View of Hannibal’s School District Finds Positives, Negatives

An outside consultant’s view of the Hannibal Central School District finds that people believe the school is the hub of the community, but that factions and negative attitudes threaten to tear the district apart.

The district received an unvarnished view of itself from the Communities For Learning program, which tries to help schools improve by exposing their strengths and weaknesses.

The program looks at whether the district’s goals and plans are aligned throughout the organization, whether every group that’s part of the school community has a voice in the outcome, the culture of the organization, and whether it has the ability to grow and improve on its own.

“Some of this is tough to hear,” said high school Principal Brian Schmitt as he reviewed the report’s findings with the Board of Education Wednesday night. “But it’s also an opportunity,” he said.

Among the challenges the report cited:

  • Teachers and staff feel the Board of Education is focused solely on money and not on the educational program;
  • The state’s focus on preparing all students for a college education conflicts with some parents’ desires to prepare their child for a career, not college;
  • The recent uprising in favor of sports funding by the student group SOS showed the power of representation, but also showed what the report said was a “lack of intentionality” on the part of the board and administration towards which programs to protect from cutbacks;
  • The presence of groups, or cliques, among staff and in the community, along with what the report called rifts between social classes, which hampers working together.

“Some of the issues you describe need honest discussion,” said board President Matt Henderson, who suggested that the board meet with the facilitators of the district’s various academic departments. Schmitt reminded the board that the high school holds a meeting of its School Improvement Committee once a month at 6:45 a.m. and anyone is invited.

Henderson said he thought there was “some validity” to the criticism of the board’s focus on finances.

Schmitt said the district would work on the issues identified in the report, but noted that the cuts in administration have hurt. “My ability to be the instructional leader and move teachers forwards has taken a hit,” he said.

Schmitt said that he has much less time than he used to have. “80 to 85 percent of my day has been spent keeping kids out of fights, dealing with drama, dealing with parents,” he said, noting that that’s about double the amount of time he spent on these issues last year, when there was a full-time assistant principal in the high school.