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Understanding the ‘value of change’

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Growing up, Dave Sever was convinced he would never become a teacher.

Sever’s father was a teacher for 38 years, and from a distance Sever assumed the profession was time-consuming, stressful and low paying.

After he started studying to become an architect at Ball State University, he slowly started to change his mind. Finishing the architecture program would take at least five years plus summer school, which at the time sounded like an eternity. So he decided to work as a teacher for a few years before going back to college to become an architect.

But once Sever started working in a classroom, he had no interest in finding another profession.

At the end of this school year Sever, Franklin schools’ assistant superintendent, is retiring. He’s spent 33 years in public education, including 18 years at Franklin, as a teacher and administrator. He also spent about a decade working as a consultant for a testing company, helping school districts around the country find effective ways to teach students.

Sever decided to retire so that he’ll have more time to spend with his wife, two kids and five grandchildren. But he still hopes to find ways to stay connected with education.

Sever’s career began at Triton Elementary School in Fairland, teaching fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students. Fifth was his favorite grade, he said, because the 10- and 11-year-old students were still curious about what they were learning, were old enough to work independently and had a sense of humor.

Sever taught at Triton for seven years, enjoyed his work in the classroom and had no plans to become an administrator. He’d seen the problems the principal had to deal with, including managing the school’s budget and dealing with upset parents and students, and nothing about that sounded appealing.

But Sever had taken on a leadership role as the head of Triton’s teachers association, and his principal and others in the school district encouraged him to earn an administrator license. When Triton Elementary’s principal took a year off, Sever filled in and wound up staying in the position for eight years. After that, he decided he wanted a change that would bring him closer to where he lived in Franklin, and he applied to become principal at Union Elementary School in Franklin in 1987.

From there, he began moving up the ranks in the school district as the director of elementary curriculum and assessment, which eventually turned into an assistant superintendent position. For the next 10 years he oversaw classroom lessons, policies and testing for all of Franklin’s schools.

Sever left Franklin in 2001 when he was offered a position with the NWEA testing company, which is one of the assessments schools use to measure how well students are keeping up in class. Sever traveled around the country, showing schools how the assessment worked and developing workshops for the test. He later started working for the International Center for Leadership in Education, assessing the teaching methods school districts were using and helping them find ways to improve.

In 2011, Superintendent David Clendening asked him to help oversee the school district’s teacher evaluations and the assessments that students have to take each year, such as ISTEP. Sever accepted the part-time role because he wanted to help Franklin officials achieve goals that included raising students’ ISTEP scores and preparing them for other assessments, such as the IREAD-3 exams that third-graders had to start taking in 2012.

Since he has spent time in the classroom and in the office, Sever knows that sometimes teachers and administrators can forget they’re both trying to find the best way to teach children. If communication between the groups breaks down, teachers don’t always trust their leaders’ instructions.

For example, teachers regularly take time during the week to meet and review test scores and discuss the kinds of lessons and assignments that will give students the best chance at mastering math, English and other essential subjects. But administrators can’t simply mandate that teachers need to spend a specific amount of time collaborating. Teachers need to know that principals and superintendents want them to have time to study and see what kinds of lessons and methods are the most effective, Sever said.

“Changes will not happen until we understand the value of the change,” he said. “And we have to see some results.”

And he has advice for college students considering careers in teaching: Be sure it’s something you want to do.

“If it’s not your passion, don’t come,” he said.

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