R. Scott Jeffery, Superintendent of Lakeland School District, Scott Township, PA knows a thing or two about getting extra funds for school programs. As a small district overshadowed by the larger district of Scranton, PA, Jeffery has been innovative in his approach to securing additional resources for his schools. By reaching out to the local business community and offering advertising space at little league ballparks, Jeffery has managed to raise an additional $18,000 for a variety of school programs.
As federal and state budgets tighten, smaller school districts are forced to think creatively about paying for extracurricular and after-school programs. Partnerships with local businesses and institutions can offer a greater sense of community while providing necessary financial help to schools. It’s a win-win that emerges from the unfortunate circumstance of underfunding.
If public school budgets continue to decrease, school leaders may find themselves forced to increase outside funding initiatives to support even the most basic of district needs. At least Superintendent R. Scott Jeffery can take comfort in knowing he is ahead of the game.
Rod Berger: Scott, it's nice to spend some time with you. What I've appreciated about conversations with the superintendents recently is the transparency and the openness to discuss not only the role but also some of the challenges faced by districts so that we can incorporate more voices, more ideas, and more innovations.
One area that I'm noticing a continued shift in change in a positive direction is looking at funding and ways in which to be creative for districts that have to offset budget shortfalls.
We're hearing more and more where we're incorporating in public-private partnerships; we're looking at corporate America even from a funding perspective.
How have you looked at providing different resources or opportunities for your district by incorporating the communities around your district in Pennsylvania?
R. Scott Jeffery: One thing we've done in the Lakeland school district is we started a facility advertising campaign. I'm sure you've seen Little League fields and how they have signs in the outfield?
Our campus was a blank slate for this opportunity.
We looked at the Chamber of Commerce and businesses. We saturated our whole region with an application to advertise in our facility for a small fee.
RB: Pretty good response?
RSJ: Not initially, no - I'm in a school district that's vast - about sixty square miles. We only have fifteen hundred students, and it's mostly rural.
The Scranton area itself has a much bigger school district - about 10,000 students.
We didn't get a huge response. I think that people were initially skeptical. Maybe they wanted to put money in their own local area or school district because we have a lot of school districts in the valley of Scranton.
In my school district, we have about $20-million-dollar budget annually.
The first year, we raised $14,000 dollars with the ad campaign and for us, that was big money. And it's continual. You can buy a three-year term or a two or a one-year term; and, every year, we just send it back out and ask people to renew if it's coming up for expiration.
We just keep doing the same thing.
And it's kind of leveled off. We're at about $18,000 dollars. We're in our third year.
RB: The message is every dollar counts.
RSJ: Absolutely! And in my school district, $18,000 dollars could fund many different things, many different extracurricular after-school programs - maybe some summer stuff. That money goes a long way in my area.
RB: Let's talk about the change and shift in our learners (our students) of all ages where they're becoming “creators.” They're owning their own learning in a lot of ways.
RSJ: If they're allowed to.
RB: Yes, if they're allowed to. The second part of that is, how do we, as adults leaders, within our districts communicate that learning back to parents and families so that it's a more generative discussion as opposed to when you and I experienced going through school. We received a letter in the mail that said “this is how we did at one given point in time.”
How are you looking at that and how are you incorporating technology to support those efforts?
RSJ: The first thing, Rod, is we have to get away from grades. We have to get away from talking about grades because grades don't mean anything to a parent.
It’s an A, a B, a 90, an 80 ─ it doesn't really communicate to the parent or to the child, for that matter, what they’ve learned or haven't learned throughout the course of time.
We have to shrink down the amount of time we spend on grades. There should be daily formative assessments going on for kids. There should be multiple ways for how we're assessing kids as well and multiple opportunities for kids to demonstrate their mastery or progress.
As far as incorporating technology, the Parent Portals that are part of many different student information systems are getting really good. The portals becoming more and more intuitive to allow us to individualize the report mechanisms to be a skills-based or a standards-based thing, not just spelling “eighty-six.”
RB: Meaningful information.
RB: Let's drill down, then, to the younger students. How has it changed for you in your position as a superintendent in evaluating your team's technology that is available for the K-8 - both student and teacher?
It seems like the technology sector has gotten much better at understanding that there are different needs and there are different opportunities not only to support the teacher but also to engage the student. It changes the purchasing decisions and pathways of districts.
How are you looking at that?
RSJ: We have definitely infused more technology options for students in our elementary (Grades K-6) and our 7-12 junior/senior high school.
We have started some computer science discussions at the elementary school level. But we have to teach them at their level.
These are the things that they have at home. They play with their moms’ phones from the time they were two years old. We have to teach using the vehicles at which they are accustomed.
It's not a textbook-driven world anymore. We have to stop trying to do things the way that we did ─
RB: Get out of our comfort zones.
RSJ: Not just that - we have to stop doing it the way it was done to us. That's what I'm saying.
That's just to the nature of the beast, and that's why, I believe, it takes so long for innovative things to happen.
RB: It's key that you said, “done to us” because that's really the experience we had.
RSJ: You're absolutely right.
RB: We didn't have the ownership of it in our experience.
RSJ: Exactly right! And that's a battle. It's a constant battle even with teachers and principals and superintendents - trying to get them to break out of that. That's critical.
RB: Let's close with this. If you think about your path to the superintendency ─ and this is your second post, how can we do a better job of identifying the next crop of superintendents who are out there?
It might be a high school senior or it might be a community member or a leading teacher who has the skills that those in current superintendent positions can see as needed and necessary ─ personality traits, skills, and abilities.
RSJ: One of the key characteristics that you have to have for superintendence is risk taking. You've got to be willing to take risks and not fear failure.
As long as you're not doing anything illegal or inappropriate, then, we need to advocate risk taking within our own staff; and you will identify those people who have them.
As soon as identify them, you know that they're also the ones who are going to be the good school leaders and good district leaders because they're going to perpetuate the encouragement of risk-taking and not fear failure.
RB: The irony is we want that in our students, right?
RSJ: Absolutely right! That's where the greatest learning happens - when we fall on our face. Read that book Oh, the Places You'll Go! By Dr. Seuss (laugh) it's a great story about picking yourself up and everything is going to be okay. You'll be really great at times, and not so great at times. And it's okay.
About R. Scott Jeffery
R. Scott Jeffery has been Superintendent of Lakeland School District, Scott Township, PA since 2013.
Mr. Jeffery began his career as a chemistry teacher in Baltimore after spending five years pitching for the Cincinnati Reds' minor league baseball team. Since then, he has served as a science coordinator, assistant principal, principal and Superintendent of Old Forge School District in Old Forge, PA.
Follow R. Scott Jeffery on Twitter
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The state of edtech in schools
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About Rod Berger, PsyD.
Dr. Rod Berger is President and CEO of MindRocket Media Group. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes
Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.
Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter