7 questions with a superintendent: How to make high achievers more successful

'We’re attempting to push the envelope around academics and attract high-quality teachers,' Superintendent Erick Pruitt says.

In just two years as superintendent of Ankeny Community School District in Iowa, Erick Pruitt has led his team in producing a five-year strategic plan, a profile of a graduate and a DEI framework. Now, the priority is collaborating with his educators to envision and shape the future.

Erick Pruitt
Erick Pruitt

“We’re attempting to push the envelope around academics and attract high-quality teachers but also imagine what education will look like five, 10 and 15 years from now,” says Pruitt, who became Ankeny’s first superintendent of color when he was hired in the spring of 2021.

Pruitt is confident that his team of educators is committed to helping every student thrive. Here, he answers seven questions about how he’s leading them toward their goal. “It’s sometimes messy,” he jokes, “but it’s always in the best interest of kids when all the adults are working in tandem toward ensuring all kids are successful.”

1. What are you most excited about that is happening in your district?

“There’s a lot to be excited about—the momentum gained last school year propelled us into our second year and is now pushing us into the third year. In our facilities master plan, we are imagining an innovative secondary hub. We’re not so interested in a third high school, but we want to continue to support post-secondary planning and we’re thinking about what CTE might look like.

“We understand that as time goes on, our children are going to learn and consume information differently. We’ve realized it’s important—in partnership with the business community—that we have well-rounded students who are not only book smart but are also able to work together in small groups toward a specific goal.”

We’re pushing the envelope around post-secondary planning but we’re not focusing solely on high school. We’re beginning to integrate that curriculum in middle and elementary school to give kids a better understanding of what their pathways might be as they matriculate through our organization.”

2. What are the top 3 goals for the rest of this school year and 2023-24?

“We’re excited about the gifted and talented program we’ve developed. It’s our first year with a gifted and talented specialist, and we’re looking at how to improve opportunities for students who are gifted not just in academics but also in the arts.

It’s also our first year with an SEL specialist, and we’re doing a lot of work around mental health and support for students and staff. We’re interested in ensuring we have the tools and resources to respond to the needs of students during the school day.”

3. What are the biggest challenges that your district is facing?

“In a district that is high-performing like Ankeny, we have to ask ‘What is our compelling why around how we push for continuous improvement? What’s our message moving forward how we push more students toward proficiency in a district that does so well serving kids from multiple backgrounds.”

4. What have you learned about supporting student success and what does and doesn’t work?

“It’s a product of teamwork and collaboration. The adults have to listen and react to the needs of the children who we’re serving, but it can’t be one-size-fits-all. It’s also very important how the district team works with parents and the rest of our community around bringing resources into the district and being as transparent about what our goals are.

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“Ensuring that parents are aware of how to keep kids safe at home and at school has been top of mind. We see what’s happening around us and we want to make sure our facilities and classrooms are safe and that staff has the resources they need to react when issues arise.”

5. What are you and your team doing to support students’ mental health?

“We look at mental health in regard to the activities our kids are involved in. It plays a role in how we help kids manage the stress of the academic side and the activity side. We’re informing parents about the resources we have in school and in the metro region. We’re also looking at how we better utilize data around students who need more support and coordinating the services students are receiving outside school.”

6. Is your district experiencing teacher shortages? If so, how are they impacting your schools and how are you responding?

“We are very blessed to be in a district that has a lot of support from our teachers and post-secondary institutions and a robust student-teacher program. The vacancies we do have are typically in those hard-to-hire areas—industrial technology, consumer science and specialist CTE teachers. We’ve been able to be very competitive with regard to maintaining our teaching staff.”

7. Do you have a good relationship with your school board? If so, what are the keys to collaborating effectively with the board?

“My relationship with my board is strong for a few reasons. Clear and transparent communications are vital—I meet with each individual board member once a month for a check-in. They ask questions and I provide updates. The relationship is based on being honest about the strengths, growth areas and challenges we experience throughout our schools.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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