West Chester Area School District serves over 12,000 students in eleven elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools. The district spans over 75 square miles in both Chester and Delaware counties. With a $302 million annual budget, the district employs over 1,000 teachers, 70 administrators, and 400 support staff.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Christopher on December 20, 2023, at the West Chester Area School District administration building. He provided answers to questions submitted in advance both in written form and during the interview. The answers below are printed exactly as he submitted them. Additional answers from the interview were transcribed and edited only for clarity.

Why were you interested in seeking the Superintendent position at WCASD?

I’ve known Dr. Scanlon, the former superintendent of West Chester, for about thirteen years, and he always spoke so highly of this community and school district. When the position opened, I knew it was something that I had to explore. It’s just got such a rich history and such a great reputation as both a great school district and as a place to live. When the search committee reached out to me to see if I had any interest, my wife and I decided that I should at least interview and see where it went. Fortunately, it all worked out.

What is the most urgent issue facing the district at this time?

I think that stability in our central office is a concern I have heard from many internal and external stakeholders. I think ensuring that we have an organizational structure that supports our building leaders and teachers while providing them with a clear vision for the district is critical. The amount of change we have experienced as a district in our leadership team has made it difficult to maintain a clear and consistent focus. The power of a large district is in the collective ability to accomplish things that are often difficult to do in smaller places, but to be successful, a consistent vision is required for the work to be effective. 

What are your top priorities for the next year?

Creating a vision for the district with input from all stakeholder groups. We have an excellent strategic plan and our goals in that plan are ones that make sense. However, we have to have a vision of what success for our students looks like. For me, a vision of success for our students has to be something we co-create with our community. 

Additional interview answer: I think we have to create some kind of a vision and we have to get input from stakeholders. We have a strategic plan, and I think the goals make a lot of sense, but we need to probably look at a “portrait of a graduate” or something like that. And we need to probably try to engage a large group of community members. I’ve done this previously with 100 to 200 people, including both internal and external stakeholders to get lots of different groups involved. People from various business industry groups are really important. We will try to identify what are those big targets that we expect kids to be able to do when they graduate. Then you can use that really clearly to determine what your goals are. 

I think for me as a new person coming in, that it is a great opportunity to really engage the community. I think we will tackle this probably in the next year, in the Fall. For the Spring right now, I’m just trying to finish the year out and we’re already planning the budget and stuff for next year and it really is about getting the lay of the land. But I do think for the Fall, we really have to have a big engagement with the community.

What are your top priorities for the next five years?

Ensuring that West Chester is not only a great place for all of our students, but is a great place for our staff too. I’m very committed to supporting our awesome teachers and staff members who work directly with our students every day. I think for our staff to feel supported by our district, they have to personally feel supported by me, which means I need to be very visible in our schools and at events. I also need to systematically get into classrooms and see the challenges and successes that our staff and students are experiencing every day. In a big district like ours, it is critical for staff to feel like they have a voice and are heard by our top leaders in the district. It is also critical that students feel that way. I am hoping to create some structures where students, especially at our secondary buildings, have opportunities to provide feedback to our district office staff about their experiences.

At the end of the day, this is a powerhouse of a place, with the student and staff talent we have. I am excited to see what we can accomplish if we are all working together toward a common vision. 

What is the goal or what should be the goal of public education?

That’s a big question…Public education exists to ensure that all students, regardless of their background or income, have a shot at the American Dream. Providing students with a basic education should be the floor of what we hope to accomplish, not the goal. The goal has to be to help our students develop their hopes for their future and then to provide them with the skills they need to achieve those hopes.

Additional interview answer: I’ll tell you right now that I’m competitive. I am a competitive person, and I want our kids to be the best prepared kids anywhere. And that is something that keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning.

Follow up question: Do you think kids are less hopeful now than they previously were?

Interview answer: The data would show that they are. Kids telling you that they feel hopeless or kids telling you that they’re persistently sad. We can look at all kinds of factors, social media, but I think the world’s just complex. It’s a complex world for our kids, and so we have to help them really develop those clear goals. And that’s not something the district does on its own by any means. It’s something we’re doing with our families, but those kids have to have that sense of a goal, and they have to see a pathway to it. And they have to feel like they have the agency to get there. And I know we can do that. Those are things that districts can do with students and I think it’ll be really impactful. I’ve seen it being impactful.

What is the most important job of the Superintendent?

Ensuring that all students who enter your schools feel a sense of belonging and a sense of hope that the work they are doing is going to propel them toward their successful future. That means the work has to be relevant and meaningful and it has to be aligned with the skills we have identified are necessary for them to succeed in a rapidly changing world. I think keeping our students safe is also a huge responsibility of a superintendent. 

If you could change one thing immediately at WCASD, what would it be?

I’d immediately develop trust with everyone…That’s unfortunately not how that works- trust has to be built and it takes time, but if I could change one thing, I would change that.

Please share anything else that you would like our readers to know about you.

So far, I’ve had an excellent welcome to the district. Our students, staff and community have been great. 

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at barosica@broadandliberty.com.

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