A Decade with Dietrich

The Knight Crier sat down with NPSD Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich and discussed his last 10 years at the helm of North Penn.

TOWAMENCIN- “Certainly time has gone by quickly, it’s hard to even imagine that it’s now been ten years of me being Superintendent. I am very proud of the North Penn School District.”

With his ten year anniversary approaching at the beginning of February, Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich is looking back. But he’s excited about what’s to come in the world of teaching, learning, and the North Penn School District in his second decade.

“I think in the next decade, we will see even more personalized learning. The “one size fits all” model that many of us came up with has its place, but you will see much more personalized learning because of the availability of technology to do that. That could be because of your interest area or because of a particular strength you have,” Dietrich said.

One particular technological advancement that will play a big role in advancements in learning is the addition of augmented reality devices, particularly within the engineering department.

“The availability of media now has a much greater impact than ever, for people to see and use it up close and personally. We are really looking forward to engaging with some partners on augmented reality…that’s like the next generation of virtual reality, and I know that will have a significant impact,” Dietrich added.

Just like every decade, the 2020’s will certainly contain major challenges for the district to face head on, such as school funding.

“I continue to believe that funding for public schools will be a major challenge for us in the next decade. It’s been a challenge, and I don’t see that getting any easier. There’s a lot of distaste for the property taxes so there is a desire among many legislators to do away with the property tax, but that is a very complicated matter, because it isn’t just the property tax on the residents. If you do away with the property tax entirely, than you need to fill a large hole that was created by businesses no longer paying those taxes. So I know that funding of schools in the 2020’s will be a major challenge,” Dietrich noted.

The ongoing North Penn district-wide teacher shortage will also continue to be an issue for the district to tackle in the coming months and years.

“We also have a big challenge in front of us with a teacher shortage now in many areas, and we have a lot of difficulty in securing substitute teachers, so I see some challenges ahead in that regard.””

— Dr. Dietrich, NPSD Superintendent

 

Dietrich is no stranger to challenges. As he was beginning his Superintendent’s tenure, the district had to deal with a major downturn in the economy.

“It was very different when I first started-just prior to me starting, we had a lot more money to work with. Immediately when I took over we hit that downturn in the economy, which was a real challenge for us. We needed to be innovative with the way we operated, and we needed to be very cost conscious, because we didn’t have nearly as much money as we had prior. We worked through it a lot of ways, certainly with the employee compensation package, and the benefits that we provide to our employees-healthcare became a big item,” Dietrich noted. 

“It was very important to me that I got well educated on healthcare so that we understood what the possibilities might be so we could continue to provide outstanding healthcare to our employees at an affordable cost. So we did join a consortium during that time period, and we became very knowledgeable about managing healthcare costs and prescription costs, and we have a very strong program now in that regard.”

Especially evident with the current Knapp Elementary and Crawford Stadium projects, renovations of various district buildings are another constant challenge. 

“We continue to renovate all our buildings, of course the big one as we look ahead is North Penn High School, but if you look at those ten years, we’ve gotten to many, many of our elementary schools and two of our middle schools to do renovations to keep them at the level, building wise, they need to be at.””

— Dr. Dietrich

In recent years, the idea of a 9th grade center being constructed on the campus on North Penn High School has been a major topic of conversation for Dietrich, NPSD Administration, and the School Board.

“I think also when we look ahead we know that the decision regarding renovating NPHS and whether we would put up a 9th grade center as a place to initially house teachers and students as their pods are being renovated, and then eventually house 9th graders. That’ll be a monumental decision for the school district, because if we do that, it would mean that students would be on this campus. It would advantage them to many more opportunities for advanced classes, but it also comes with various challenges, like traffic and water,” Dietrich remarked.

Since Dietrich took over the district in February of 2010, some of the most deadly school shootings in American history have taken place across the country. Making decisions to guarantee the safety of over 12,000 students can be a heavy burden to bear.

“There’s a tremendous burden on Superintendents, and I feel it also, for the school safety. You just are so concerned about school safety and you need to be so certain that you’re making the right choices so that you’re not putting children or employees in harm’s way. You read about horrific events across the country and around the world, and you just don’t want it to be North Penn,” Dietrich reflected.

North Penn has made a number of proactive changes to increase the security of its’ schools, such as making entrances more secure and the appointment of Chris Doerr as Coordinator of Safe Schools.

“We spent a lot of time and effort continuing to make our schools safe. During my time period, we had the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, horrific Parkland, horrific Virginia Tech, just to name a few places where there have been school shootings. Just an awful situation, and we’ve learned from those, we’ve installed secure entrances in all our buildings, we have our RAPTOR system, we have an actual position now, Coordinator of Safe Schools and Emergency Management, so we’ve dealt with a lot of safety concerns in a proactive way,” Dietrich added.

North Penn is constantly making strides and headlines, and Dietrich couldn’t be prouder of everything that has been accomplished in the 2010’s.

“We’ve really made tremendous strides in the area of inclusion for all students in the educational program. We have many special needs students, for example, that are included in regular education throughout the district, and years ago that was not the case. We’ve also made a lot of progress with the 1-to-1 initiative, and having Chromebooks for students. As technology continues to evolve, we met that head on, and I believe in providing a very appropriate education technology wise also,” Dietrich noted.

It is well known that the North Penn School District is internationally, nationally, and state renowned for programs such as its athletics, academics, theater, and countless others-all of which Dietrich is proud.

“We also continue to excel academically, athletically, and in the arts. Our swimming, water polo, football, baseball, soccer, academic decathlon, the Marching Knights, our Thespians, I could go on and on. I certainly don’t want to cheat anyone from that recognition. We can go back and look at all the titles that we won, all the recognition we’ve had throughout the years here at NP.””

— Dr. Curtis Dietrich

Dietrich is especially proud of the 2018 decision by the School Board to institute Full Day Kindergarten, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

“We are pleased that we now have full day kindergarten, which was certainly not in place when I took over as Superintendent, and I attribute that to many individuals working hard to put that into place, and we are seeing some tremendous gains of our kindergarten students by being here for a full day,” Dietrich said.

That School Board decision, along with a number of other successful ones throughout Dietrich’s decade as Superintendent have been possible partially due to the great relationship between Dietrich and the Board.

“I think one of the important functions of a Superintendent is to have that relationship with the Board, so that they can make informed decisions and make the right choices and set the correct policies and set the direction for the school district. I had the benefit of my younger years of being a School Board member for 16 years and Board President for 6 years, so I understood that role very well. When I took over as Superintendent, I worked hard to continue that relationship with our SB. And our community continues to elect outstanding individuals to be able to lead our district,” Dietrich reflected.

Dietrich also reflected on the importance of the positive relationship with the North Penn community.

“Certainly our community provides us students that excel in so many different ways. We can develop those students and have them achieve their highest potential, so that makes me proud also. We’ve had a lot of things happen in a decade in education. I think it’s been a challenge budget-wise, at times, to continue to provide the education that our community and our children deserve. We’ve been cost conscious in areas of the operation because we’re trying really hard to put the emphasis on the educational side in terms of providing and to have a strong support system, but the money really needs to follow the kids,” Dietrich said.

As we finished our interview, I asked Dietrich about particular moments from the past ten years that have continued to stick with him. 

“I am really proud of the way we honor those Knights of Honor, which I had a hand in starting a few years ago. Down in that atrium area there, you can see their pictures and their accomplishments, we have a really nice way of honoring people that have made such a significant contribution to our school district,” Dietrich reflected. 

The 2020 Knights of Honor ceremony will be held on Friday, March 6 at 6 p.m. in the NPHS auditorium.

“At the 2016 Convocation, we had a group of music teachers who performed for all of us “Hey June”. We had some other Convocations where people were really engaged and left here excited about being a a part of NP and looking forward to the coming school years,” Dietrich added.

To see the performance, headlined by former NPHS Band Director Ted Heller, click here. 

Throughout our interview, Dr. Dietrich stressed the point that absolutely none of the endless successes of the district would be possible without the incredible people that make it such a productive and wonderful place to be and work at.

“We’ve worked really hard to retain strong individuals in all aspects of our operation, we’ve worked hard to recruit strong individuals, to develop individuals into leadership positions.We have just a tremendous staff here at NP. There are a lot of great things happening across the school district because of those tremendous people throughout the organization that make it all possible,” Dietrich concluded.