Fort Smith Schools Superintendent finalist Roth talks district’s targets for improvement, educational philosophy

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 142 views 

The Fort Smith School Board interviewed Dr. Mike Roth, the first of two finalists for the position of superintendent on Tuesday (Dec. 13) in a daylong event that included interviews with the Board, media, community leaders, and existing principals and personnel.

In an interview with Talk Business & Politics Tuesday morning, Roth discussed his experience, goals, philosophies, and the future educational landscape in a new Presidential administration. One particular area Roth felt was “critical” to success as an administrator was classroom experience.

“A good classroom teacher lends to being a good principal, and that lends to being a good district level administrator,” he said.

Roth is a subscriber to the belief that “If students don’t learn the way we teach, we must teach the way students learn,” though he acknowledges that “not every teacher is comfortable with that, and that’s okay.”

“Every teacher should be able to expand on what they do based on what their strengths are, but also they should follow the common core of what our district believes and puts forth in the curriculum,” he said.

The ability to teach at all levels is a quality, Roth believes, that has served him well in his three superintendent positions, the most recent at Leavenworth School District No. 453 in Leavenworth, Kan., from 2014 to present. Prior to that he served as superintendent at Clearwater School District USD No. 264 in Clearwater, Kan., from 2006 to 2014, and at Deerfield School District USD No. 216 in Deerfield, Kan., from 2001 to 2006.

Before his journey into administration, he taught K-12 physical education, coached, and “got to be more involved with parents.”

“When you go to that next level, you have that experience to pull back on,” he said.

Dr. Mike Roth

Regarding past experience he feels prepared him for the position of Fort Smith Schools Superintendent, Roth said he has experience “in every phase of education.”

“I started at a very small school where you are responsible for everything. Now, (in current position at Leavenworth, Kan.), there is a Cabinet where you work together. Before (at the smaller schools), I was the HR guy, I was the Finance guy, the Transportation Director. Sometimes coming from a big school, you are only responsible for one phase, so I think that helps.”

Roth said his first administrative position was at a district of “about 350 students,” while his current position is “just under 4,000,” allowing him to “draw on past experiences for success.”

When asked about one thing the Fort Smith School District is doing well and one area where it could improve, Roth offered that some of the areas where the district needed to improve – graduation rate, for example – were already seeing gains with Fort Smith moving the needle to over 81% as of the 2015-2016 school year from 78.5% two years prior.

“What you don’t often hear about is where it began versus where it’s at now. We’ve shown a great deal of improvement, and that’s true to a lot of the things I’ve identified as possible target areas.”

“With talk of the millage increase, you sit there and you think, is finances an issue? But as you discuss and dive in, financially they’re structurally sound,” he said. Other areas: “Adversity to change, change of mascot, change of what they’ve done with the open meetings (the district was recently found in violation of the Freedom of Information Act on the selection of its officers), things like that.”

Roth continued: “How do you heal that? How do you make that where it’s not such an overlying issue where you take that adversity and make that a strength moving forward? Trying to be that person that brings everyone back together to move together as a school and as a community will be my focus.”

Roth said he would also like to focus on continuing to build the school district’s preschool program and that he would like to make business training a part of teacher in-service programs. In his district, he elaborated, “We do a bus tour where our teachers will go out and learn the needs of a business. And the purpose of that: it makes it easy to come back and say, ‘This is what we need and what we want.’ If we can expose them (teachers) to the needs of a business, then they can make those skills more relevant for their students as they’re teaching the material.”

Lastly, of education in a Trump administration, Roth said, “If you look back at his Vice President, (Mike) Pence in Indiana, and put the pieces together in terms of who he’s pegged as the head of education, I think we’re in for some possible changes. Looking back at No Child Left Behind, that was an initiative that scared a lot of us. And it changed education, but it increased the level of accountability, and I think that was important.”

“I think everyone is anxiously awaiting that first leak of where they may be wanting to go with public education and the expectations, but I don’t know. I look forward to that opportunity because I think there’s some opportunity there to grow,” he added.

The Fort Smith School Board will meet on Wednesday with the second finalist, Dr. Doug Brubaker, and is expected to make its final selection early next week.

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