? No. And that’s OK,” she said laugh­ing. Be­cause it was a great time to just think, or­ga­nize and get ready. And that was OK. It was very com­fort­able.”

Chang­ing of the guard

Rus­sell, 53, is still ad­just­ing to the fast pace of the new po­si­tion and its weight, hav­ing only about two anda half months of work un­der her belt. Yet she cred­its her time as as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent and Rogers’ in­valu­able men­tor--

ship as the ex­pe­ri­ence she needs to help her set a course for a new chap­ter in the district.

“He was a great men­tor and he af­forded me lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties as the as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent to be a part of many of the con-

ver­sa­tions that he led or the projects that he worked on,” she said of Rogers. “So I felt very well pre­pared in most re­spects.”

While she may be new to the job, Rus­sell has a long his­tory

within the district. She be­gan her ca­reer as a science teacher at Perkiomen Val­ley High School in 1985. She later served as a teacher-on-spe­cial-as­sign­ment for science cur­ricu­lum co­or­di­na­tion for four years. She was as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at Perkiomen Mid­dle School West, prin­ci­pal at Skip­pack Ele­men­tary School and served as as­sis­tant to the su­per­in­ten­dent for cur­ricu­lum, in­struc­tion and assess­ment from March 2007 to Fe­bru­ary 2011. In March of 2011, she was named as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent. The school board ap­proved Rogers re­tire­ment re­quest in Jan­uary and said it was in talks with Rus­sell to take over at the end of June.

“I’mnot an ex­pert. I don’t know it all,” Rus­sell ad­mits. “But at least I feel like I was privy to a lot of the things that come to this desk. So that has helped me tremen­dously to try to nav­i­gate al­ready some of things that are start­ing to present them­selves. To just feel com­fort­able or at least know where to go with ques­tions or­what to think about in re­sponse.”

The big­gest first hur­dle she wanted to clear as the new su­per­in­ten­dent was the first school board­meet­ing this past July, she said.

“It was great to get through that first (one) and it was great (that) it was (in) July, be­cause it’s a lit­tle calmer,” she said. “Which I have said to peo­ple calmer is a great time to tran­si­tion be­cause there’s a lot to do but there’s also a slower pace. It’s a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent from the school year and it re­ally gave me time to be thought­ful about the start of the year.”

Vi­sion for the year

The school year started about as well as any­one could have hoped, she said. The first day of school felt like stu­dents had never left. Other than a few mi­nor trans­porta­tion glitches in the af­ter­noon, stu­dents were com­fort­able and ex­cited tobe back and so were staff mem­bers.

Be­fore the year be­gan, Rus­sell met with the mem­bers of her administration dur­ing a re­treat and said the fo­cus was to build on the district’s ac­com­plish­ments un­der Rogers but to also con­tinue to grow stronger

Rus­sell then laid out her vi­sion for the year with the board and then staff mem­bers. The vi­sion is com­posed of four parts: en­gag­ing and in­spir­ing stu­dents, main­tain­ing and strength­en­ing pos­i­tive school com­mu­ni­ties, main­tain­ing fis­cal in­tegrity, and en­gag­ing the com­mu­nity and help­ing its mem­bers feel up to date on what’s go­ing on in­side the class­room, she said.

Rus­sell led her con­ver­sa­tion with fac­ulty and staff by ask­ing “how are we go­ing to do school dif­fer­ently?” Due to the wide­spread use of technology, stu­dents to­day have ac­cess to a lim­it­less amount of in­for­ma­tion wher­ever and when­ever they want. It also al­lows them to con­nect to whomever they want.

“How do we cap­i­tal­ize on some of the skills that they’re de­vel­op­ing and the ways that they’re learn­ing us­ing these re­sources in our class­rooms and in our schools?” she said.

The school district started us­ing the hash­tag #PVSDDoS­choolDif­fer­ent on Twit­ter, so teach­ers could share sto­ries ofwhat they’re do­ing to try to en­gage their stu­dents, such as in­no­va­tive uses of Google Chrome­books and smart­phones or how they re­ar­ranged their class­rooms.

“There’s a cou­ple peo­ple that have been in there and shared some things,” Rus­sell said. “And I’m hop­ing that grows. Not ev­ery­one is a Tweeter. Andwe talked about that. This is one ex­am­ple of how you can share these ideas. Any­way there’s been some nice stuff al­ready.”

Chal­lenges

While the school year may still be new, the chal­lenges for the year are not, Rus­sell said. Her pri­or­ity of stay­ing fis­cally re­spon­si­ble has led her to be­gin think­ing more strate­gi­cally on how to get the max­i­mum re­turn for any in­vest­ment, she said.

Among the big­ger ex­penses over the sum­mer in­cluded the com­ple­tion of sev­eral cap­i­tal projects de­signed to im­prove en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. Those projects in­clude:

• New roofs at the high school, mid­dle school east, Ever­green, Skip­pack and South ele­men­tary schools and the administration build­ing.

• Pool ren­o­va­tions at the high school.

• 21 new HVAC units at the high school.

• Dig­i­tal con­trols in mul­ti­ple build­ings.

• Cleaner air ion­iza­tion prod­ucts de­signed to im­prove air qual­ity.

• Air con­di­tion­ing for mid­dle school east gym­na­sium.

The es­ti­mated $13.3mil­lion cost for these projects will be paid for through an $8.350 mil­lion new money bond is­sue that will be strate­gi­cally placed into ex­ist- ing debt struc­ture pay­ment col­umns, ac­cord­ing to the district. This will be com­bined with an ex­ist­ing $5 mil­lion bal­ance for as­signed cap­i­tal projects to cover the cost over 14 years with­out rais­ing taxes specif­i­cally for these projects.

“It was ac­tu­ally pretty im­pres­sive how much the con­struc­tion teams got done over the sum­mer. I was re­ally im­pressed,” Rus­sell said. “It was def­i­nitely chal­leng­ing at times when the roads were closed, we didn’t have ac­cess to the pool, they couldn’t get into their class­rooms, the tem­per­a­ture was very warm, we didn’t have (air con­di­tion­ing). But it’s re­ally when you look back it’s pretty im­pres­sive at how much they got done in the time frame.”

In Novem­ber the district will hold a ref­er­en­dum for vot­ers to de­cide whether it should spend $2 mil­lion to fi­nance the con­struc­tion of mul­ti­pur­pose turf ath­letic fields.

“Chal­lenge is kind of a strong word,” Rus­sell said. “It’s a new and dif­fer­ent project for us. We’re again at­tempt­ing to nav­i­gate that ter­rain and fig­ure out how do we com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively with our com­mu­nity and sup­port our board in its ef­fort to ac­tu­ally sup­port our kids with this fa­cil­ity?”

Fi­nally, an­other chal­lenge Rus­sell faces is the de­sire to con­tinue what she calls the district’s “dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion” and in­crease. the num­ber of de­vices in the hands of stu­dents.

“Can we some day move to one to one? I’d re­ally like to do that in our school,” she said. “That doesn’t just hap­pen though. That’s a chal­lenge. So mov­ing teach­ing and learn­ing for­ward al­ways. While there’s lots of suc­cesses, it’s also a chal­lenge. It’s a project on­go­ing.”

Com­mu­nity feed­back

Keep­ing true to her vi­sion, Rus­sell said she has made a point to try to keep the pub­lic up to date on what’s go­ing on in the district. She has her own page on the district’s web­site that she uses to stay in touch with the com­mu­nity. Her so­cial me­dia feeds can also be found at the bot­tom of the page. Rus­sell also has four su­per­in­ten­dent’s round­tables sched­uled this year which will be held: Wed­nes­day, Oct. 4, Wed­nes­day, Jan. 24, Mon­day, March 19 and Wed­nes­day, May 23.

They all be­gin at 6:30 p.m. and will be held in the district of­fice. Usu­ally the district asks those in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing to RSVP to Jes­sica Lester, man­ager of school and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, at jlester@pvsd.org if they would like to at­tend, just so the district has an idea for the num­ber of peo­ple to ex­pect.

“I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to hear­ing the voices of our com­mu­nity mem­bers,” said Rus­sell. “Whether they’re par­ents or com­mu­nity mem­bers. Again, try­ing to make as many con­nec­tions or strengthen the con­nec­tions we have as much as pos­si­ble. I re­ally want to be able to reach out. I want to be an ap­proach­able in­di­vid­ual and some­body that peo­ple know and re­ally ap­pre­ci­ates lis­ten­ing to their ideas and hear­ing the­mout. That’s im­por­tant.”

ERIC DEVLIN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

New Perkiomen Val­ley School District Su­per­in­ten­dent Bar­bara Rus­sell has taken the reins from for­mer top ad­min­is­tra­tor Clif­ford Rogers, who stepped down in June af­ter nearly a decade.

ERIC DEVLIN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Bar­bara Rus­sell, Perkiomen Val­ley’s new top ad­min­is­tra­tor, said she wants com­mu­nity mem­bers to feel com­fort­able ap­proach­ing her with com­ments or ques­tions they may have.

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