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Chip Pettit plans to empower talented people as Duneland Superintendent

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By LILY REX

Duneland Schools’ new Superintendent Chip Pettit envisions the role of a superintendent as a platform from which one should “empower talented people,” support the personalization of education for individual students, and foster a culture where every person matters.

Pettit sat down for an interview with the Chesterton Tribune where he discussed his background, his approach to leadership, and his goals at Duneland.

Background

Pettit was named Superintendent at Duneland after being principal of Crown Point High School for seven years. He has also worked as a director of student services, dean of students, and athletic director. Before moving into administration, Pettit said he was an alternative classroom supervisor, then a seventh-grade social studies teacher. He has taught a range of classes, including World Geography, AP U.S. History, and Government at the high-school level, and been a coach.

Pettit has no prior experience as a superintendent or assistant or interim superintendent of schools, but he’s confident his experience as a building-level administrator will translate to the task.

Pettit said he has a passion for students and leadership, and being the building principal at a school with over 2,800 students and 220 staff members has given him experience in developing systems at scale, which he says is one of the biggest challenges district-level administrators have.

“Part of what I believe makes the timing for both me and Duneland right is the fit. I’m coming from a very similar community with a very similar student population,” Pettit said. “I’m not coming with a mindset of an agenda or a to do list, but with an understanding of what is already in place here, and I want to support that.”

To Pettit, his job boils down to organizational leadership, which should “ensure that every student is accounted for in a personalized learning environment.”

“I believe that’s done by empowering talented people to lead and to build the systems to ensure that there’s accountability in place,” Pettit said.

Pettit reported he and his wife have decided to continue living in Crown Point because they don’t want their two high-school-age children to have to change schools. However, Pettit has already attended a local Rotary meeting and plans to get involved in the Duneland community in other ways.

“There are some things that will be unique to Duneland that I need to learn, and I look forward to learning about the traditions and the different aspects of life in this community that make it special,” Petit said, “But it isn’t as if I’ve come from another part of the country or another part of the state. I’m a northwest Indiana person.”

When asked about his biggest accomplishments at CPHS, Pettit was most proud of a school-wide culture rather than specific programs: “We had a student culture in which every student was valued, and we had a professional culture in which people were respected and were able to collaborate with one another and hold each other accountable to high standards.”

Leadership Philosophy

Similar to Duneland, Pettit said Crown Point has a wide variety of students who come from well-off families, students who are underserved, and everything in between. Pettit said the biggest challenge presented by the variety of students in Duneland is educating the whole student, for every student, which is why he’s supportive of the advisory period recently implemented at CHS.

The advisory period is intended to build a trusting relationship between students and a specific teacher so students have someone to rely on for not just instruction, but also social and emotional needs. When asked if that goes beyond a teacher’s job description, Pettit said it does, but it’s “part of a paradigm shift” that all educator have to accept. “To think that our counselors are going to be able to do that by themselves just isn’t realistic. The ratios just don’t work. There has to be a multi-tiered approach to supporting students,” Pettit said.

Pettit used the phrase “building systems for accountability” twice when asked about his leadership style. When asked for a real-world example of this, Pettit described it as “a data-driven approach” to making decisions at every level, “So the community can expect that we don’t make decisions based on gut or feel, but on research-based, best practice strategies that are proven.”

Given Pettit’s background in athletics and the rich variety of activities that students excel in at Duneland, this reporter asked Pettit if his comfort level varies when working with different extra-curricular activities.

Pettit said he gained experience dividing his attention between activities at CPHS.

When you’re a principal, Pettit noted, “You’re the principal for every student in that building.”

Pettit said his philosophy is that schools should try to get students involved in some after-school activity, no matter what it is. “I’ve seen competitive robotics teams that rival high school football teams and marching bands. That’s a concept I’m familiar with and support, not just for a robotics club, but for any and all emerging student activities,” he said.

Supporting students who plan to pursue the trades, enlist in the military, or enter the workforce right out of high school, and making sure CHS provides adequate programs to prepare those students for post-secondary life, is important to Pettit. “We need to make sure that students have the skills to succeed in whatever path they choose and that we have the pathways that lead them to viable college or career options,” he said.

Goals for Duneland

Two of the biggest challenges Pettit anticipates are accommodating students and supporting teachers in the changing landscape of education. According to Pettit, teachers need more support than ever in what he termed a unique “era of school accountability and technological innovation.”

“In this era of public education where we’re in competition for students, I also believe that we need to continue to take steps to personalize the learning experience for kids,” he continued.

Pettit said he doesn’t have an opinion on Duneland’s transfer student policy, or on losing students to charter and private schools, at this time: “I do believe that we need to continue to take steps to make sure we’re positioning ourselves so that families living within our district are choosing Duneland Schools because we are the best option out there for their children.”

Though he was known for creating a work-preparedness program that placed CPHS students in internships with local companies, implementing new programs is not on his mind now. Pettit said he looks forward to supporting the programs in place and learning what’s going to work for Duneland. “I’d really like to focus my energy there,” he said. “To say that I have a program or an item that I would like to implement--I don’t think that would be accurate, or fair to the programs already in place.”

Pettit said he looks forward to starting negotiations with the Duneland Teacher’s Association on a new contract. The current contract expired June 30, but will remain the default agreement until a new one supersedes it. Pettit said negotiations will start this fall.

On the issue of transparency and public comment at Duneland School Board meetings, Pettit said open communication with a variety of stakeholders “is always positive.”

Pettit’s position on the DSB policy, which is more restrictive than public comment at other local government meetings, is that it meets the requirements set forth in state statute, and its consistent with what he’s observed at other School Board meetings. In order to make public comment at a DSB meeting, members of the public have to either comment only on what’s on that night’s agenda or submit an item to be placed on the agenda a week ahead of time.

Pettit said, however, that he wants to be approachable and listen to the needs of the community. Pettit said he would be interested in holding separate sessions, similar to the referendum info sessions, where parents and other community members could voice their concerns extemporaneously.

 

 

Posted 7/22/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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