7 Questions With D135’s New Superintendent
Orland Park Patch spoke with Dr. Janet Stutz about differentiation, Common Core standards and communicating with parents. She will be available at a meet and greet 6 p.m. Monday at OJH.
Orland School District 135’s lengthy search for a new permanent superintendent ended with Janet Stutz.
She has worked as Community Consolidated School District 181's assistant superintendent of learning since 2008. Previously, Stutz served as assistant principal and principal at schools in Yorkville and Oswego.
Stutz will be available Monday night at a meet and greet 6 p.m. at the Orland Junior High media center, 14855 West Ave.
Leading up to the meet, Orland Park Patch spoke with Stutz about preparing students for future jobs, changing standards and not surprising parents.
This is a time of great change in public education. What are your thoughts on how education is evolving?
I see Common Core as opportunity to look at a whole system to meet needs of students at an instructional level built around readiness. Looking toward the future, we have to focus on where kids will be in 10 years. The jobs we currently know of today won’t be the same 10 years down the road because of technology changing and how organizations and businesses operate. So it’s our job to prepare and provide experiences to help them later in life. I’m sure you’ve seen and heard over and over about how world is changing due to technology.
I believe our universities are changing as well. In four years between my son entering college and daughter entering, the application process changed so much in that time alone. We need to start building that with students. I had an opportunity to walk through the (D135) schools, and several aspects impressed me greatly. The instruction was collaborative and detailed, even in younger grades. Principals spoke about instruction in ways I haven’t heard in other districts. It’s an awesome foundation to build upon.
How can Common Core Standards be used in practical ways for students?
I actually spoke with our principals today about this issue. I do professional development with them every other week. One of the things we’re focusing on is how we approach reading and comprehension as far as attention to reading. They read a book and there can be ways they can relate it to their own life. We can look at different pieces of literature and take evidence to make an argument, text-based evidence. Students have to go back and find meaning within the text. That’s a different strategy than what has been taught in the past. Everything has been focused more on five to 10 years out for the future of students. We have to start younger now. It’s an exciting time in education. I think the whole impact of technology and things of that nature are exciting. Yes, we have challenges out there but it’s an exciting time for teaching and learning.
Differentiation means a lot of different things to different people. What do you think it means?
Differentiation is about putting all available resources together for students. Between reading teachers, special ed, collaborating teams and others, we all figure out the best instruction and delivery of instruction for all students. That’s what it has to be. Differentiation can include resources and materials based on interests. A major element is to have different resources available. And another is to really get to know the individual learner. Differentiation in of itself means so many different things. It might be based on concepts and different text. Now you’ll hear about intellectual freedom. Choice based on level of interest. That’s a whole course I’m planning and teaching next semester.
How do you approach parents who are against pilot programs?
I’m a big proponent of collaborative efforts and including parents on big initiatives. Sometimes when you start a new curriculum, kids fall down a little if it’s harder than the previous program. The Common Core as an example gets harder with each grade. But the question really is how have they grown when comparing before and after the program? I have experienced this in District 181. We’ve had pilots before where parents couldn’t believe the quality of the children’s writing by parent teacher conferences, but it was hard in the beginning. It’s about educating along the way and making it clear that it may be hard in the beginning, but the kids will be much better prepared for what’s next.
The district has faced a few heated issues over the last year-and-a-half, including Melanie Walsh, contract negotiations and this superintendent search. What are your thoughts on assuming the helm of this district after these issues have taken place?
It doesn’t matter what district you’re in. There will always be challenges and there will always be certain situations or levels of concern. As an administrator who comes from a high-performing, high-stress district where I am now, it’s a tough place to work. I think you have to go back to my own purpose for taking a position as a superintendent. It’s about building relationships and facing challenges head on. You’ll find I’m very blunt. I’m very honest and upfront with the reality of education and where it’s going. But at the end of the day, I’m there to make decisions for the kids. No matter what happens in any political arena, I always go back to are we making decisions that are in the best interests of our students? I feel good at the end of each day knowing that’s the direction I take.
It really doesn’t matter what district you are in. They may come in a different way, or different light. I know some history in Orland but not all. I do know they’ve had some flexibility in recent years with administration.
Contract negotiations will continue to be done privately, as they have before, but is there a way to keep parents more in the loop about other concerns?
There are a couple things that I think are excellent strategies. First, do a meet and greet. Meet the parents and listen. Maybe we get together and talk about a strategic plan. Or we update them about something we’ve been working on. I’m into community partnership and keeping parents in the loop on what’s going on. I know there are a lot of different ways for parents to listen in. An audio stream so they can hear what’s going on at a meeting is an example.
I don’t like to have parents feel surprised about anything. It’s imperative that there is an appropriate communication plan in place and a vehicle for parents to offer feedback and provide feedback. Those are things to work on with Tracy in communications about how we can offer that. I would like that if a parent is upset about something, he or she can come in and we’ll talk about it. I know that’s very time consuming but that’s my approach.
We’ve done after school chats with Dr. (Renée) Schuster (D181 superintendent). PTO meetings. In February, I’ll be going to a PTO meeting to talk about social learning with parents. When parents feel they aren’t being heard and don’t know what’s going on, that’s up to the superintendent to get out and get to know them. I feel I’ve built very good relationships with parents in my district through some really tough times. And I haven’t been able to please everyone. Don’t get me wrong. There will always be challenges. But at least parents know I listened. That’s why I spend that time.
As a leader you have to be willing to do that. Ultimately it’s about making decisions that are best for the students. And the other thing is you can’t take it personally. In today’s world a superintendent has to be a servant leader. My house goes on sale Tuesday. We want to find a home in Orland Park and if not, as close as we can. Parents need to know I’m invested in the district. I know there will be challenges. I’m not going into it blind. But I’m people orientated, and I’d like to build relationships to get through some of these things.
Why did you get into education?
My science teacher inspired me when I was in high school. I have been a coach for a long time for swimming, diving, volleyball. I gave swimming lessons at 14, so I’ve worked with kids since then. The science teacher said to me “you work so well with other people” and then she asked me if I thought about going into it. A teacher really inspired me.
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