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Profile                                                                Page 51

 

An Enduring Ambition To

Serve Kids   

 

BY BETSY SAMSON 

Susan Bunting
Susan Bunting

Susan Bunting’s first experience leading a classroom gives new meaning to the term “student teacher.” She remembers being put in charge of her Selbyville, Del., high school peers when meetings and other circumstances required her teachers to be elsewhere.

“This horrifies me now as a superintendent!” Bunting reflects. Today she reigns in the top berth of Indian River School District, where she was a student. She has spent 35 of her 41 years as an educator there.

Bunting’s teachers pegged her as a natural educator, an identity that suited Bunting fine. She doesn’t remember a time when she did not think about a career in education. Nevertheless, Bunting opted for an undergraduate degree in psychology, saying she “picked up an elementary education certificate on the side.”

Bunting drew heavily on her psychology background during her 17 years instructing Indian River’s gifted students, a population with unique psychological needs.

Her time teaching gifted students also offered ample opportunity for Bunting to cement her aptitude for curriculum development. “There was no curriculum to be had. We had to be very creative and very intuitive and to quickly think on our feet,” she says.

After serving for 10 years as director of instruction at Indian River, Bunting moved into the superintendency in 2006 and turned her attention to closing the achievement gap in what had become a diverse, rural zone with a 57 percent poverty rate. When Delaware was selected as a Race to the Top state, Indian River Assistant Superintendent Gary Brittingham recalls Bunting’s efforts to include all parties in the district’s quest for reform. “She involved the teachers and union representation every step of the way. ... Teachers felt they were partners in the process,” he says.

One potential sticking point was more-demanding teacher evaluation. Bunting “got out in front of the situation by setting up training for administrators to help them understand how to write quality evaluations and … minimize the time spent doing them,” Brittingham says. “Almost every administrator participated.”

Her initiative is paying off. Since 2009, the percentage of 10th-grade African Americans meeting the math standard rose from 15 to 49 percent. In reading, the percentage of Latino sophomores meeting or exceeding expectations increased from 7 to 50 percent.

Yet Bunting, a finalist for 2012 National Superintendent of the Year, also realized that efforts to close the achievement gap must begin well before 10th grade.

Bunting’s answer was to build early-intervention “village schools,” essentially preschool programs for economically disadvantaged students and those without English proficiency. Again the superintendent focused on engagement. Lillian Lowery, Delaware’s secretary of education at the time, remembers, “She had the data to show that the only way to close that achievement gap is to reach out to those students before kindergarten, and she … worked tirelessly to collaborate with the community to make that happen.”

What does Bunting hope to do next? Bringing an International Baccalaureate program to the district is one endeavor. “I want to ensure that no child will be denied an opportunity because we have not prepared them,” she says.

Betsy Samson is editorial assistant for School Administrator magazine. E-mail bsamson@aasa.org

 

BIO STATS: SUSAN BUNTING

Currently: superintendent, Indian River School District, Selbyville, Del.

Previously: director of instruction, Indian River School District

Age: 64

Greatest influence on career: My father had an 8th-grade education in the Depression years, yet he managed to succeed in business due to his ingenuity, work ethic and love of people.

Best professional day: May 3, 2010, when the district received a Superstar in Education Sustainability Award from the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.

Books at bedside: Mindset by Carol Dweck; The Help by Kathryn Sockett; The End of Molasses Classes by Ron Clark; and True Compass by Edward M. Kennedy

Biggest blooper: One dark, freezing morning in my sleepy state, I delivered the message that “due to icy conditions, schools will be opening two hours late. All staff will report on time.” What a difference a word makes! Traditionally, 12-month staff report at the regular time, but in the 40-year history of the district, the teachers have NEVER done so. On this occasion, they dutifully reported on time — in an uproar, owing to my dramatic error.

Why I’m an AASA member: I not only rely on School Administrator to remain abreast of the latest research, but I also frequently use the magazine’s articles during staff meetings to deepen my principals’ understanding of featured topics.
 

 

 

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