Rob Watson is hardly in the second week of his role as the new superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools, but he's already developing a plan for his first few months on the job.
Watson officially started as the district's new superintendent on July 1 following Mark Thane's retirement.
Watson enters the district as it approaches a new chapter, with construction on schools funded by the voter-approved Smart Schools 2020 bonds nearing completion, and the end of the five-year Achievement for All plan.
At a Tuesday board meeting, Watson shared a draft of his plan for the next three to six months, in which he plans to meet with district staff, teachers, students and community stakeholders to learn more about the district.
The core of Watson’s entry plan entails what he described as a “listening and learning” tour, where he’ll meet with the various stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the district and identify areas for improvement.
“I’ll be asking fairly simple questions like ‘What's working? What's not working? What are the successes of the district? What are the challenges? What are the immediate imperatives?” Watson said.
From there, Watson will identify common themes and work with the board and administrators to chart a course for this year, as well as the next five years, in a new strategic plan for the district.
“You don't often hire a new superintendent and so I have kind of a unique opportunity to be a visitor or be the new guy for a while … so I want to take advantage of that opportunity and talk to as many folks as I can,” Watson said.
The entry plan is still subject to changes from the board and superintendent's cabinet, but it outlines what district employees, students and families can expect from leadership in the coming months.
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Watson said he plans to hold the Achievement for All plan in place over the next three to six months while he meets with various groups. His plan also states that he doesn’t want the goals established by Achievement for All to become lost in the transition.
Watson said his immediate “start of the year” plan focuses on the next 30 to 60 days. The plan includes meeting with central office and school leaders, reviewing school year processes and procedures as well as other district operations, creating a communication plan and superintendent evaluation procedure with the board, visiting with parent advisory groups, and establishing a structure for various superintendent advisory councils consisting of parents, certified and classified staff, and students.
“I love seeing where your thoughts are in terms of where your priorities are,” Trustee Grace Decker said.
Decker said that she especially liked seeing parents and students listed as stakeholders throughout the plan because of the insight they can provide as to what it’s really like to be “a student at MCPS today.”
Trustee Heidi Kendall said she’s interested in finding ways to better support all district employees, including school nurses and counselors who face changing roles and increased workloads, as well as employees who make about $10 an hour.
Kendall said she wants the district to look at how to be “the best possible employer that we can be, including paying decent wages for our employees, all of them.”
Watson’s plan also included an internal and external analysis to review things like communication strategies and district policies.
Watson said he hopes the “listening and learning” tour helps him establish a collaborative, trusting, and productive relationship with the board and other stakeholders.