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Graner takes the reins as school superintendent

Michael Graner took over as superintendent of Groton Public Schools on Jan. 2 and has already dealt with a snowstorm, canceling school and the start of budget discussions with principals.

But he has another goal for the current year: Focus the district on student achievement.

"I think if we can put student achievement right at the center of what we do, we're going to be OK," he said.

Graner answered questions last week about his first days overseeing a district with 10 schools and about 4,800 students. The questions and answers are below:

Q: How did you spend your first few days as superintendent in Groton?

A: It was interesting, because the first day there was a serious snowstorm threatening, and I spent a good bit of time looking at weather forecasts. The second day I actually canceled school, but when I made my phone message I sent it Thursday evening. The parents appreciated getting a phone call from me on the automated system the night before. It was really the first time I reached out to the families. And then this week, frankly, the big thing I've been working very hard on is the budget. The budget is due Feb. 28.

Q: What's your goal in terms of the school budget?

A: My first goal really is to get a good handle on the current budget, how it was developed, and the existing structure. I started my meetings (Jan. 7) with principals and central office staff. Over the next two weeks, I plan to sit down with every principal, then meet with the various department heads. Then I will share those with the board. Then I'm going to share that with some of the stakeholders, the union leadership, to make sure we're all on the same page.

Q: Did you learn anything about the district the first week that you didn't expect?

A: I spent a lot of time basically rearranging the office. I wanted to create, literally, an open and transparent atmosphere. And in the office formerly, there were curtains and it was dark. It didn't seem to be an open and welcoming place. My wife came in and helped me, and I think we transformed it quite a bit.

Q: What's your view of the state of the school district's facilities?

A: I've been briefed by the current director of buildings and grounds and by the previous one and they've both been very honest with me that there are a few buildings that are really in serious need of repair. Repair or replacement, frankly. And I think it is a major issue and we need to come up with a sustainable, reasonable plan to make sure that we have appropriate facilities.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of the job so far, compared to the districts where you served in the past?

A: There are layers of organization that I'm learning about, and the meeting structure, just the basic organizational chart is different. I pride myself on getting into the schools and meeting with the principals on a regular basis, so one of my challenges is to schedule biweekly meetings with all the principals, and weekly meetings with the various directors of the central office. It's a bigger district, but there's still only one of me. So I just have to be very careful with my time.

Q: Will students notice a change under your leadership, and if so, what might that change be?

A: I think the students will see, when (principals and I begin walkthroughs of the schools), student are going to see more focus on teaching and learning from the perspective of the district leadership. I'm also going to start a series of lunch meetings with students. What I'm hoping students will notice is a real focus on student achievement, academically (and) athletically, so they understand the board takes real notice and so that they go to a district where people are focused on student learning.

Q: What would you like to accomplish before the end of the school year?

A: I want to make sure that we have a very clear focus on student achievement. And I want that to become a major feature of Board of Education meetings. What I really want to do is make sure that teaching and learning and assessment become the central focus. I think if we can put student achievement right at the center of what we do, we're going to be OK.



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