HCCSC superintendent stoked about upcoming school year

Lancaster Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Kayla Whitacre works on a bulletin board offering tasks for her students that can earn them extra credit or prizes in her classroom on Thursday, Aug. 3. School begins for students on Wednesday, Aug. 9.
Lancaster Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Kayla Whitacre works on a bulletin board offering tasks for her students that can earn them extra credit or prizes in her classroom on Thursday, Aug. 3. School begins for students on Wednesday, Aug. 9. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin

Originally published Aug. 7, 2017.

While Huntington County’s schoolchildren may not be all that fired up about returning to the classroom, Huntington County Community School Corporation’s superintendent, Randy Harris, is stoked about the 2017-18 school year, and ready to take the proverbial bull by the horns for the year’s tasks ahead.

“I’m extremely excited about the start of the school year in a lot of different ways,” said Harris. “One way, honestly, I’m just always glad to get the kids back in school. It’s a whole lot more exciting. I just enjoy being around kids and teachers and all those kinds of things.”

Harris predicts this coming school year will be one of the busiest that HCCSC has ever had.

“Yet physically, on the outside, people may not know that there’s a whole lot now, but next year they’re going to,” he promises.

With the recent board of school trustees’ decision to close Lancaster and Northwest elementary schools at the end of this year, the reopening of Horace Mann as an elementary school, the future construction of a new Roanoke Elementary building and renovations at the aging Huntington North High School building, Harris says 2017-18 is a “foundational year” for the school corporation, paving the way for the changes taking place in the 2018-19 school year and beyond.

“The last board meeting created hours and hours and days and days worth of work,” he says, with lots of planning in the works to make it all happen. “All of that goes anywhere from transportation to personnel to all of those factors, so there’s a lot to do this year.”

After those votes, everyone has been catching their breaths, Harris says, but work will start back up soon. One of his main tasks will be to disseminate communications to keep everyone involved in the changes up to date. He says communication is critical to keeping all of the school district’s constituents informed on the process.

“When I say ‘all of our constituents,’ I am talking about taxpayers, I’m talking about parents, teachers, administrators and all of the support staff in the schools, because everybody’s going to feel like, ‘How is this going to affect me?’ and we’ve got to keep them in the loop to get their input and likewise, as decisions are made, to let them know how it’s going to look as we go forward.”

Another of Harris’ goals is to get classrooms – and students – up to snuff on the integration of technology into curriculum.

“This year we’re going to have brand-new iPads for all of our kindergarten through fifth-graders; we got new MacBooks last year,” he says. “No matter how much things may change or how much they stay the same, or with all these distractions around us as we prepare for the future, I think my main goal is that we make education better this year than it was last year.”

As teachers come back and begin to transform their classrooms into learning centers for the next crop of students, Harris wants to make sure that HCCSC is putting its focus in the right direction.

“The focus has to remain on the kids in the classroom,” he insists. “It’s easy to get tied up into buildings, and building projects and closing schools, and all of that stuff. But ultimately, the staff hears it from me, regularly, all the way down, and that is, ‘Why do we do this? We really do this because of the kids.’ We cannot lose sight of that … and that is not going to change. Even with all this other stuff happening, we’re here for the kids.”

Plans will also be in the works for special events at Lancaster and Northwest. Lancaster Principal Mel-inda Otwinowski says there will be plenty of opportunities in this last year to share the history of the buildings, and the legacy they leave behind in the young students who
fledged from the two elementary schools and moved on toward higher education and adulthood.

Harris says a lot of those plans will come together between now and Christmastime.

As teacher Kayla Whitacre puts her classroom together for the new crop of students in her fourth grade class at Lancaster, she says she feels “sentimental” about doing it for the last time.

“I have built so many close relationships – not just with these kids, but with the families, too. Some of the moms have come in to help me with my classroom this year this summer,” she says. “I still see them all the time. Those kids live by Horace Mann, and hopefully that’s where I’ll go when we close, and then I’ll still have those families to come and support our classroom, even though those kids aren’t in my class anymore.”