Leadership Profile: Dr. Timothy Mitchell
Superintendent, Chamberlain, South Dakota School District 7–1
Career Path: Mitchell came to Chamberlain in 1995 as a middle school principal. Just a year later, at age 35 and with no administrative certificate, he was leading the district. He was the youngest superintendent in the state at the time, but now he's a 15-year veteran (with his certification), whose wife teaches in the district and whose youngest daughter is a junior at the high school.
District Challenges: The district serves the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. One in five students are in special ed, and one out of two are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. All of these subgroups bring challenges, but officials were caught off guard when NCLB test results initially found the district had two of the state's lowest-performing schools.
District Results: Last year, all of Chamberlain's schools made AYP in all subgroups for the first time. "I'm very proud to be the spokesman for people who did a lot of work to make it happen," Mitchell says.
Changing the Culture, Part 1: Mitchell admits his attempt at a top-down philosophy didn't work when he started. "I developed goals and non-negotiable things and shoved [them] down everybody's throat. It didn't work worth a hoot."
Changing the Culture, Part 2: On his second attempt, Mitchell created a coalition of teachers, and asked them how schools could improve. Using some of the same ideas, the teachers took the lead and got results. "It took a lot of years to change the culture," he adds. "I don't beat a dead horse, but sometimes I say, School improvement one retirement at a time."
Meeting with Duncan: In mid-November, Mitchell and eight fellow rural superintendents met with lawmakers, DOE officials, and DOE Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss the stimulus, school improvement strategies, and No Child reauthorization. Rural superintendents made several points, including that the DOE should replicate successful practices of rural schools rather than forcing them to comply with federal laws they feel were written for urban districts.