Boyne City Schools’ new super Patrick Little talks security, process, and the first 90 days

What was the toughest question asked of Patrick Little … and why was it so difficult to be asked? Subscribers can see the full in-depth version of this 2,000-word article to find out that and the answers to many other questions. Or, pick up a print copy in stores this week.


 

BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR & CHRIS FAULKNOR, PUBLISHER

Now that his three-year, $110,048 annual salary contract has been finalized, Patrick Little is the new superintendent of Boyne City Public Schools.

Little, who was offered the job at a May 5 special school board meeting by a 6-1 vote of the Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education, has a three-year contract contingent on receiving, annually, a satisfactory evaluation. In addition to receiving five percent of his salary as an annuity, Little gets 14 sick days and 20 vacation days each year.

 

“It is an honor to be selected to lead the Boyne City Public Schools,” Little said in a Monday May 9 news release from Boyne City Public Schools. “I look forward to continuing the level of excellence that is found in the district as we work together to serve students, families and the community.”

He added, “My family is excited to join the Boyne community later this summer.”

Boyne City Public Schools Interim Superintendent Peter Moss told the Boyne City Gazette late last week that Little’s deal is comparable to what he received when he came to work with the district.

Moss’ last day is expected to be June 30, with Little taking over on July 1.

The lone “no” vote was cast by Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education member Zareena Koch.

“My ‘no’ vote was a result of wanting more time for deliberation and had little to do with Pat himself,” she told the Boyne City Gazette. “He’ll make a great addition to our staff, and I’m looking forward to his fresh approach to our district.”

Little, who currently serves as the superintendent of East Jackson Community Schools, was one of five original candidates—four of who were interviewed—who made it to the last round of the search for a replacement of Moss.

Questions & answers
During his final interview with the school board, Little answered questions on numerous issues, including how long he plans to stay, how he will handle the transition of power, dealing with students and parents, and school security.

The first 90 days
Little was asked how he would handle the transition of moving into the superintendent position.

He shared a document with the school board regarding how his first three months will go.

“The transition plan, I think, is really a key. And, when I first came to East Jackson, I had a transition plan and this transition plan’s a little bit different because it’s a different school district,” he said. “But, it is rooted in the same communication style that I was successful with starting as a superintendent there.”

Little said there are six essential elements to focus on in the first 90 days, and that he would like to create his transition plan for Boyne with the school board, noting that the document he shared during the interview is merely a draft.

Little said he would like to have a workshop or study session in July or August to work with the board to finalize the transition plan and then have the board perform an evaluation in October to review how the transition is going and to give him feedback on his performance.

Little said he did the same thing with his last school system.

“I think the community appreciated hearing from the board how the first 90 days went with the new superintendent,” he said.

Little’s 6 essential focal points:
1. Developing strong positive communication patterns between school board members and the superintendent
2. Create a common vision
3. Develop a system to measure and articulate internal goals
4. Develop a plan for community outreach and visibility
5. Work with engineers, construction management to help “plot out in greater detail” the $10.3 million bond projects
6. Review all the contracts the school district has and get to know third-party contractors and other partners like the Char-Em ISD.

Little said he will also read every current teacher evaluation on file.

Ultimately, Little said, it will be up to the board to decide how it wants him to proceed during the transition period.

But, Little said, he likes to meet with board members one-on-one each year to discuss the direction of the school using a series of “why” questions, the answers of which will eventually be used to help create a strategic one-page plan. He also said he is a believer in listening tours, which allow school employees and local citizens to comment and ask questions of the superintendent.

Feelings about Boyne
One school board member asked Little if his feelings about Boyne City had changed since his first interview.

“I have changed my mind about Boyne City,” Little said. “It’s an even better fit than I thought.”
Little said he has learned that the Team Boyne concept is a real thing from his conversations with community members.

Staying awhile?
Little was asked what assurances he could give that his commitment to the community is a long-term one.

“I can just look you in the eye and say this is a long-term commitment for me,” he said. “This is the only superintendent job that I’m applying for.”

Little added, “This is a special opportunity for us. And, a special opportunity, you don’t walk away from a year or two after you get it.”

Little said he also sees opportunity for a good superintendent-board of education relationship.

School security
Little was asked if he has been confronted with issues of security and violence on school grounds and how he handled those incidents.

Little said there have been cases where weapons were brought to school and also a major fight broke out during a sporting event.

“The best deterrent to school violence is excellent relationships in the school—whether that’s teachers or counselors, principals or support staff,” said Little. “When students feel isolated and feel like no one cares about them, that is when they start to have thoughts of anger towards other people.”

Little said relationships with kids need to be in the forefront of everything educators do.

“When parents put their kids on the bus, they assume the school is doing everything they can to keep everybody safe,” he said. “So, that is really one of the fundamental aspects.”

When asked about adults who bring guns onto school property, Little said his personal stance—which is not necessarily school policy—is, unless you are a trained individual like a police officer, you should not have a weapon on school grounds.

Little said his own father was a longtime policeman who was trained to use weapons responsibly but it has been 25 years since he had that training and he wouldn’t want even him on school property with a weapon at this point. Little reiterated that those are just his personal feelings and not school policies.

Parental concerns
Little was asked how he would approach parents with concerns about an incident their child was involved in while balancing the needs of the parents, students and district.

Little said you need to start with the source, see if parents have spoken with the staff member they are frustrated with or with the staff member who originally dealt with the student involved in the issue.

Little said he may speak with the staff member involved and offer them tips on how better to communicate with the parent and student.

“I would listen. I would take notes,” he said, adding that he relies on his experience as a coach to help him work out difficult situations.

Deviating from policy
Little was asked about his process if he felt he needed to deviate from school board policy in a situation.

He said he would discuss the matter with school board members and make sure everyone understands why the board policy does not fit in that particular circumstance.

“I’m having a tough time imagining what that would be,” he said, adding that if it was something so big a formal board meeting was needed to discuss it, then that is how things would proceed.

He said, if it was something that occurred as a snap decision, he would later explain to the board why he made the decision as he did.

Little said, in 99 percent of the cases, he would want to ask permission first—an example of why he wouldn’t might be if law enforcement told him he needed to do something which went against board policy.

Strategic planning
Little discussed the strategic planning process, saying that the district must identify its needs, add it to the future planning process and figure out a way to pay for it.

Student retention
Little’s current school district has been losing students over the last few years. He was asked to account for those losses.

Little said the school system is surrounded by larger school districts which have more educational and athletic offerings … something which often attracts students from smaller schools.

He said he had parents tell him they were moving their child to go somewhere that had certain sports programs.

He also blamed shifting demographics for the decline in student enrollment.

Little said he tracked why students left and where they went to in order to get an idea of how to deal with the losses.

“One of the things our school board decided is that, if we continue to cut programs, kids will continue to leave,” he said.

Measuring success
School board member Ross McLane asked Little a question he said was the hardest for him.

“There is no shortage of folks in your school district to sing your praises and celebrate how successful you’ve been. But, by three popular measures, the success doesn’t show,” McLane said, pointing to the diminished pupil count, decrease in fund balance and audit issues…. “So, how do those translate into successes?”

Little said the environment his school district works in is very competitive, it being so small among larger systems, and that, in context, his school district has been successful in its attempts to improve.

“What they appreciate and why you heard positive things about me is that I’m consistent, I’m positive, I am process-oriented. And, although some of these things landed on our plate, we don’t act like the sky is falling,” Little said. “We make a plan and we work it through—we communicate the best we can.”

Regarding the audit matter, Little said he discovered some issues with how the budget had been prepared going back several years and, with the help of an auditor and some other experts in school finance, they made a plan to find a new business manager and move their payroll under their local ISD.

“It was a perfect storm of things that led to a tough situation,” Little said. “But, the silver lining of that is it forced me to learn so much about finance.”

Little said the biggest issue with his school system’s audits was a lack of checks and balances due to its small staff.

He said the other major issue was moving from a smaller audit firm to a state-wide audit firm which he referred to as much more rigorous.

About Little
Patrick’s wife is Nikki Little (Erber), who graduated from Boyne City Public Schools. And, her parents are residents of Boyne City.

Patrick and Nikki have five children: one has recently finished graduate school and lives in Indianapolis; and coming this new school year to Boyne City are two children who will be in the middle school; and, two of their children that will be in the elementary school.

Patrick started his career in 1995 as a teacher and coach at Charlotte High School in Charlotte, teaching civics, sociology, Western civilization, and English while coaching football and baseball.

He then moved to Dexter High School in Dexter, teaching American studies, psychology, government, and English while coaching varsity football and then moving into an assistant principal’s role.

He then moved to Chelsea, where he served as an assistant principal for Chelsea High School.

After a period of time, Patrick moved into a principal’s position for Beach Middle School in Chelsea.

His last move was to East Jackson Community Schools, where he was asked to be secondary principal, which eventually led to his current leadership role as superintendent.

According to Boyne City Public Schools officials, Patrick brings with him a sense of community spirit and much enthusiasm for Boyne. You may see him earlier, as Patrick plans to visit Boyne City a few times before he begins his new role as superintendent.

 

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