School & District Management Q&A

How a Successful Superintendent Takes Stock Mid-Year

By Alyson Klein — February 21, 2023 3 min read
Andrew Houlihan is the superintendent in Union County and developed a high-dosage tutoring strategy to combat student learning loss. Pictured here on Dec. 16, 2021.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The 2022-23 school year is a little more than halfway over in most places. While this time of year can feel like halfway through the slog, it’s a good time to reassess, measure progress, and just generally check-in.

Andrew Houlihan, the superintendent of the Union County schools in North Carolina and a 2022 Education Week Leader to Learn From, makes a regular practice of taking stock mid-year. Education Week spoke with Houlihan about that process, as part of an occasional series of interviews with past Leaders to Learn From.

This interview—conducted over Zoom—has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Do you set new goals at mid-year?

If there’s one word I would use to describe the [process], it would be reflection.

We have a process in the district where on an individual basis, all of our employees and our staff set an individual goal at the beginning of the year. And then we repeat that process in the middle of the year around this time, kind of a mid-year pulse check or goal-setting check. And we do the same thing with our school leaders. So I asked all 53 of our principals to come in the summer and sit down with our cabinet staff to really look at their school level goals for the coming year.

And then about this time, I block out about a week of my schedule and I meet with all 53 principals and our cabinet staff again, to really kind of take a deeper dive on the successes that they have had during the first semester and the challenges that still need to be addressed.

The biggest piece for me is, how can the district and our central office support their efforts? Because that’s why we’re here. It’s really a very robust process that helps us stay connected to our mission and the goals that we have for that year.

What are your own professional goals this year?

So pre-pandemic, we went from six low-performing schools to two and those two [were] one point away from getting out of [low-performing status]. When the state decided to bring back accountability, we jumped to 13 low-performing schools. So, one of my goals is to move as many of our low-performing schools off of that list.

How do you keep track of that goal?

We [have] a goal-setting template that all of our schools use, and it’s a one pager, very quick at a glance. And we ask our school principals to focus on three main categories. One is culture and climate. One is academic progress and growth. And the third is student safety, physical, mental, and social.

We have several different formative assessment systems and benchmark tests that our children take during the first semester, [even though] we obviously don’t have end-of-grade or end-of-course data. We don’t have the full complete picture. But we do have enough data that can give us pretty good indication as to whether or not we’re moving in the right direction.

How might you pivot to support a low-performing school that is still struggling?

When we have indication that there is still considerable work to do, it really comes down to asking the principal: How can our central [office] staff help you? Do you have staffing challenges? Is it a curriculum issue? Is there professional development that we can provide?

What about your personal goals?

I have several personal goals that I work on. One of them that is still a work in progress is to do more writing. I love writing. I love sharing the stories that we have in [the district] and I’m working on a series of different articles for publications. I’ve taken some stock mid-year to realize that there are some areas and some topics that I’m not covering, where I really need to push a little bit harder.

Our 2023 edition of Leaders To Learn From came out earlier this month. Stay tuned for timely perspectives from LTLF alumni. What topics should we delve into in the future? Which past leader would you like to hear from.
Email aklein@educationweek.org or dsuperville@educationweek.org with your ideas.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Grad Rates Soared at a School Few Wanted to Attend. How It Happened
Leaders at this Florida high school have "learned to be flexible" to improve graduation rates.
8 min read
Student hanging on a tearing graduate cap tassel
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Don’t Just Listen to the Loudest Voices: Resources for Ed. Leaders
These resources can help school and district leaders communicate with their communities.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Jenny Portillo-Nacu
5 min read
A pair of hands type on a blank slate of keys that are either falling apart or coming together on a bed of sharpened pencils.  Leadership resources.
Raul Arias for Education Week
School & District Management The Harm of School Closures Can Last a Lifetime, New Research Shows
The short-term effects on students when their schools close have been well documented. New research examines the long-term impact.
5 min read
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020.
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020. A new study examines the long-term effects on students whose schools close.
Jessie Wardarski/AP
School & District Management Video 'Students Never Forget': Principals Call for Help After School Shootings
School leaders are lobbying Congress for more financial support for schools that experience gun violence.
2 min read
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Doug Engle/Star-Banner via AP