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.
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.”
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 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.”
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.