Superintendent Marilyn S. Hissong is not the kind of educator who sits idly by while her state’s legislators pass laws that impact K12 schools. “Over the past few years, I have become more involved with our legislators,” says Hissong, leader of East Allen County Schools and Indiana’s 2023 superintendent of the year. “I have tried to communicate with them more regularly regarding bills that they are considering which directly affect our students and staff.”
This year, Hissong worked with state Rep. Dave Heine on the Transition to Teaching bill, which opens the door for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees to win scholarships for the year of coursework needed for their teaching license. “This has allowed us to fill teaching vacancies that have been more difficult to fill in the past,” notes Hissong, whose district serves 10,000 students in rural, suburban and urban communities.
We have also been responsible for the planning and spending of millions of dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). We have been able to do a lot of remediation for students, whole child wellness, healthy air quality improvements, and professional development.
Hissong recently talked to District Administration about her district’s thriving career center, preparing for increased enrollment, how she helped the district attain an “A” rating and the benefits of maintaining small high schools.
DA: What are the most exciting things that are happening in East Allen County Schools?
Hissong: We are most proud of the available opportunities for our high school students. Since 2017 when I became superintendent, we have opened a career center that houses education professions, construction trades, criminal justice, pharmacy technology, health sciences, emergency medical services, precision machining, and automation and robotics. Along with the career center, we have an early college within our district called East Allen University High School. Students have the opportunity to graduate from EAU with their high school diploma as well as their associate’s degree. We also offer a multitude of dual credit and advanced placement courses in all of our high schools.
What are your goals for the next few years?
We are developing our strategic plan right now by partnering with Education Elements. This will help guide us as we plan out the future of East Allen County Schools. Also, we are planning to do a construction referendum in the next year. This will allow us to enhance our buildings as we prepare for the increase of students, program offerings and instructional space.
How have you maintained the lowest tax rate in your county?
Higher property values over the past two years have helped maintain a low tax rate for East Allen County Schools. The school board is very conscientious about keeping a low tax rate as well.
East Allen County Schools attained an A rating in 2015. What was your role in the achievement?
I was the director of curriculum in 2009-2010. During that year, I had the incredible opportunity to work with a selected group of teachers on writing our district-wide curriculum. I had a team of two teachers from each grade level kindergarten—sixth as well as a 7th- and an 8th-grade language arts teacher. We spent a semester designing and creating a curriculum that is unique to East Allen County Schools based on our Indiana State Standards.
I remained the director of curriculum for four years and facilitated the rolling out of the curriculum with our newly hired instructional coaches. At the same time, we continued to write curriculum for more high school content, rolling out math, language arts, science and social studies for the high schools. During our first year of implementation, we became an 8-Step Process District (Hinckley and Davenport). During the 2014-15 school year, we became an “A” district.
It took us four to five years to get critical mass and to see the benefits of having a core curriculum. Yearly, since 2010, teachers from our district spend the summer enhancing and making adjustments to our curriculum. This allows us to continue to add new resources and to make sure that best practices are always in place for our teachers as they start the new school year.
What are the keys to your leadership philosophy, and how do these contribute to East Allen County Schools’s success?
I wholeheartedly believe in servant leadership. I am so blessed to serve East Allen County Schools which is 344 square miles, almost 10,000 students and about 1,300 employees. We maintain five high schools and a career center because each community thrives around its high school. Due to the small high schools, more students are able to be involved in extra-curricular activities and develop a sense of pride and belonging. Our staff builds relationships with each and every child which helps foster the caring and nurturing climate that EACS has.
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What are the biggest challenges East Allen County Schools is facing right now?
We are working to gather information for the referendum. We are conducting demographic and feasibility studies to better help us plan for the future. In the months ahead, we will need to meet with members of our communities, parents and staff to gain support for passing a construction referendum.
Do you have a good relationship with your school board and if so, what are the keys to collaborating successfully?
I have a deep respect for my school board. I love working with all seven of them. They are a student-focused board and that makes all things possible. There may be times we disagree on something but those discussions help us grow and gain an understanding of another person’s perspective. The disagreements are healthy for our organization’s growth and development.