.Nameplate February 2013 Issue
Profile                                                            Page 51

 

‘Fearless About …

Difficult Discussions’   

 

BY PAUL RIEDE 

Peggy Hinckley
Peggy Hinckley

Peggy Hinckley discovered she was going to have to administer harsh medicine to the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township in Indianapolis, Ind., after she arrived there in 2001. Before the school year started, she told board of education members of the 12,000-student district that if she was going to fix what ailed the district, she would need their support.

“I don’t want to get out there on a plank and have you sawing it off behind me,” she told them.

As school began and her tough-love prescriptions drew heat, board members began to see what she meant. One of them walked into her office and placed a saw on her desk. “I brought this in so I wouldn’t be tempted,” he said.

Hinckley’s central academic plan for the struggling schools was the Eight-Step Continuous Improvement Process, which she picked up from the Brazosport, Texas, schools. It imposes a strict academic regimen that follows a tight calendar.

Children are taught new material for three weeks, then tested. Those who haven’t mastered the lessons are placed in daily, 30-minute “success periods” for remediation. The others use the periods for enrichment.

The technique requires major adjustments for teachers, and Hinckley faced accusations that the constant testing was narrowing the curriculum, limiting creativity and hurting students. She had a ready answer and traveled to every school to deliver it: “No one is going to care if they went on 10 field trips this year if they can’t do reading, writing and arithmetic,” told staff.

The district stuck with the plan for the next decade. Test scores and graduation rates jumped. In July, Hinckley, 60, retired and opened a consulting firm to spread the eight-step protocol. But she had been pushing it well before that.

Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction through last month, says Hinckley called him to pitch the program shortly after he took office in 2009. They talked for 2½ hours.

Bennett approved the process as an option struggling districts can use to try to avoid state intervention.

“She is fearless about having difficult discussions with administrators and teachers about the need for improved instruction,” he says.

Dan Henn, president of the Warren Education Association, doesn’t quibble there. He says Hinckley always was willing to talk with teachers upset with the model, but she couldn’t be budged.

Hinckley comes by her tenacity honestly. Her father dropped out of school in 6th grade to work on the family farm. Her mother never attended college. But they saved for their children’s education every time they got an extra $12.50 for a savings bond.

Hinckley went to Indiana University, then taught elementary school in Hobart, Ind. She rose through the ranks, becoming superintendent there at age 32. She went on to lead two more districts.

Hinckley now is spreading her gospel far and wide. She misses the superintendency, but the change has its consolations.

“I don’t miss the 100 e-mails a day and dealing with board meetings, elections, parent complaints, lawsuits and grievances,” she says.

Paul Riede is a staff writer at The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y. E-mail: hoffried@twcny.rr.com
 

BIO STATS: PEGGY HINCKLEY

Currently: Peggy Hinckley Consulting LLC, Indianapolis, Ind.

Previously: superintendent, Warren Township, Ind.

Age: 60

Greatest influence on career: David O. Dickson, superintendent in the district where I taught, recognized my potential and eventually hired me in my first administrative position.

Best professional day: At my first opening day in Warren, I put up a mock headline from the newspaper heralding our progress. A few years later at another opening, I showed the actual headline from the Indianapolis Star that recognized our academic improvement.

Books at bedside: Falling Upward by Richard Rohr and Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman

Biggest blooper: In a small district where I was responsible for transportation, I realized early one morning we might not be able to complete the morning bus runs because of snow. I canceled after the high school runs but before the elementary runs. It was a disaster — my first lesson that once buses begin to run, you finish it.

Why I’m an AASA member: I’ve never missed an AASA meeting in 28 years as a superintendent. Not only did I learn about the most current topics from national speakers, but I also met colleagues from around the country who have helped me become a better superintendent.  

 

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