Hau reflects on first year on job


Lizzie Miller, Pitchfork

Following Tuesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Melonie Hau looks over work before she calls it a day. Between the meeting and this quiet moment, Hau had also squeezed in a quick interview with KSWO news.

April 1, 2016 marked Melonie Hau’s first full year of being Duncan Public Schools’ superintendent. I recently spoke with her about her first year on the job, the challenges she’s faced and what the future holds for Duncan.

Banks: What do you think you’ve accomplished over your first year as superintendent?

Hau: Well, I usually like to lead with a team, so I think the biggest thing I’ve accomplished is just working hard to know people. And when we talked last year, that was a goal of mine, to make sure I was getting out as much as possible and getting to know the community and teachers and students and what their needs are. So I think I’ve done quite a bit of that, but I don’t make decisions by myself. I usually like to get feedback from people about how we’re doing. And we have accomplished the strategic plan this year, which is something that we set as a goal as a district. But there’s still a lot of work to do. There’s still a lot of people that I haven’t met or been able to sit down and talk to, so that’s something I want to continue doing.

Banks: How do you think Duncan’s changed over your first year as Superintendent? If students walk into school, how do you think their experience has changed, how do you think the teachers’ experiences have changed?

Hau: I think one year is not enough time to really see significant change. I think change happens gradually over time, and change happens with people. So people’s mindsets begin to create the change that we want to see. So, as far as how things have changed, I hope people feel more connected. And I think that’s not something I’ve done, I think the community was headed in that direction anyway, and so, if anything, just by me trying to be a person that models that connectivity and that communication, I hope that we’ve been able to see that we need to make that stronger since I’ve been here.

Banks: What have been your biggest challenges and the biggest challenges to the district?

Hau: Well, my biggest challenges aren’t local. So our biggest challenges are coming from what’s happening with the state economy and with the budget, and that’s a huge challenge. And one of my major concerns moving forward is that we’ve been able to make strides in innovation. We have Chromebooks for teachers, and our goal is to eventually have a one-to-one (one device for one student) in the future. We have our professional learning communities that have started for teachers, where they’re able to really take time to work together and build lessons together and grow together in their professional development, and that was happening before I came here, but we’ve strengthened it this year. So all of those things are innovative ideas. They’re helping us move forward and become more transformative in the way we deliver education to students. But we’re right up against the budget crisis in Oklahoma, and the funds that are being cut, so those put obstacles in our way. They are an enormous challenge for us to overcome, and they distract us from all of the innovative ideas that we want to put into place. So it’s vision vs budget, and that is sort of the battle we’re waging right now. And I want vision to win and I think it will, because vision is with people, and it’s people over programs every time. And if you continue to strengthen those relationships and that teamwork and that collaboration and that’s even with students, students play a big part in that, and you guys inspire that and teachers. And so, if we can look towards that, rather than “we’re burdened by the challenges that we have in front of us,” then we’ll make it through, and we’ll be okay.

Banks: I hate it when you have all these big ideas and then reality slaps you in the face.

Hau: Oh, yeah. And that’s the challenge of leadership, that you have to be able to overcome those obstacles. And on that point, I want to make sure that everybody understands that what I believe in and my leadership style is that leadership doesn’t always just come from my office or central office, it comes from everywhere across the district. That’s why it’s important that students lead, teachers lead, principals have a say. Leadership comes from where you are, and everybody has an opportunity to lead the district.

Banks: What have you learned from being superintendent?

Hau: Well, it’s a new job for me, as a first-year superintendent, so I’m learning the job. And I’ve learned that being a superintendent means that you listen, and you are open to other people’s ideas, and then your job is simply to inspire action in others, so I’m learning to apply that more and more. And I’m learning to empower others to do the work for students, so that’s been my biggest lesson this year. And, you know, I’m still learning it. That will always be something that you learn when you’re a superintendent.

Banks: So, if you could go back to the moment you got hired and do something differently, would you do anything differently?

Hau: You know, the biggest challenge with anybody, I think, in an administrative position is how you manage your time, how you set priorities, and I’ve read lots of leadership books and try to take those ideas but there’s nothing like just being on the ground and having to learn as you go. So if I could go back and talk to Mrs. Hau last year and how she was, I would probably, if I was going to be her life coach, I would probably ask that she get out more and talk to people more, and manage schedules and organization. So I think I’m a highly organized person, but I think you can always learn how to be a little bit more organized.

Banks: What is the job itself like? What’s it like to be superintendent?

Hau: Well, I’m available, so part of being a superintendent means that you are [available]. People have access to you, and you’re able to ask questions, cast a vision, be responsive to needs, and also you’re sort of a traffic cop in a way. So, once something comes to you, if it’s not something you need to be handling, then you need to make sure that those concerns, or that need, gets directed to the right person. I show up in the morning, and am usually dealing with some things that we didn’t have time to deal with the day before, and so you have your day-to-day administrative challenges. I mean, if you look at my desk right now, I have some contracts for the next year that we’re reviewing, just mail that lands in my mailbox, I have some messages that I need to return, bills that need to be payed, e-mails that need to be answered, we have a principal’s meeting later this morning, and then we have a couple more meetings scheduled throughout the afternoon. But, you can’t get caught up in all those daily to-do lists. You have to always be thinking “what can we be doing better? What inspires people to take action?” And what always, always is the number one priority, is that every single thing that we do has to be best for students. So you always have to come back to that with every decision that you make.

Banks: What do you think of Duncan as a district right now?

Hau: A requirement of the job is to be the #1 cheerleader for the district. I would say, I think the strength, and this is not just a pat answer, I really do believe this because I’ve been in other places. I think the strength of Duncan as a school district and as a community is the fact that people will serve, and relationships are strong, and people will chip in when needed. So when there’s a need or somebody needs support, I see that we’re there for one another, in order to provide that support and that need. Especially in times right now where things are challenging, I’ve had lots of people come to me and say, “we can do more, what do you need from us?” That’s amazing to me, because that doesn’t happen in other communities. I think the challenges for us right now, especially because of the layoffs at Halliburton and some of the other things that are happening economically, is just to be able to maintain the excellence that we’re used to, the reputation that we’re used to, the pride we’re used to, in times like these. So we need to continue to improve our technology, that’s something we’re behind in as a district, and it’s something that our parents want us to do as well. And we need to continue to even though our relationships are strong, I see that there are places where we have issues of equity in the district, there are places where we have some haves and some have-nots, and I would like for us to continue to work on being more inclusive as a district and as a community.

Banks: So, can you give examples of the equity issues?

Hau: I think that our challenges are that sometimes we have resources concentrated in some areas, and those resources are always going to be there, possibly in certain segments of the community, we know that a need for a certain segment of the community is always going to be taken care of, but we have challenges in other parts of the community where there’s great need. And I think that as a community we’re aware of that and we’re working on channelling resources to where the greatest need is, but I think we still have some obstacles to overcome with that. And I know some organizations like United Way work on that, and Food for Kids program is an example of how we try to overcome that need. We have kids that are hungry, and they need more resources. And we have families that need more parental support. Our teachers are struggling with discipline issues, and so we need to figure out ways to help meet those challenges. And one way to do that is to help families understand about supporting children and their learning. And that includes good discipline.

Banks: If you could magically make Duncan look like whatever you wanted to, you just have a magic wand and you’re just going to make the district perfect, what does that look like to you?

Hau: Well, perfection for me doesn’t mean that you don’t have any conflict or you don’t have challenges. That’s not perfection for me. I think what I would aspire to is that everybody’s focused on a common vision. And so everybody has a mindset for learning, and that includes the adults in the community as well. And everybody has a mindset for looking towards the future and inspiring greatness in others. So that would be perfection for me, where we’ve just got a community and a school district that works hard to thrive and be engaged, and learn how to take care of one another and how to be better every single day. So that would be my magic wand, if I were waving it.

Banks: So, cooperation.

Hau: Cooperation, collaboration, creativity, innovation that would be a perfect place for me.

Banks: I’m not talking about big district plans, but do you have plans going forward as superintendent?

Hau: Well, I want to be better every day at my job. And I want to make sure that I really am out in schools. That’s something that, as superintendent, is always a challenge. Are you out enough, are you seeing students in classrooms enough? So that’s going to be one of my goals, is to continue to work toward getting out as much as I can.

Banks: Is there any general place you want to take the district?

Hau: Well, I want us to be the best school district in the entire state of Oklahoma, and the region, and the nation.

Banks: Is there any idea about how we’re going to get there?

Hau: We’re going to get there together, and we’re going to get there using the models that we see happening in other places what is the excellence that’s happening in other school districts? and then not exactly copying that, but how do we bring those ideas back to Duncan and make them work for our particular needs.