When she walked into the Polk County Schools’ District office 86 days ago, Superintendent Kathryn Leroy gave the school board a plan outlining her first 100 days at work. Tuesday, she updated the school board and got rave reviews for her progress.
“This is a person of action,” said School Board Member Dick Mullenax. “She grabs it by the horns and gets it done.” Mullenax was referring to Leroy’s 17-point 100-day plan.
Tuesday, Leroy told the board she had already fulfilled 13 of the 17 proposals she presented when she took over in June.
“Her energy is unparalleled with anything I’ve seen on this board in nine years,” Board Member Lori Cunningham said.
Cunningham added that the items not yet achieved on Leroy’s initial plan “are either well on their way or take more time.”
“When you put a plan out there like that, so many more things come at you, and so many things have come at her and she’s still stayed on track,” Board Chairman Hazel Sellers said.
One of Leroy’s primary goals was communication, with her staff, with board members, with teachers and with Polk County’s communities. She scheduled eight community meetings and has completed six. The final two meetings are scheduled Oct. 1 at Ridge Community High School in Davenport and Oct. 14 at Frostproof Middle/High School.
The superintendent explained that her ongoing meetings with all district administrators and support personnel are identifying for her their needs and weaknesses, and analyzing their opportunities for improvement and threats to success. “That has been very successful so far,” Leroy said.
She also has met with civic and community leadership with speaking engagements at the Lakeland, Haines City and Frostproof chambers of commerce as well as service organizations like the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.
One activity that drew kudos not only from the board but from the non-instructional personnel’s union was an early morning visit to the district’s maintenance shops to talk with support staff. “She knows it’s not just the classroom teachers, it’s also about the custodial staff, the cafeteria workers and administration support people,” Mullenax said.
With a schedule jammed with meetings, Leroy told the board, it has been hard to get to as many of the county’s 166 schools as she originally had hoped. The school district’s website Thursday launched a “Trace Her Tracks” program where users can see which schools she has visited and when.
One area that still needs improvement, said Board Member Tim Harris, is the diversity of both leadership and in the classroom. Leroy’s plan called for “identifying a diverse and talented senior leadership team.”
Harris said the percentage of Hispanic students countywide was not reflected in either the classroom or in administration. Harris said she “needs to focus on that.”
Leroy explained that the district’s Human Resources Department was working with the Ana Mendez University in Puerto Rico to lure more Hispanic teachers and administrators to the county, and that would stay on her priority list.
One of her biggest hurdles since talking over the district was digging the system out of a budgetary hole. The system was about $12 million in the red when she took over and now is back in the black.
“The staff worked hard to put this all together,” Leroy said. “The whole new leadership team molded together quickly to make the best of the budget.”
The budget is still slightly shy of it’s 5 percent savings, but at just more than 3 percent, it has met the state’s requirements.
“I just want to thank Superintendent Leroy for this wonderful plan,” Cunningham said. Thanks on behalf of the kids. She is turning this ship around and its being felt throughout the system.”
Mullenax added that Leroy “had just what we were looking for in a new superintendent.”