It's a different atmosphere, working as superintendent at a school district that serves kindergarten through eighth grade students, but it's an atmosphere Brad Byers relishes.
Byers, a former teacher at Avilla School District and assistant administrator at the Westview School District, a K-8 school in Newton County, took over on July 1 as superintendent of the Avilla schools for the departing Scott Blake.
Blake, who served as superintendent at Avilla for the past five years, is moving to a small district in eastern Missouri to be closer to his extended family, while Byers, by coming to Avilla, is returning to his roots.
Byers grew up in Miller, one of the districts that borders Avilla, and taught second grade at Avilla from 2002-2007.
One of those years, he was absent as he deployed with the U.S. Army National Guard to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003-2004.
“This Avilla community was wonderful to me and my family at that time,” Byers said. “They really put their arms around us in their support. They sent me things in care packages and I've saved those things in terms of the letters and things like that, so when the opportunity to come back here, I saw it posted, I was cautiously excited and thrilled that they brought me on board as their educational leader.”
Byers said he has gained experience at larger schools serving as an assistant principal at Schofield Elementary School in Republic immediately before taking the Avilla job, but he likes the atmosphere at a smaller K-8 school district.
“A small, K-8 school is one of the safest environments in which to trust your kids because, I believe, of the knowledge everybody has of what's going on, who should belong,” Byers said. “Also it's very much a family atmosphere, the teachers here really connect well with the families and really adapt well to the kiddos entrusted in their care. Also it's very much a family atmosphere, the teachers here really connect well with the families and really adapt well to the kiddos entrusted in their care.”
Byers said K-8 schools have advantages when it comes to instruction that can overcome the lack of money that sometimes affects small schools.
“We a track record of success in that we can provide a better student-to-teacher ratio, which always seems to yield better results,” Byers said. “We do really well with our responsibilities financially. Per student, we get a lot more out of our money. We don't spend much more per student than a giant school would. We can wear a lot of hats and still pull it off quite well. It's easy to partner with your community. It's easy to get that connectiveness and that's something I'm going to continue to work at and reach out to have those partnerships and close ties to the community.”
Page 2 of 2 - Byers faces challenges as top administrator at Avilla. The district is spending the summer repairing damage caused by a water pipe that broke in the schools library.
The damage was made worse because the pipe broke over the weekend and the water flowed and sat for more than a day before it was discovered.
Byers said the damage to tile and carpet was more than $21,000 with about $7,000 in damage to equipment and furnishings.
Byers said the district's insurance carrier was working with them to make repairs to the floor and some soaked drywall. He said the district's out-of-pocket expense for the repairs will only be the $1,000 deductible.
Byers said he faces other challenges, such as the need to wear two hats, one as superintendent and the other as principal.
“I have to make sure I balance my time wisely so that I'm in the classrooms providing support and training for my teachers to enable them to do their jobs effectively through that time, support and training and feedback, and make myself available to help with the concerns of the patrons,” he said. “I have to balance that with the need to do the management piece, to make sure we're financially sound. There's a lot of hoops to jump through as a lot of safeguards are put in place to obtain the money that's made available to schools, state, federal, local. There's a lot of hoops to jump through and procedural safeguards to make sure everything is done the way it should be. You've got to really stay on top of a lot of things, hit the right deadlines with the right paperwork with the right intentions.”
Blake said he's enjoyed his five years at Avilla and probably wouldn't be leaving if he didn't feel the need to be closer to his family in eastern Missouri.
Blake is taking over as superintendent of a small K-12 school district in the city of Marquand, Mo., west of Cape Girardeau.
It was under Blake's administration that the district obtained a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $600,000 to build a tornado safe room. The district has to come up with a matching $150,000 and is planning to build the safe room so it can serve as the district's cafeteria, taking pressure off the gymnasium, which currently serves double duty.
Blake said he'll take a lot of special memories with him from Avilla.
The employees and parents have been great, it's a wonderful community,” Blake said. “With the students, they definitely have academics and achievement in mind. It was enjoyable coming in to work every day, it wasn't a ob, it was enjoyable to come in every day and that made it a little bit different. We have a very conscientious board so they've made it a real delight to work here.”