BURNHAM - Mifflin County School District Superintendent James Estep spoke Tuesday at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Lewistown on Birch Hill in Burnham.
Since his appointment in 2010, Estep has been working through school closures and consolidations throughout the district.
"It has been a full two years," he said. "Not necessarily with things we'd have liked to have done had the circumstances been different."
Last year, Mifflin County closed five schools and consolidated two high schools into one.
"In the process, many people lost their jobs," Estep said.
He noted that 33 teaching staff were furloughed and a total of 83 positions have been lost since 2010.
However, Estep commended the students and community for their cooperation and effort in moving forward.
"Over the course of this process and making this change, I've learned a few things about Mifflin County," he said. "We have an amazingly resilient community."
Estep emphasized that the changes were a "big, big deal" and moved a majority of faculty, staff and students to new buildings. He admitted that some individuals were probably not happy about the changes, but were very professional in moving ahead.
"I don't know if the general public is really aware of what the people working for you are willing to do," he said.
Despite the positive changes made within the county, Estep reminded the Rotary that there are still improvements to be made. He said the Indian Valley Elementary School and Mifflin County Junior High School boiler systems and roofs need to be replaced or repaired.
"There are still many things to try to address and there aren't huge resources," he explained, " ... but that's infrastructure, that's not people."
In addition to making necessary changes to school buildings, Estep said he has made it a personal goal to "do better in customer service." Faculty and staff involvement improves student achievement, he said. Although families do care whether the school district makes progress academically, he noted that they care more about how children are treated while there.
Estep pushed for an initiative on blended learning, which he described as the application of tools for learning 24/7. The program would train staff to teach in both traditional and online environments. This would allow students to do what is important to them as a family without stopping their education, he said. He gave the example of a child who may wish to do mission work overseas while still taking classes online through the school district.
Estep also said he is trying to form relationships with superintendents in other districts. By sharing costs and resources among districts, new programs and support can be brought in to benefit students, even when state funding levels are low.
Although the school board initially faced mixed reactions to the proposed consolidation plans, Estep said students, faculty and community members have taken the changes in stride.
The district has since sold Buchanan Elementary and signed a sales agreement with Armagh Township for Armagh Elementary, he said. Discussion continues about whether to sell or retain the former Strodes Mills Middle, Highland Park Elementary and Brown Elementary schools.