Editor’s note: Although the Littlestown Area School District (LASD) board of directors had reluctantly accepted it on August 9, it gladly and unanimously approved a retraction of the resignation of Superintendent Christopher Bigger on Sept. 20 when Bigger said there had been developments that changed his plans to take a position in Washington D.C.
Before he almost left, however, the board had praised his work and we had written an article about his tenure. The praise seems timely even as Bigger remains at LASD and so we are publishing the piece today.
“Educator. Administrator. Communicator. COVID-whisperer. These are just some of the words that have been used to Christopher Bigger, Littlestown Area School District’s Superintendent. In an interview, Mr. Bigger looked back over his six- and one-half years in the district.
If there is one hallmark of Bigger’s time at LASD, it would be the increased communication between the district and the community. “The biggest innovation is the school community, board, and administration came together on making improvements in the district,” said Bigger. “When you get people talking, you get them sharing common ideas.”
From the first day of his tenure at LASD, Bigger’s goal was to set a direction for the school district. The set direction was to provide the best resources, support, and programs for every student in each school. As one aspect of this overall goal, Bigger has overseen the district’s process on a feasibility study regarding its facilities. “We’re looking at the secondary facilities — that was one thing that everyone agreed on. It wasn’t my idea. It was something that emerged just from talking to people,” Bigger stated. Bigger also oversaw the additions and renovations to Alloway Creek and Rolling Acres Elementary Schools, and the sports stadium expansion.
As part of providing the best programming for students, Mr. Bigger noted that LASD has started giving students more choices for their career education. “A lot of choices in the career field became popular and very wanted,” he said.
Students at LASD can now choose to attend Carroll County Technical School, take online options for some Advanced Placement classes that LASD does not offer, go to the Adams County Technical Institute, or take dual enrollment classes with Harrisburg Area Community College.
“That’s the new diploma,” remarked Bigger, “I think the days are gone when you just take your credits here and it doesn’t get you anything. Post-secondary credits will get you into something. A National Career Certificate will get you into something. It has value as soon as you graduate. While there are high expectations, there is also a lot of support the school has put in place,” he said.
The LASD Board has recently approved the pilot program for Comprehensive Mental Health Services to assist with behavioral and mental health skills in and out of the classroom and completed a summer pilot program for Pre-K education.
Another goal is helping families with some of the basics, such as transportation and addressing food insecurity. The bus standard was that if a student lived within a mile and a half of the school, he/she was expected to walk to school. When weighing the cost effectiveness of school crossing guards and in town bus routes, the conclusion was that the cost was the same. School crossing guards being in short supply, in-town bus routes were implemented. “That makes students come to school more often if the barrier to walking is there is rain or snow. It makes a difference for so many families,” commented Bigger.
In March 2020, COVID-19 came knocking at LASD. The question that Mr. Bigger posed was how the district could provide the best experience for the students. It came down to a team effort and a lot of communication between staff, administration, teachers, students, and families. Bigger spent a majority of 2020 and 2021 decoding the different messaging from the Center for Disease Control and state and local agencies on COVID mitigation measures. Communicating all mitigation measures and procedures to the school board, the staff and teachers, the community, students, and families became a critical part of his job as Superintendent.
Bigger credits the school community for success, as each school building was only shut down for COVID once for a few days over the 2020-21 school year. “Everyone really stepped up and did the best they could under the circumstances,” he said.
LASD needed to have strategy on how to ramp out the technology used in the district. They began with no students having personal access to technology to small groups of students and teachers having it, to a whole building and then the whole district. “And thank goodness, before COVID we were already in that path,” said Bigger. Virtual learning was available during COVID, as well as in-school instruction.
During the pandemic school year, LASD’s Food Services Department addressed food insecurity for its students and families. “Our food services department was amazing at delivering meals. We even delivered meals at one point from a bus and a van to kids and families,” he marveled. “Everyone was free last year, and everyone will be all free this year, lunches and breakfast, if they want them.”
The LASD food services also fed their students through the summer by providing breakfasts and lunches for the week on Mondays. If the school knew there was a snow day coming up, they would send food home with the students the day before, so they would have food the next day. “If there was an opportunity to feed kids, they said yes every time,” said Bigger. “The district really puts their money where their mouth is by helping students. I think that is what has been really powerful.”
At the board meeting in which Bigger’s resignation was approved, the sentiments were all the same; Chris Bigger is a tough act to follow.
“I think Littlestown has been better through what you’ve done and everything you do,” commented board president, Dee Nestor.
“You did prove one point,” board member Carl Thompson added, “You don’t have to have a doctorate to run a school district efficiently, effectively and in the positive.”