Littlestown Area School District Superintendent Chris Bigger spoke with emotion about how hard it will be to leave the community he has served for eight years. “It’s really hard, harder than I thought,” Bigger said. “But it was a calling to try to help more students.” He was referring to his new post as Superintendent of Chambersburg Schools, a district with 10,000 students.
Reflecting on the borough of Littlestown, he said, “The strength of the community is their tendency to rally around students and other community members in need.” He gave as an example a recent fire that displaced four LASD students and recalled the tremendous amount of support provided by the Littlestown residents, including goods, money, and services. “It just happens. There’s no asking. They just do it. It is a home-town family school,” he added. “That is what makes them great. And it makes it easy to work here because of that.”
Bigger also praised the community for being very open to discussing topics when there is an issue or concern. “Nobody’s out for ‘right or wrong’. They’re all about what is the best the best solution for students.” He sees one of his strengths in his current role as bringing open meetings to the public and making everything available online, even staff presentations.
Bigger began at LASD in March 2015. Recalling his eight-year tenure with the district, Bigger said, “We agreed that we would work as a group, and we did that. Our common theme has been that while we’ve disagreed on things, we still had full board support for improvements.” Bigger added that keeping everyone student-focused was the way to their success. “We prioritize students whenever we have decisions. Whether it’s the board, myself, or administrators, students are our reason.”
The superintendent is proud of the capital projects developed to upgrade the facilities. After five years, the board recently approved the funding of a new building that will combine middle and high school students. Construction began this fall.
During the last work session, the board discussed new graduation requirements, including college and career readiness options. Bigger said the community has embraced this new philosophy. “Let’s make sure when we shake a student’s hand that they have something of value in their hand, whether it’s transferable college credit, AP courses, a Career Technical Education (CTE) certificate, or job apprenticeships.” The challenge with these new requirements, said Bigger, will be to provide opportunities students will be interested in, especially in the CTE certificates and apprenticeships.
With the future of LASD in mind, Bigger said he would give the new superintendent this advice:
“Spend time getting to know the community and the people before making any decisions or actions. Find out the heartbeat of the community and their values and align the improvement efforts to that and you can’t go wrong.”
And what will be that person’s greatest challenge?
“Acceptance of change is a challenge for the community and this board.” He added that the recent influx of new people has changed the community dynamics. “We have to accept other cultures, other people. We have to have that open mind. The reality of the modern community is that it’s evolving and changing.”
As Bigger considered his next venture into education, he said he is looking forward to his new position and cited staffing and parent partnership as two of education’s biggest challenges in the present day, no matter where one is located.
Bigger said his number one concern will be hiring and retaining quality staff in all positions. Partnering with parents and families to grow the support for public education is another. “We need the parents to help set good routines at home for homework, sleep, food, and diet. We need them to do these things. We cannot do that without them. We’ve been asked to for years, and we know it’s not working,” Bigger said.
Bigger said he will be departing with many treasured memories. Perhaps his favorite is when a Littlestown resident did a fly-over during graduation as the National Anthem played. “It was just really neat for the kids and the community. I’m not suggesting it was a Thunderbolt plane,” he said smiling, “but I am a little bit.”
Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.