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How a Successful Superintendent Takes Stock Mid-Year


The 2022-23 school year is a little more than halfway over in most places. While this time of year can feel like halfway through the slog, it’s a good time to reassess, measure progress, and just generally check-in.

Andrew Houlihan, the superintendent of the Union County schools in North Carolina and a 2022 Education Week Leader to Learn From, makes a regular practice of taking stock mid-year. Education Week spoke with Houlihan about that process, as part of an occasional series of interviews with past Leaders to Learn From.

This interview—conducted over Zoom—has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Do you set new goals at mid-year?

If there’s one word I would use to describe the [process], it would be reflection.

We have a process in the district where on an individual basis, all of our employees and our staff set an individual goal at the beginning of the year. And then we repeat that process in the middle of the year around this time, kind of a mid-year pulse check or goal-setting check. And we do the same thing with our school leaders. So I asked all 53 of our principals to come in the summer and sit down with our cabinet staff to really look at their school level goals for the coming year.

And then about this time, I block out about a week of my schedule and I meet with all 53 principals and our cabinet staff again, to really kind of take a deeper dive on the successes that they have had during the first semester and the challenges that still need to be addressed.

The biggest piece for me is, how can the district and our central office support their efforts? Because that’s why we’re here. It’s really a very robust process that helps us stay connected to our mission and the goals that we have for that year.

What are your own professional goals this year?

So pre-pandemic, we went from six low-performing schools to two and those two [were] one point away from getting out of [low-performing status]. When the state decided to bring back accountability, we jumped to 13 low-performing schools. So, one of my goals is to move as many of our low-performing schools off of that list.

How do you keep track of that goal?

We [have] a goal-setting template that all of our schools use, and it’s a one pager, very quick at a glance. And we ask our school principals to focus on three main categories. One is culture and climate. One is academic progress and growth. And the third is student safety, physical, mental, and social.

We have several different formative assessment systems and benchmark tests that our children take during the first semester, [even though] we obviously don’t have end-of-grade or end-of-course data. We don’t have the full complete picture. But we do have enough data that can give us pretty good indication as to whether or not we’re moving in the right direction.

How might you pivot to support a low-performing school that is still struggling?

When we have indication that there is still considerable work to do, it really comes down to asking the principal: How can our central [office] staff help you? Do you have staffing challenges? Is it a curriculum issue? Is there professional development that we can provide?

What about your personal goals?

I have several personal goals that I work on. One of them that is still a work in progress is to do more writing. I love writing. I love sharing the stories that we have in [the district] and I’m working on a series of different articles for publications. I’ve taken some stock mid-year to realize that there are some areas and some topics that I’m not covering, where I really need to push a little bit harder.

Our 2023 edition of Leaders To Learn From came out earlier this month. Stay tuned for timely perspectives from LTLF alumni. What topics should we delve into in the future? Which past leader would you like to hear from.
Email [email protected] or [email protected] with your ideas.

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