A longtime USD 253 educator was the final candidate interviewed for the district’s Superintendent of Schools position, Tuesday.

Allison Anderson-Harder, who has been the district’s interim-superintendent since Nov. 2020 and executive director of special services for the Flint Hills Special Education Cooperative since 2017, said she would work collaboratively with the district’s staff and teachers in order to keep the lines of communication open.

“One of the first things that I did as interim superintendent was I scheduled time with each of the building administrators and with the directors across the district,” she said. “They could talk about whatever they wanted to and that was a confidential conversation.”

Anderson-Harder has also scheduled meetings with other district staff who don’t typically get a seat at the table, such as maintenance and custodial staff and food service.

“What was interesting is that some people who you wouldn’t think would talk very long spent a lot of time to sharing ideas because they knew they were in a safe space,” she said. “They were pretty willing to be honest about some areas that they felt needed to be improved, as well as areas they felt were already a strength.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has made some of that a challenge, Anderson-Harder said it has also helped to identify areas in which the district can improve communication between classified staff and administration.

She would also like to see more opportunities for parents and community members to voice opinions about district operations.

Anderson-Harder said she’s interested in taking on the role of superintendent permanently because she believes there are ways in which the district can operate differently, and ways the district can play up its strengths.

“When things changed as far as the leadership, I thought, you know, I believe in Emporia schools, I see things that need to be different,” she said. “I also see things that we have as strengths that are being highlighted right now, but also, we have areas of strength that we need to highlight more, and so I stepped into that role ... thinking about this as an opportunity to really maximize what Emporia Public Schools can do.”

Part of that opportunity comes with the redesign process, which incorporates more project-based learning in the classroom. COVID-19 has reshaped how the redesign process looks in many ways, she said, making it more of a challenge.

Anderson-Harder said she is committed to welcoming new ideas and getting creative in order to have the greatest impact on students in the community. It all rolls into her longstanding commitment to public education, she said, with more than 25 years with the USD 253 school district.

“I’m very much committed,” she said. “Public education is a way of serving every single student. It doesn’t matter what their strengths are, what their needs are — we are obligated to serve those students, and so that is a tall order. And how do we maximize those strengths and the skills and talents of our staff members? That is what makes me stick around here.”

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