After one year in Pawhuska, Superintendent Janet Neufeld, PhD, has had highlights, challenges and triumphs as she works to improve Pawhuska’s schools.
Neufeld came to Pawhuska one year ago and she’s taken the schools by storm. Although she’s faced many challenges, she’s worked to make the schools more efficient and fun for the kids with help from the people of Pawhuska.
“We have an absolutely phenomenal community,” Neufeld said. “It’s probably one of the strongest giving communities that I’ve ever been a superintendent in.”
Neufeld, who wrote an open letter addressing an attendance problem, said the schools are in the middle of a 4-year graduation decline. However, she said she plans on changing that by focusing on enforcing policy, because she won’t be satisfied without 100 percent attendance.
“The attendance and truancy is probably our biggest challenge in the district and most impacts graduation,” Neufeld said. “You’re not in school, you can’t learn. You’re not there for instruction, you can’t graduate.”
Neufeld also addressed the incident where substitute teacher Lacey Sponsler indecently exposed herself to a classroom of students. While Neufeld said she wishes the event had never happened, she also said it was part of a larger problem.
“What I want to connect this to is a fragile environment of resources, of scrutiny, of certification of substitutes, of a much higher vetting through a much higher process that is not so locally driven because we are stretched so tightly with our resources,” Neufeld said. “I think that’s very difficult for people to see when they’re not here working in the school district. Our wages are very low and with that comes very few applicants.”
The highlights of Neufeld’s first year involved increasing technology throughout schools, she said. This includes the Chromebook 1:1 initiative pilot and new technology for Indian Camp Elementary School and Pawhuska Elementary School.
“Technology connects us to students being able to do project-based learning, digital literacy, media skills. Those are the types of things they need to be college and career ready,” Neufeld said.
Neufeld said the biggest things she learned during her first year on the job were about the needs of the children in the community.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is probably some of the needs of the community and how to match up those resources,” Neufeld said.
Neufeld said she tries to impact her administrators to create a leadership team to better serve the community with conviction.
“I always tell my administrators, ‘You have to develop your moral compass and you have to lead with conviction about what your ideas are about kids. Be non-negotiable about what your ideas are about kids. Lead from your heart,’” Neufeld said. “And at the end of the day, that’s all they can do.”
Neufeld said at the end of the day, it’s still all about the kids.
“Our children are so valuable. I love kids. I know that being superintendent is a super-tough job, but I’m in it because I care about kids and I want the children in Pawhuska to have just as much as the children in Jenks and Broken Arrow and Edmond,” Neufeld said.