Manahan’s first two months were dominated by meetings with community members and groups who wanted to get to know him. He has been thrilled at the level of support they have expressed for the schools.
With the start of the school year, he has met regularly with PTAs from all of the schools and he plans to have informal neighborhood meetings as well.
In early meetings with staff at all levels, Manahan understood they suffered from “initiative fatigue.” The steady demand of initiatives from the state and from the local district had taken a toll.
He made the decision that there will be no new initiatives this year. Over the course of the last few months, he has worked with the staff to develop a framing model, the Pillars of Success, to help get a handle on the current initiatives. “If you understand the ‘why,’ it is easier to get to the ‘how,’” he said.
Manahan explained the model: “First, we have the foundation, with the core understanding that all members of our school community, from students to parents to staff to administration, are respected, loved, valued, and are seen as capable and belonging,” he said.
On top of that foundation, Manahan said, is the floor, which is based on collaboration. “We need to tap into the wisdom in the room,” he said. “Both from teacher to teacher as they work together, but also from our schools to our parents and community.
“At the top is the roof or outcome: All students graduate capable and able to take advantage of all of life’s opportunities,” he said. “Every student should be career-, college- and life-ready. This might be a four-year college, a technical career or an entrepreneurial endeavor.”
Holding up that roof are two pillars: engagement and assessment.
“Engaging students means that we know where they are academically,” Manahan said. “We need to reach them at an appropriate level, not too high or too low. And that is where assessment comes in.
“Assessment is more than an end-of-the-year, snapshot-in-time test, but should be designed to inform our work with our students—whether that be support through interventions or extended opportunities of enrichment,” he said.
Manahan feels strongly that each school should have the freedom to use the wisdom and experience of the local staff and parents to decide how to shape its programs, using the pillars he described as a framework.
Manahan has distributed a survey to PTA groups, parents and community members soliciting their opinions, questions and ideas for the school district. Once those responses have been collated, everyone participating will be invited to evaluate the results.
Manahan and his wife are settling into a new home and, although he doesn’t have much free time during the week, he is happy to be back in the district where started teaching. After six years as superintendent of the Lake Chelan School District, Manahan is excited to lead a larger district and to be closer to his children and grandchildren.