Since 2019, primary communication has been through my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/TanyaforOsseo. Periodically I will share updates or longer communications via this blog page of the website.
This first year as a board member has FLOWN by.
I hope you were able to stay plugged into the School Board’s activity through the District Board web page (https://district279.org/about-us/school-board/meeting-materials) that contains links to board meetings, work sessions, and content. I also hope you are able to follow my board member activity through my Facebook Page (TanyaforOsseo) and Twitter (@TSimons279sb). I often post updates about recent events, meetings, and learning that I am experiencing. I would love to hear back from all stakeholders in these social media vehicles. The board is continuing to work on new engagement efforts such as public and student listening sessions.
Our board work this year was primarily focused on hiring a new Superintendent to lead our district forward, discovery work / research to ready ourselves and the district for a new Strategic Plan, several infrastructure and athletic facilities projects, and routine work in budget and tax levy approvals, policy updates, and priority progress reviews.
Among our work this past calendar year, there are a few things I’m most proud of:
1. Selection and hiring of Superintendent McIntyre on February 23rd, 2019. Mr. McIntyre is bringing a fresh perspective to our district, creating new levels of relationship, and has spent a great deal of time learning and analyzing the current state of our district. I’m looking forward to our transition from discovery work, to strategic and operational planning, to future implementation. We are all working to move quickly on improvement opportunities, but also recognizing the time needed for assessment before action.
2. Selection of strategic plan partners Team Works and foundational work to date. We know we have great strengths as a district, but we also know we have some big issues that we need to address including declining student outcomes and an unacceptable student achievement gap according to the required state testing measures. While this strategic work sets our course forward, all board members have articulated the urgency of action to address immediate solutions and opportunities for improvement. Expect to see board members continue to articulate specific ideas and initiatives and request district leadership action for implementation.
3. Partnership with the City of Brooklyn Park to build the Dome Facility at Park Center High School. Prior work and dialogue turned into action with a single conversation at a council member’s listening session. The ball got rolling and both the students of Osseo School District and the Community of Brooklyn Park are going to benefit greatly with the opening of the dome at the beginning of January.
4. Establishment of three community Listening Sessions over the 2019-2020 school year. This was a new avenue of ensuring community members had access and opportunity to bring their perspective, ideas, and concerns directly to the school board and engage in dialogue. We are working to expand engagement and expect much more to come in the area of parent and community engagement. Remember, board members are always open to attending events and meetings with community members at any time and happy to meet one on one or in small groups. Interested community members can email the board at OsseoSchoolBoard@district279.org or contact board members individually.
5. Engagement in committee work.
All board members participate in committee assignments to work along side either partner organizations or community members in district priority work. I learned so much and greatly appreciated the work of our stakeholders in my committee groups including the Enrollment and Capacity, Fiscal, and District Planning Advisory Committees. Thank you community members for you deep analysis and insight and dedication of time to support the work of the district on behalf of students.
6. Strong fiscal management of the district by our board oversight and our extraordinary Finance Department.
We were given a Clean Opinion by our auditors on our prior year financial statements. Based on our board review and analysis, I believe our budget, fund balance, and investment portfolio are strong and this places us in a great position to ensure we invest wisely in our district needs and priorities.
7. New board member onboarding and learning. I have enjoyed jumping into the world of Education and Board Governance. I completed my full Minnesota School Boards Association Learning to Lead Series in my first year on the board and attended many conferences, workshops, and learning opportunities to ensure I was knowledgeable and trained to properly serve in my board capacity. My professional role as a continuous improvement consultant carries over into my personal and service life. I love opportunities to pursue excellence and my passion is to use my skills to help people and organizations reach their goals.
There is much more I could list and I’m sure I’ve been remiss in fully reviewing the great work of our board and district. I have truly enjoyed getting to know my fellow board members and serving with them to achieve our mission in our students’ lives this past year. I have really appreciated partnering with Interim Superintendent Jim Bauck, Superintendent McIntyre, and each Cabinet Member… you are a GREAT team. I am so thankful for our administrative, teaching, and support staff. Each year, day in and day out, they carry out our district’s mission forward in each building, classroom, and student’s life. Thank you for your Servant Leadership.
There is much work ahead. I look forward to accelerating our work in 2020 and implementing change that will produce improved outcomes for each and every student.
When the Campaign is Over
Wow, the campaign is over. I find the feeling is similar to training for a marathon – when the big day comes – whether the time I wanted to hit is achieved or not – I’m ready to rest… but not for too long. Now, on the Saturday morning after, I look around at my utterly destroyed home and empty fridge and feel optimistic about “getting back to normal” with my family.
Being a first-time candidate for office, this was a tremendous learning experience for me. Being a continuous improvement / data person deep down to my core, I’ve made the spreadsheet, run the numbers, analyzed the outcomes, evaluated what was most effective and what didn’t work that I’d do differently. I’ve also taken some time to reflect on what I simply enjoyed about campaigning and what I found challenging. What I’d like to share most is that I enjoyed being out across the district learning something new every single day and talking with families about what was most important to them. Though I am very much an introvert, and honestly the thought of knocking on someone’s door terrified me at the start, I found engaging people in their passion for their children and their community to be truly energizing. I am looking forward to continuing to do this as a board member.
Now, as a person and board director-elect, comes the time for planning and preparing for the go-forward. I’m looking forward to adding back the things I had to set aside or reduced for a time – running, hobbies, house cleaning. I’m looking forward to being at home more just to hear my daughter practice piano and watch my son at his karate practices. I’m looking forward to the “First 90 Days” of director training, on-boarding, meetings to get to know my new colleagues, meetings with other districts’ board members who have reached out, community members and organizations, and much more. Each time I have started a new role at work or in an organization, I focus intently on ensuring I have an accurate “lay of the land.” What knowledge, assumptions, and ideas did I have going in that need to be refined with more in-depth knowledge once inside an organization? I’m looking forward to this phase of learning and to the future of turning that knowledge into actionable strategies and solutions for our district.
With this new commitment, also comes the less exciting part of determining the trade-off’s and the commitments I need to reduce. Dealing with the myth of “Doing it All” is at hand. So as I make some challenging decisions, I remember a few things. There is a season for everything and we are placed in particular places for a time and a purpose. As this new season begins, my hope is to fulfill my position as a board director with full attention and commitment to our mission while continuing to be guided by my values in maintaining life’s most important priorities. Onward to into this next season!
ALL Residents Contribute To and Benefit From Strong Schools!
In visiting with residents across the district, I often ask the question, “What are your priorities or concerns for our district?” Frequently, I hear the response, “My children are grown, or I don’t have children yet, so I’m not sure.” I love this conversation because I really enjoy sharing with residents how important they are to our schools and how important strong schools are for our entire community.
First, one of the common misconceptions about residents who do not currently have students in our district is that they only care about their property values and taxes. At last evening’s forum this was repeated several times by candidates. I disagree!! Residents do deeply care about our schools and many are our grandparents, volunteers, and financial supporters beyond taxpayers. Additionally, many would like to be involved but there isn’t a clear “On Ramp” to get involved.
When I communicate with residents, I love to share how important strong schools are to our community. My work on the Brooklyn Park Budget Advisory Commission has given me a lens across our city departments, activities, and priorities. I see firsthand that strong schools attract residents to live and work, both families with children and without children, and I see how it positively interacts with and supports city priorities to improve the quality of life for all residents. Additionally, when businesses consider locating to or developing a new site in a community, quality schools are important as they evaluate the attractiveness for their potential current and future employees. Businesses provide growth and jobs for community members and enable a positive cycle for cities to thrive. Additionally, strong schools with engaged students is correlated to lower youth crime rates. These are just a few examples of the benefits that all residents share in when we have strong schools.
Second, when I communicate with residents, I emphasize how valuable their engagement is and can be. When residents volunteer in our classrooms and mentor our students, they create a positive support structures for many students who may not have them. They also provide their life experiences that help broaden students’ ability to envision their own possibilities for success and potential future career paths. Residents and business stakeholders participate in career fairs, are guest speakers in classrooms, financially support our schools with grants and giving, provide internships, and enable curriculum through hands on experiences.
Unfortunately, there isn’t always a clear path in for residents to volunteer and participate in our schools. One simple solution is to create an online mechanism for volunteers. Currently volunteering is through individual site locations. We have a growing young professional population as well as an aging and retiring population who are looking to be involved, but don’t know where to start or what the opportunities are. Let’s make it easy for them to get involved! Let’s communicate through vehicles they will see instead of primarily district publications and internal sites.
Finally, yes, certainly fiscal stewardship is important, but it’s important to all stakeholders in our district. All residents want to see our educational investments result in strong outcomes for our students and want to be confident that our district is using financial and other resources wisely.
When we consider our residents and stakeholders, lets engage everyone in driving positive solutions and outcomes for each and every school in our district. I look forward to many more conversations to emphasize this message!
Closing the Achievement Gap
Our district, like many others in Minnesota and across the country, is facing an achievement gap among students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. As a Mexican-American growing up in rural Minnesota, I know that my performance and success was considered a statistical risk. I know that my children’s ethnicity would indicate they are statistically at risk for lowered academic outcomes today. But I am not a statistic, my children are not a statistic, and I know each child in our district is not a statistic. Through my personal experience and my work with students across diverse metro communities, I know each student is capable of successful outcomes.
The achievement gap among students within our district is a key issue and concern that I have a personal passion to help solve. In meeting with multiple administrators, I have become aware of elements of past and current plans that are working and not working to improve the achievement gap. In speaking with parents and teachers, I know that culturally relevant learning and engagement skills are critical to all students’ success. A personal example to me recently was a question in my son’s homework that included an example that he didn’t understand because it wasn’t part of his day to day life exposure. He spent more time fixated on trying to figure out the example, that he couldn’t focus on solving the math problem. Ensuring academic content is relatable and recognizable to students while also broadening their exposure is important for all students across our district. Additionally, as a business professional working with teams across the globe, I understand the broader value of strong cultural competency skills. To effectively work with colleagues across the globe, I need to understand different cultural ways of working and living, I see this directly applying to how our teachers connect with students, as well as how we can better equip our students with critical future skill sets.
Within our district, we have many buildings that are seeing positive achievement gap improvement in applying elements of the district plan as well as unique building-level initiatives. We are seeing some excellent year over year growth outcomes at many sites. I want to empower our administrators and teachers to share their successes and learnings. I want to transplant initiatives that are successful, and I am willing to divest from initiatives that are not driving the outcomes expected. My current professional day to day responsibilities center on problem solving and transforming organizations and processes for differential results. I will bring this experience and background to the challenge of the achievement gap. I will encourage data-driven approaches and will seek to implement solutions that are well-researched and have been proven to drive academic results. I will also encourage local building-level experimentation as my personal and professional experience has shown me that those closest to the challenge often have the best knowledge of the situation and ideas for solutions – often they are seeking to be empowered to drive and share their solutions.
In evaluating achievement gap closure success stories across the nation, we must also acknowledge the complexity of the challenge. In speaking with administrators, some key root causes of the gap in proficiency scores includes students experiencing gaps in their time in school, entry into our schools at below grade level, and a growing number of students who have and are experiencing trauma and mental health issues. These challenges require support structures that are inside and outside of school. Our district is exploring and growing partnerships within our communities and I will support efforts to ensure we have the right mix of resources to best support our staff and students. I will work with all stakeholders to ensure we have the right level of surrounding partnerships and that we are communicating our needs to external partners who can help us solve this challenge. Finally, I will seek out innovative ideas from across the state and country and will have a willingness to experiment and pilot to test out potential solutions. I believe we can close the achievement gap and I will work diligently to address the root causes that are within our control as well as partnering with stakeholders to improve the root causes outside our control. I know that each student is capable of successful outcomes because I’ve lived it and I’ve seen the unique skills and talents inside every individual child I’ve ever worked with. We can solve this challenge together.