Author: tanyasimons

Supporting Educators

Over the course of my four years as a board member, I have frequently connected with teachers and staff to receive and respond to feedback for the work of the board and concerns to be addressed. This past summer, I met with multiple groups of teachers and staff to specifically discuss their concerns and ideas to ensure a positive start to the school year and to incorporate their input into my priorities and board work for the year.

Over the past four years, I have continued to advocate for greater teacher voice, to reduce non-valued work and meetings to enable teachers to do their work effectively, and to ensure they are truly supported with real solutions to the concerns they bring forward including classroom environments, behavior, and managing the staffing shortage. I have advocated for a third-party system to capture teacher and staff voice, as is best practice in most industries. Less than 50% of staff are comfortable in sharing their input to the current district survey and requests for input. This is very concerning.

My focus in this work stems from seeing first-hand for many years what teachers experience. When my husband was recognized as Teacher of the Year at his High School and later nominated for the Gilder Lehrman Social Studies Teacher of the Year, I saw the many hours and effort put in to educate and make a difference in young people’s lives. I saw the frustration of poor decisions that impacted his ability to do his best work. When my mom served as a Head Start Teacher, I saw her nights of preparation for home visits and for the classroom. I also saw how her work environment was either an enabler or a hindrance to the difficult work she was already doing. It is for this reason that I’m constantly asking what we can do better, how can we ensure our district and school cultures not only enable scholars to thrive but teachers and staff to thrive, and how we can create more recognition for the incredible work of our educators.

Today educators are asked to do far more than any other industry asks of its people. We must realign expectations and systems to stop the loss of educators. I communicate this to our legislators in every conversation. I will continue to ask these questions and advocate for priorities to this end as I have at each board meeting and in my comments at the forum (27:37, 32:09). We can create a district with a culture of achievement and excellence for EVERYONE.

Community Engagement to Empower Scholars

I was blessed to have met Herb this past weekend while door knocking. Herb shared his personal life story of going from street life in Chicago to changing his life to become a business owner and now entrepreneur. He has a heart to help young people through his story and experiences.

I also had the opportunity to meet Andrew while attending my church service on Sunday. Andrew is an Osseo Senior High Graduate. He shared his story of overcoming early learning challenges to believe in himself and his ability to succeed. His passion and interest in finance led him to learn to make wise decisions early, becoming a home owner at age 23 and now a financial expert and real estate investor. He has turned his experiences into a business to empower others to fulfill their passions.

This is our community. These are the people that want to be involved to change lives and encourage and empower young people to believe in themselves and achieve their dreams. We have many community members with experiences and skills that can help us do the work that the educational system cannot do alone, but we do not have a mechanism to harness this collective and untapped resource pool. I believe we can and must engage our community resources for the benefit of our scholars.

Thank you Herb and Andrew for amazing conversations and for your passion to help young people with your stories and gifts. We can and we will create more opportunities for our community to support every single scholar.

Creating Opportunities for Scholars in the Trades

The best part of my job is creating connections to add value for our scholars and develop new opportunities for their success. I am proud to have received endorsement by the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters for my support of expanding trades careers.

Trades careers provide excellent opportunities for well-paid careers and high-value skills with paths to further education, training, management, and entrepreneurship. As demand continues to grow, young people can enter the workforce quickly without debt and on a pathway to a successful future.

This past week, I had the opportunity to tour the NCSRCC’s training facility to see firsthand the breadth and specialization of their training programs. It was exciting to learn how they are creating America’s skilled workforce in collaboration with industry.

As a district, we continue to grow career pathways to ensure scholars can explore their future while also getting a head start in accreditation, experience, and knowledge. I am very excited at the new opportunities that will be developed as we collaborate with the NCSRCC in programming and with future trades organizations to benefit all ISD279 scholars.

Shared Stories

While in my hometown over the Fourth of the July weekend, I had the opportunity to promote a local initiative with my brother, Jorge Prince, who is currently serving as Mayor of Bemidji, Minnesota. It has been an incredible experience to serve locally together in different capacities and cities at the same time. It may be a bit of a unique situation, but I find our story is really a common story that I hear from District 279 scholars many times over.

This past spring, I participated in the mock interviews at Osseo and Park Center Senior High Schools. It’s something I’ve loved doing each year as a board member.  Through the interview experience, scholars share their stories and their goals, and they always resonate deeply with me.  Over and over again, I hear juniors in high school tell me that their goals include supporting their families, setting an example for their younger siblings, and being the first in their family to achieve something unique – whether graduating high school, going to college, or pursuing a certain career or dream.  I hear the same words and experiences echoed from my own family history. 

My older brother, Jorge, came to Bemidji as a five-year-old, speaking only Spanish, and he paved the way for myself and my two younger brothers.  He was the first to take PSEO classes, the first to graduate college, and the first to enter a career in business. As a teenager and college student, he was working, helping my mom drive all three of us around to our athletic activities and jobs, introducing me to professors at Bemidji State, and basically being on-call all the time as my dad was on the road driving truck. Today, I know many scholars across our district are doing the very same thing for their parents and siblings.

Growing up, we encountered a lot of challenging experiences as a family (I shared some on my recorded interview for board appointment in 2018), but we always had one another to rely on. This spirit of helping each other has always led us to believe in each other and to believe in what is possible for one another and for all people.  From a never-forgotten hateful comment to my mom “your kids are all going to fail once they leave high school,” to now “how did you raise such successful children?” it has been a family journey. It has created a deep sense of belief in us that there is no barrier too great to overcome to accomplish one’s dreams and a deep sense of commitment to encourage and support others. I see these values and beliefs lived out across all three of my brothers in their personal and professional lives. I am thankful for my family and my life experiences as it has shaped me to become who I am today and motivates me to continue to work to become the person I want to be. 

As we walked along the parade route in Bemidji, Minnesota handing out “I will graduate” stickers and telling kids they have an amazing and bright future ahead, I was struck by the simple message that made kids and parents smile and engage enthusiastically.  We need this message, a message that we frankly don’t hear as much as we should from the world around us.  It’s time to focus on what is possible, to bring our community to a focused point around every scholar in our district, and to encourage the capability of every young person in Osseo Area Schools. Let’s do this work together.