#8216;Whatever it takes#039;

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mike Looney is starting his second year as Superintendent with the Butler County School System. We sat down with Looney this week to get his thoughts on his tenure thus far, what's in store for the upcoming school year, and where the school system is headed for the future.

How do you feel going into the 2006-07 school year versus last year?

&#8220I have a better understanding of where the district is. The needs of the district. I feel comfortable with knowing the capabilities and skills of the people in the organization. I didn't have a lot of the background and know the expertise of the people here when I first came.

So I think that we have the right people on the bus and we've got them in the right seats now. We're just trying to fine-tune everything here before the first day of school.

We're going to have a couple of big announcements coming out here real soon. One of them deals with academics, but we can't give you the specifics right now.

Another thing I've been working on with the Governor's office is to develop a Pay-for-Performance pay scale. In other words differentiate the pay system for those that do a really, really good job and get results and those who don't.”

One of the first things you did as Superintendent was to implement a Short Term Improvement Plan that outlined 22 measurable objectives for the school system last year. Where did you come up with that plan?

&#8220The idea was that anytime an executive comes into a system they try to do an assessment of the system and try and figure out where things are.

One of the first things I did was I sat down with the Board and senior staff and said ‘okay, what's going well, what's not going well, and what are some of your priorities in your department?' And then we made a list and sat around this table and had a brainstorm session.

From that list we came up with the priorities, which meant these were the things that had to be done.

For example the bleacher job at Georgiana (High School). For safety concerns, we had to replace those bleachers. The last time you reported you reported we reached 17 of 22 and that was because we had a couple of items we didn't have the data back yet. Based on the information we have, I think that there's going to be a time for this community to really celebrate what the teachers have done this last year. I think we're going to be able to report probably the most significant achievement gains in the history of this district in one year.”

You have unique motto for employees in the school system and that's &#8220Whatever It Takes.” Where did this motto come from?

&#8220There is a book entitled &#8220Whatever It Takes.” The book talks about organizational renewal and rejuvenation and how you take it to the next level. In my view Butler County in the last several years has been the little engine that almost could. We had a lot of talented people. We had a lot of good things, but we never managed to take it to the next level. When I came here I tried to develop a team that's committed to taking us to the next level and I think we have that team in place. The motto means we're willing to do whatever it takes to help our children go to succeed in high school and go to college.

I'll give you an example: Mr. (Wayne) Boswell, who is in charge of transportation, has told me that this is the first time in his 37 years that we have washed every single bus, put Armor All on the tires and cleaned the seats. Imagine. He's been here 37 years and this is the first time this has ever been done. I think that's an example of doing whatever it takes to get ready for school. To most people that see the &#8220Big Yellow Cheese Wagon” (laughs) going down the street, they won't know that. But we'll know we did that for our boys and girls.”

Describe the entire Strategic Planning process?

&#8220It was real exciting for me. We had 12 different community meetings throughout the county. We distributed questionnaires and we had more than 700 people turn in survey responses. We took those and looked at every single one of them and wrote down their comments. Those are reflected in the final product that hopefully the Board will approve on Aug. 3. We're in the final stages of the production process.

The plan reflects the input from the community. I believe what sticks out in those responses is: the need to offer choices to children, the need for us to make sure the boys and girls felt safe and cared for while at school, and the overwhelming perception was that we have to do something about our facilities in this county. Greenville High School is a gorgeous building and Dr. (Kathy) Murphy and her staff are working hard to maintain it. But the fact of the matter is we have a lot of other buildings that are just not sufficient.”

What do you see are the biggest challenges facing the Butler County School System in the years to come?

&#8220I think there are three.

One is to deal with the changing values of society. We have parents having children that really are kids themselves and that have low expectations, a lack of commitment towards quality education. We're going to have to continue to deal with that. When I was in school the teacher was right and the parents supported the teacher. Now, when a child does something wrong we have to literally prove we acted in a just manner. The fact is 99 percent of our employees work hard and do the right thing. We need that support (from parents) and it's something that's fading. I'll be honest; I don't have a fix for that.

The second thing has to deal with academics. The No Child Left Behind each year gets a little bit stringent in its expectationsŠwe will continue to work hard and meet those levels of expectations.

And finally, but not last, we collect 12 mils of property tax in Butler County. One mil, I believe, brings in about $145,000 of local money. We have two mils over the required state match and that just doesn't leave a lot of money to fix buildings and to buy buses and computers. At some point we're going to have to address the need in this community for the schools. I think one of the things we did last year was look at every dollar we spend and ask tough questions. ‘Do we have to spend it? Is there a better way to spend it?' We do have data that shows we are spending our money more efficiently. We want to be held accountable by the public as to how we spend our money, but we also want to have enough money to do the job right.”

When you evaluate a future employee what do you look for?

&#8220I have this phrase I've used almost everywhere I've gone and that's Heart-Passion-Conviction.

The first thing I look for is someone who has a heart for the profession. They like kids. They like people and they like working in a service-orientated profession.

I want them to be passionate about their work. This is not a seven to three job. This is not an eight to five job. I want someone who lives, eats and breathes learning.

Finally, I want someone who has conviction about themselves. We have a lot of obstacles in our way. What differentiates Butler County from other systems is that we believe we can overcome those obstacles and be successful.

I don't want someone to become an employee of this system who has a defeatist attitude or doesn't believe we can be successful with poor kids, rich kids, smart kids or slow kids. I want someone who believes we can become the best school system in the state. It's what this community deserves.”

– Interview by Kevin Pearcey