Snell talks future with ISD faculty, staff



Students were home Monday, but teachers were on campuses across Liberty Hill ISD and new Superintendent Steve Snell used that opportunity to bring everyone together for the first time since his arrival.

Staff survey results were the focal point of the hour-long presentation, but Snell opened with an overview of the most recent demographic data showing record numbers of lots under development throughout the district, new home starts and closings.

“One of the things I’ve heard, not only in my interview, but just talking in Liberty Hill, is concern over growth and making sure we’re prepared for that growth as it comes,” Snell said. “It’s coming. It’s already here, right?”

The growth was an issue he assured the audience the district would continue to work to stay ahead of, and reminded everyone that it is merely a symptom of the work and accomplishments of everyone in the room.

But he added that Liberty Hill ISD must do better at getting that word out locally.

“One thing I’ve noticed is we do an awesome job of just about everything, except advertising and promoting all the great things we do,” Snell said. “That’s one thing I’m big with is celebrations and talking about the great things we do.”

He applauded each campus in turn for its recent accomplishments, and moved into his discussion of survey results, which he hopes will help the district continue on it’s path.

“There’s some really cool things that came out of this survey,” he said. “I think Liberty Hill is a shining example of what I think is great about public schools. I think we’re about as good as they can get, but there’s always room for improvement.”

Of the district’s 641 employees, 340 responded to the anonymous survey.

The survey looked at employee satisfaction with each department in the district and how much they supported current policies and procedures.

Satisfaction levels were high for district departments, beginning with the business office, which 85 percent of those who responded rated as satisfied or extremely satisfied.

Snell was also appreciative of the number of comments that accompanied the ratings, including the suggestion that the district create a “sick bay” where employees could donate unused sick days for other employees in need. He said he was unaware the district didn’t have such a program.

“That’s what makes these surveys great is because that’s a pretty good idea,” he said.

He also noted that hours at the district office might be changed in the future to provide better service for district employees.

“(District staff) works basically the same hours as everyone else, like the same office hours,” Snell said. “If you’re on a campus, the only time you can get over is to squeeze over on your conference period and get back. That might not be in the best interest of you all, so we’re going to look at that and see what you need and make sure we stay open so we can provide good service to you.”

The survey showed 76 percent of employees were satisfied or very satisfied with the human resources department, but salaries and benefits are still on everyone’s minds.

“Salary came up a lot and benefits came up a lot like you would expect,” Snell said. “We’re going to turn our ear to that. Although we do some salary surveys as a district, maybe we can look at other things and if there are some specific areas you can have a chance for more impact coming up.”

The maintenance (83 percent) and transportation (84 percent) earned high survey marks as did custodial services.

Other questions centered on policies, with 71 percent of those surveyed being extremely satisfied or satisfied with district policies. Time planning and time management was one issue Snell said came up often in comments.

“Time is our big need. We need more time no matter what,” he said. “If there is any way in our school calendar that we can improve time planning that’s something we definitely need to look into.”

On school safety, 74 percent said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied, and Snell said the steps toward establishment of a district police department would further the goal of improved campus safety.

“As you know we are in the midst of starting a police department,” Snell said. “We have a job posted for a police chief so hopefully we have one hired in the next few weeks. Our goal is by the start of the next school year we will have a fully operational police force.”

Snell was pleased to say that 90 percent of respondents felt they received good support from other faculty and staff.

“To me that is a sign of a healthy work environment,” he said. “If you have a great team that you’re on and you’re supporting each other it’s important.”

The lowest show of support, and something that drew roaring laughter from the crowd was the question on satisfaction with the workload, which only 51 percent said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied.

“Is anybody under-worked in here?” Snell asked laughing. “Is anybody overpaid? Just checking.”

With 66 percent satisfied or extremely satisfied with opportunities for future growth, Snell said that was an issue that warranted future conversations.

As the presentation drew to a close, Snell reminded everyone that a good reputation is only as good as the reality behind it.

“Liberty Hill has an excellent reputation,” Snell said. “But one question I always ask people is do the actions on the inside of the school match the reputation on the outside? We become the best district in the state when we can 100 percent answer that question yes.”

With all the survey information in hand, Snell said the next step was to begin a strategic planning process. He said the surveys provided a good beginning to that.

“I was very pleased with the response on the survey,” he said. “I always want to hear from everybody. I want to hear about the organizational health of our school district from all staff and from every department.”

He was also pleased with the productive focus of the responses.

“All I asked them to do is be honest and be nice,” he said. “Don’t attack the person, attack problems professionally and in a way that I can do something with. Part of it is giving a voice, part of it is me understanding the district better.”

The district’s focus on customer service and communication is going to be a key component going forward for Snell.

“I find in a lot of ways some of the frustrations of staff come from not understanding the why of how we do things. And maybe we’re doing it wrong, and the people our rules and procedures are done unto, they’re the people to go ask,” he said. “There are a lot of comments in that survey I can’t fix today, and there’s going to be some comments in the survey that don’t necessarily constitute a problem for the system, but we can redirect those issue to the level where they can be resolved. The next step is now we’ve got to do something about it.”

What happens next with the survey results will make or break future efforts for collaboration throughout the district.

“You crack the door on trust and you got input, now they want to see that you heard them and what are you going to do about it, and we’ve got to communicate that back,” Snell said. “We’re identifying our core beliefs and getting a firm grasp on who we are and what our immediate needs are with the data we have. Then I want to expand that out to a very representative group in our school district to plan for the growth. There needs to be some guiding documents in place in the school district that are non-negotiable. This is what we do, how we educate kids and these are the experiences we want them to have.”

In the end, the surveys and eventual strategic plan – complete with mission, goals and vision – all come down to how are you producing the best final product possible.

“Every district has a portrait of a graduate, right?” Snell said. “If we don’t know what that is, how are we preparing kids to get there? Every district does it, I just want to be a little bit better.”