NEW BETHLEHEM – “I think we need to work as a community,” said Dr. Amy Rupp, superintendent of the Redbank Valley School District. “That’s my biggest goal, to work as a community to promote kindness, to promote unity and to promote the success of our students.”
Rupp, who served as high school principal from 2015 until she was hired as superintendent in 2021, said that her goal for the district grew out of her dissertation which she successfully defended on July 19 after two years of research from PennWest California, formally California University.
The topic of her research specifically was: Principal Turnover and its Impact on Educational Programming, Student Achievement, School Climate and Professional Development.
She recently explained that the topic grew largely from experiences at Redbank Valley, citing a number of principal turnovers in recent years.
“In the past 15 years, the elementary school has had five principals and the high school has had five principals,” she said, noting that her six years as high school principal was actually one of the longest stints in recent history. “There were many at the high school who didn’t even make the average of three years as principal.”
Such change is bound to have an effect on school climate.
Rupp also said that midway through her research that began in 2020, there was yet another principal turnover when she moved into the superintendency.
After accounting for the change in her research, she concluded that such a change is less stressful for the district as a whole.
“It appeared as though when you have leaders who come from within, the teachers are much less stressed about,” she said, explaining that when change comes within, teachers and staff feel like they know what to expect. “Overall, this last transition, the data showed, was smoother than the other transitions because everybody had a familiar face — Sandy [Shirey] and Roddy [Hartle] came from teaching, and I [had been] the principal.”
By way of research, Rupp looked at bands of test scores, based on the principal. She said the research showed that during the first year under a new principal, tests scores in math and English seemed to go up, followed by a dip in scores in the second year, no matter who the principal was.
She also noted that every time there’s a vacancy there is an increase in stress and anxiety with the teachers.
“That’s why initiatives haven’t been able to stick because things are not consistent,” she said. “With the lack of consistency comes a lack of trust, which then increases gossip and takes the focus away from academics because people are so focused on the leadership.”
Rupp said that as with everything, consistency is the key, and with so much turnover, employees don’t know what to expect.
Knowing that the newly signed teachers’ contract is up in 2025, Rupp said she hopes that the district can start to work things out and get an early contract.
Teachers and administrators, however, are not the only factors to consider when looking at school climate, as parents also play a role in the process.
The superintendent said that the district is already trying to increase parental involvement through initiatives like the Bullying Prevention Taskforce.
“We’ve had a pretty good turnout for these Bullying Prevention Taskforce meetings,” Rupp said. “I’d love to see parents start to attend PTO meetings, continue to attend sporting events, support the arts, support any kind of committees that they may be asked to attend, see how they can get involved in planning so that we can work together.”
Rupp said that the next meeting of the Bullying Prevention Taskforce will be Aug. 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the high school library, and discussion will center on community involvement.
“We’re going to talk about SAP services (Student Assistance Program) and that kind of help that students need,” she said. “We want to get to that root cause [of bullying] so that we can support mental health and social emotional learning.”
Rupp emphasized that parents and other adults in the community can help by not tolerating negativity.
“This might take some time, but I feel like it can happen if we just get enough people to say stop it,” she said.
Rupp noted that the district is also looking at ways to improve communication with everyone involved. The high school has an anonymous Google form to report instances of bullying and community members who observe bullying can use the Safe2Say tip line at 1-844-SAF2SAY.
“That is something that comes to all the administrators and we get those anonymously,” she said. “They can call at any time and report anything like that.”
Rupp suggested that sometime in the future the administration might sponsor town hall meetings on the state of the district where information can be shared. She cautioned, however, that parents also need to understand that when they do bring an incident to the district’s attention and administrators report back, all of the information cannot be disclosed because of confidentiality.
Now that the contract is settled, the pandemic manageable for the moment, and the administration is stabilized and ideally in place for the future, Rupp hopes that significant changes can occur.
“Get to know the administration and understand that we are here to help,” she said. “We’re criticized quite a bit in the public, and I really think that sitting down and having conversations is the only way that this is going to help, just changing attitudes and supporting the district.”