As Ben Barton prepares for his second year as superintendent of the Princeton School District, it’s time to get down to business.
Barton’s goal? Building a district that lives up to the same values while keeping the classroom environment consistent.
For Barton, it’s all about Princeton’s “mission” and “vision.” While these terms can be thrown around easily, Barton takes them seriously as he dives head first into implementing his educational philosophies and values through what he’s labeled Princeton’s “Continuous Improvement Program.”
He went into detail about the program at the Tuesday, July 16, meeting of the Princeton School Board.
“This program really is the guiding light for the district in terms of the work that we’re doing,” said Barton, a Wabasha native who came to Princeton after spending six years as superintendent at Caledonia. “It’s about what it says – continuous improvement for the district. It’s really all about our students. How do we prepare them to thrive?
“Our mission is great, but how do you do that? We’ve laid out our plan, and not every place has a plan. This is how we’re going to do it, and it’s largely grounded in common sense of high focus and positive climate culture. We believe it’s hard for students to learn if the conditions for learning aren’t there, and that’s what this is all about.”
The vision focuses on several different aspects of education, including focusing on high student achievement through a guaranteed and viable curriculum, creating an optimal teaching and learning environment, providing a multi-tiered system of supports along with efficient and effective operations.
“I’m a pretty simple guy,” said Barton, who wrestled at the University of Northern Iowa and also taught in LaCrescent and was principal at Hinckley-Finlayson. “I think the recipe for success is based understanding our mission and vision, create a team and find a way for that team to work the most efficiently and effectively they can together. Once you create a team, you create a game plan. You create the game plan, you implement and execute the game plan and you modify and adjust as you go.”
He added: “The board establishes the ‘what’ as in ‘what is it that you expect?’ Then you hire a superintendent to try and create a team and how and execute the plan. With over 500 employees, how do we create a system for us to work the best together?”
One of the more important things Barton looked at is how the teachers and administration govern themselves. That led to the creation of a “flow chart” that helps staff understand how they can help better the district through feedback. He welcomes feedback on big decisions and said there will be times when staff makes those decisions. However, Barton wants to make sure staff are on the same page from building to building.
“The key is alignment consistency,” Barton said. “We have the same kind of team concept to the district level, to the site levels, to the teacher grade levels and the departments. We don’t want to have every site do their own thing. We want to provide a framework for them to work within that is consistent with what our expectations are.
“I feel like to have the best team culture we can have, we need to have people feel like they own it. If you’re on a team and feel like I’m in this, I’m not going just to punch the clock. I’m part of this team. I’m part of this team working together to do great things. That’s how we want everyone to think.”
Other Board News
• The meeting started with a packed room of students and parents as part of the commendation for spring sports and activities. The commendations are typically presented to students who participate at the state level and are presented three times per year, typically after the fall, winter and spring activity seasons.
Honored were members of Princeton’s archery team that included multiple state champions, members of the adapted bowling team and also the school’s Future Farmers of America program that finished fourth out of 180 schools. The fourth-place finish was the best in school history.
“It was a very special night to have the opportunity to see these students get recognized for the great things they do,” Barton said. “The things these kids learn from participating in extracurricular activities is invaluable. They make us proud to be Princeton Tigers. It’s a cool thing that the board has a way of recognizing these students. Not all districts to do this.”
• The school calendar for the 2020-21 school year was approved. Due to a state law preventing start dates before Labor Day, the first day will be Sept. 8.
“This is about as traditional of a calendar that we can have,” Barton said. “It has us ending about as soon as we can on June 3. That’s about as good as you’re going to get given that you’re starting so late in the game.”
Barton also said he has heard from residents asking about reinstating a spring break, but added the 2020-21 school year would be a difficult one to implement it with the late start.
“Spring break is maybe something we could revisit the following year, and we definitely do have people who would value that,” Barton said. “But we have lots of people on the other side of that, as well.