ILWACO - Tom Lockyer has only been on the Peninsula for a few months since being hired last spring as the new superintendent for the Ocean Beach School District.
In those few months he has seen some good times, some sad times, along with some hopes for change in the system and the beginning of a new strategy for teaching within the schools. The one thing he hasn't seen much of is rain. He hasn't even bought a raincoat yet.
Here, the superintendent opens up on his feelings about what is happening now within the local school system and what he hopes to accomplish during his tenure.
You've been here for a few months now. What have you found to be the differences so far? As far as living in a very different area, the coast as opposed to the mountains of Montana, and the differences in the job?
Well, as far as climate goes, absolutely different from the standpoint that, you know, Rocky Mountain climate versus coastal climate. Although the horror stories of weather, and that kind of thing, certainly haven't been here just yet, although I'm not naive enough to know that they aren't coming. But yet at the same time, its a beautiful area and have enjoyed as much as I can possibly enjoy given the job and its responsibilities. But I really am enjoying the climate at this point.
Have you had a chance to really spend any time exploring the area yet?
Oh yeah , we've gone out on the end of the Peninsula, we've experienced the oyster fields, and Leadbetter, and the ocean and that kind of thing. And certainly with the job, I've had the opportunity to explore both the bay side and the Peninsula side and kind of down the center. I have not gotten to as many of the historical sites as I will eventually get to, but feel like I'm acclimating myself pretty well, not only to the climate but as well to the uniqueness of the Peninsula. And I'm very excited about that.
As far as the job goes, certainly Washington law is different from Montana law.
In what way?
Oh, just the general nature of funding. Immediately that is very much different. Similarities, the office of public instruction is very similar in structure to the same office in Montana. State superintendent elected, all those kinds of things are pretty similar. The educational service districts are quite a bit different, than in Montana. We didn't have regional organizations we could rely on for those kinds of things. But beyond that, contracts are contracts. Language is language. So a lot of similarities, a lot of differences.
The board here is a super group of folks, very progressive. A lot of ownership. There's certainly some challenges that we face, in terms of meeting the needs of our students. And the board recognizes those challenges and we want to step that process up. At the same time we have an excellent staff, collectively, between the school improvement process grants that we've become awarded at Hilltop and certainly at the Junior/Senior High school, we have some great things in place that we think are gone bring the changes that we need and its gone take a tremendous amount of cooperation between the administrative team and the staff, and the board. But I think we can get there. I feel very comfortable with that. The Washington Reads Grant that we saw have such a big difference in our kids is indicative of that. We know the kids can learn, now we just have to find the strategies, collectively, that will take that to the next step and see those WASL scores and those other things. Accountability is a big issue. Anybody that's not there, is going to have to get there.
Now you were mentioning about how you were becoming acclimated with the new system and people here. However, with a lot of the things that have come your way in the first couple months here, it's probably made you grow up pretty quick, hasn't it?
Oh, without a doubt. It's not something you don't anticipate. Anytime you come to a new situation you know that there are those things that are out of the closet and right in front of you, and you also know that they're going to be some things that are still in the closet and haven't burst out yet, and obviously some of those things have happened. I think we've dealt with them very well, and very professionally and at the same time I really believe that the district and the community have the opportunities to come together collectively. And we have a ways to go with some of that.
Now have you in your past experiences as an educator ever had to deal with some of the types of things that have already come your way here?
Mmm, Hmm. Unfortunate, no matter whether they're personal tragedies, student tragedies, professional situations. Absolutely. Its part of any business, its part of any educational system. And you like to be able to hang your hat on all the good things, but ultimately there are things that you try to deal with. And are you going to please everybody in those decisions? No. But if the majority are impacted, that's the bottom line that you're always trying to get to. Having the greatest impact on the majority of people and students, and I think we've done that, early on. Which gives me a great deal of hope to know that we can realize some of the things that we need to realize for our kids.
Along with some of the bad things that have happened, obviously there have been some good things that have already taken place as well, I'm sure. What are some of things that stand out in your mind so far as you enter this first year and you've had a few months to start to deal with things. What are some of the more positive things that are emerging?
Well, without a doubt, I'm seeing some great things happening up at the high school. The students are accepting the changes that we're trying to put in place, given our budgetary restrictions. The staff are accepting those changes very well and readily and actively engaged in the process of change. So I'm feeling very good about that. I'm hearing nothing but very positive things from the students and staff. The majority of people are saying that this is the best start they've had in years, and I don't believe its because there's a change at the helm, I believe its because people recognize that change is necessary.
What are some of those positive changes that the people are talking about?
The fact that there is some continuity through this school improvement process. Of expectations of students and teachers. and there's a common thread that is occurring throughout the district so instead of having things only happen in one classroom, as an example, they're happening in all the classrooms. And that's making it easier on students to know what's expected of them, its also making it easier from staff member to staff member, knowing that the students know that the same expectations are out there. And then when that gets home, and everybody understands that these are the expectations, parents aren't as likely to be rubbed wrong. They know that their kids know. And so that is one of the more positive things right off the get-go. Certainly the opportunities that the kids have here, I think are wonderful. We've had some great successes, having had to move up in athletic competition league status, all the programs are doing very well. Its really rewarding to see the kids engaged, as much as they are. The academic components of it, usually, are thrust upon the shoulders of test scores, and that's unfortunate, because test scores don't always tell you the good things that are going on in school. But yet at the same time, that's the measure and the accountability. And I want to, as much recognize, the athletic and co-curricular successes we have, but I want this district to be recognized as an academic leader. And I think that everybody else does too. So we'll be putting more attention on recognizing academic performance. Those kids that have met the standards, and doing that in one venue or another but that needs to be done so that people and kids and parents in the community know we put an emphasis on academics.
As far as academics go, are the kids at that standard or level that you'd hope they would be or is there still a ways to go there?
I think there's still a ways to go. There are a number of kids that are performing at or above, but there are also a number if kids who either, because they don't think its as important as it should be, I don't believe there are any kids that can't perform at those expectations. I just believe we need to change our attitude in how we approach taking those tests, teaching the strategies necessary for kids to succeed. I don't believe that there's one student out here who can't learn.
Now, granted, you are operating from the home base here, you're not in the classrooms. But yet you're kind of the ring leader behind all the things that go on.
And, Damian, I'd say I have been in the classrooms. I've been in every building so far. I've been in almost every classroom at least once.
Do you feel that its important for you to be hands on like that?
Oh, Absolutely. In fact, one of my other goals is to accompany the administrators as they visit classrooms and do their evaluations, so that I can see that as institutional leaders, we're working together to keep those standards high. For ourselves as leaders, but also for our staff, and I want to participate in that, from the standpoint that the teachers know I'm going to visit, kids know I'm going to be there and the community knows I'm going to be there. I don't think you can be an educational leader if you're not out there. I don't think you can ever be in the buildings enough. Unfortunately, there are reports and forms and other things that have to be done here. But I have an excellent staff in this office, and I can rely on them to help me. Because I think, initially, I've got to be out there, I've got to see what's going on. Because I can't assume anything, I've got to find those things out for myself before I recommend changes.
So what were some of the things that you had thought about as being ways to get the kids excited to get up to those higher levels?
We're working on those things right now. One of the things is, we all know educationally that in order to build the base we have to build at it from kindergarten through third grade. So there will be many discussions as how to do that, where to focus those attentions. Certainly, right now, it needs to be in literacy, and reading and writing and math. But that doesn't mean that we don't continue that up through the grade levels. Right now, as I said, the school improvement process is taking place in the other two buildings, is directly looking on that Junior/Senior high school and Hilltop at 4, 5, and 6. So as to specifics, we're still putting that into play. Could it be all day kindergarten? As an example? Possibly. We're talking about a lot of things. The biggest that we're talking about is changing teaching strategies. Trying to look at the differentiation that exists between kids. Instead of doing large group instruction, as example, do a lot more small group instruction. Now the elementary schools are doing a great job at that. Those are examples of what we're looking at.
These plans that you're working towards, when do you see them taking shape and put into effect?
The first year of the Junior/Senior high school was last year, and so they set the frame work for how they wanted to go about doing that. This year they're instituting those things. Next year will be assessing the success of the things they're doing. Next year will be another step in that. Hilltop will be putting its plan in place, and then next year instituting some of those things. That doesn't mean we don't try strategies in between, but collectively they're gonna look at what works best for their kids, plan those things out and then implement them next year. Its kind of a three year plan.
What are the key things that you are looking at that need to be fixed, and need to be fixed sooner than later? From any standpoint, students, teaching, funding, structures?
Well, unfortunately, funding doesn't seem to be one of those things that I have a whole lot of control over, other than re-aligning moneys that we have, to address the focus that we think is important. Certainly the focus that needs to be addressed are our literacy and math abilities, so that if the state has set up its standards. And our WASL test scores specifically address those, and we're not scoring well, then somehow we need to look at teaching strategies in order to do that. So I think that's on the front burner. that's something that needs to happen, and is. Secondly, I think the board, as we know is elected as representatives to address all of the districts needs. One of the things that is on the fore front of that for the board and myself is the facilities. Haven't passed a bond in thirty-plus years here to address those facilities. And the facilities, we sink $300,000 dollars a year into maintaining those through our maintenance and operation levees. But we can't fix everything, given that sum of money. And those educational environments are lacking safety issues, they're lacking upgraded technology that allows to access things that are current. They're lacking the educational environments that help kids be successful. Curriculum, performance and accountability, number one. And should be. But right there is the need to address our facilities. And then I think, third, is just that communication and community climate that's necessary to build trust. People need to know that we're working hard to address the needs of the kids and the community.
So do you feel you're a much more progressive thinker as far as teaching today goes?
I think so, yeah. You gotta be willing to get out on the cutting edge and take a risk.
So you're willing to take those kind of chances?
You have to, you have to. We're smarter because we've failed, not because we followed the status quo. And certainly, we all know that things haven't worked here with the status quo. So its time, and that's what's fun and exciting about it.
Granted, you're just getting started here, but do you see yourself being here for awhile? Is this the last stop for Tom Lockyer?
That's a good question. I've made that commitment to the district. But, my job is not as secure in that guaranteed ten year track, that just doesn't exist. So, as much as the board knows that's what I want to do, and my family has had those discussions. My wife is a professional and wants to, at some point in time, get back in that arena, by our choice was have one of us get there first. And then secondly, its up to the board to determine whether I'm doing the job and at some point in time, hopefully that's ten or so years down the road, and I've decided not to work anymore, or whatever. And its not because I'm not doing what the board hired me to do.
So you'd like to stay here for awhile?
Yes, most definitely.
In fact when I went into the kindergarten classes, one of the things that I said to them was that we were going to graduate together.
In closing, if and when you leave here, what do you hope you can say that you accomplished during your tenure as superintendent?
First, that our students are going to show that their abilities, at least as they are put out in front of everybody else, are as good or better then everybody else's. And that they have a vested interest in showing that. And the district will, in doing so, rise to the elite in the state. Instead of us qualifying for a grant, that we'll be speaking in front of the state administrative associations as a leader in the field. And then I think, secondly, to hang my hat on more than one or two things is probably too much, but secondly, to have this community be proud of its facilities. Communities all over the nation revolve its educational components and those facilities are critical to ensuring the future of the kids and as a result of that, the future of the community. So we want to address those issues. So that those facilities are a hall mark of the community.