News and Tribune

April 14, 2014

HOW IT WAS DONE: Stephen Daeschner writes how Greater Clark achieved gains

Former superintendent hopes his book can serve as guide for other districts

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — After establishing his academic goals for the district in 2009, the Greater Clark County Schools board told its new superintendent that there was no way he could achieve them.

Yet Stephen Daeschner surpassed them. In three years at the district, it saw a gain of nearly 22 percent in English/language arts scores on ISTEP+ and nearly 30 percent in math — twice what he expected.

His new book, “And They Said It Couldn’t Be Done,” outlines how he made it happen.

Daeschner, 72 and now teaching at Indiana University Southeast and Bellarmine University, said he hopes the text serves as something of a guidebook for districts or schools hoping to improve their academic achievement.

“It was just a journey, it was something that was exciting and I’m proud of it,” Daeschner said. “I think it contributes to our knowledge of education. I think the book speaks for itself, when I started with the board that hired me, they said ‘you can’t do this.’”

He said he knew of widespread improvement in schools individually, but before he worked at Greater Clark, he never knew of an entire district that made gains across the board in the same way.

By applying some of the concepts and techniques they used and the ones outlined in the book, he said he thinks other districts could replicate and build upon those results.

Largely, he said the achievement of students was affected by educators working together, both within schools and across the district.

“We, in education, are in a very isolated profession,” Daeschner said. “The teacher goes in a room and teaches. There’s one principal in a school. We’re not very good at collaboration and interaction.”

Though the book is data-heavy and uses specific terminology, he said breaking down the heady material is achieved through anecdotes written by principals he worked with. Each chapter has several vignettes written by current and former principals in the district.

He said the interjections by principals not only show how collaboration played a big role in making district-wide change, but also how much staff buy-in of the ideas made a difference on an administrative and faculty level.

April Holder, principal at W.E. Wilson Elementary School, said the pieces contributed by principals can help non-academics — including parents — get the idea of what the district did behind the scenes.

“A typical parent, I think, would have questions,” Holder said. “This is the perspective of what one district did to facilitate change and success. If they read this, it would give them the ability to question what their district is doing.”

She said the concepts in the book can help change the academic culture of schools, even in a time where schools end up vying for students against private schools or charter schools.

“So many times in education, we’re so competitive or trying to market ourselves,” Holder said. “But this project wasn’t about anybody, it was about everybody, and I think that’s beautiful.”

Daeschner said though the details of his relationship with the board and its decision to not renew his contract aren’t included in this book, there’s a possibility that he’ll write about the school boards he’s worked with in nearly 50 years of school administration.

“I don’t think board members know the education field,” Daeschner said. “They get on the board for other reasons, political reasons or stuff like that. They get in and stretch some of their limits by weighing in their say on principals.”

As other districts search for resources to help their students, he said he hopes what he’s written contributes to them as others had during his career as a district administrator.

“That’s how I used lots of books, we were always reading,” Daeschner said. “We’d talk about what we were reading. You’ve got to read the literature, apply it and pick it up for yourself.”