Category: Uncategorized

When the Campaign is Over

FinishWow, 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.

StartNow, 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 ofAutum “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.

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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 wouldred and three blue jigsaw puzzles 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.

What Does One Mission, Many Paths Mean?

I have had a unique personal and professional life path that has provided me with opened white and red gift boxthe opportunity to meet and learn from people with a wide variety of perspectives. As we all know from our human experience; our perspectives, philosophies, and ideas are formed by a multitude of factors including our experiences, talents, culture, faith, family, and more.  In an age when it seems that society wants to place us into easy to describe groups and boxes, my life story has given me the personal confidence to know that I do not and will not fit into a box, and that no other individual can either.

Over the course of my experiences, I have found that while we have many differences among us, when we are able to come together in a shared mission, we can use the richness of those differences to accomplish amazing things.  I have found in working withwoman holding six polished stones colleagues across the globe, volunteering with kids across communities, and personally living in a variety of circumstances, we have much more in common than we often realize. When we start from a place of what we share in common; we connect, we learn, and we accomplish together.

 

As parents across the district, I believe we all want our children to be successful – we want them to discover their talents, connect to opportunities to leverage their talents to turn them into dreams, and we want them to build the skills and capabilities to turn person jumping phototheir dreams into realities.  When we anchor to this common goal and shared vision, we recognize that while we may have different ideas to reach that goal, we are on the same team to achieve it.  When we are on the same team, we reach out to one another to understand what our members need for our goal to be achieved and we can determine better solutions together.

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This is what I hope to build across our community if I am elected to the board. I envision a community in which each parent is confident and proud to send their student to each and every school in our district.  I envision a district that attracts residents and parents from across the metro to our communities because our schools enable their children to build their talents and sets them on a path to achieve their unique success story. This is what “One Mission, Many Paths” means. It means we are a district whoperson holding compass lives out our mission “To inspire and prepare all students with the confidence, courage, and competence to achieve their dreams; contribute to community; and engage in a lifetime of learning.” It means we communicate across our district and see ourselves as one team of parents, students, residents, and staff because we believe we believe in achieving our mission in the life of each student.  And most importantly, it means each student in our district has the best opportunities to achieve their own personal success story.

 

 

Learning Through Coaching

One of the high-points of my life experience to date was coaching track and cross country at Johnson High School in Saint Paul.  I loved my time coaching and like most coaches, found the coaching relationship with my athletes to be the most rewarding aspect of the experience.

As a young coach, I thought I knew the coaching formula – I’d plan the perfect workouts, the kids would perform them exactly as planned and athletic success would follow.  I immediately learned that coaching was first and foremost about the relationship with my student-athlete and so much more than distance and pace.   I learned that the impact I could have on my kids was beyond athletic outcomes and that the impact they would have on me would be life-changing.

When I began coaching, it was because I loved the sports of track and cross country.  Just a few years out of college, I missed the challenge, the science, and the connection of working as a team toward an athletic goal. I wanted to become a coach as the next step in my “athletic career.” When my husband began working at Saint Paul Johnson High School as a teacher and baseball coach, I became aware of the opportunity to volunteer. My first distance crew for the track team was a small group of athletes, barely enough to fill a relay team, but a group of kids who were there to run.

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First Track Distance Crew
Each student was unique – I had brand new runners, kids who just wanted something to do after school, and talented and challenge-oriented athletes.   My workout plans, spreadsheets, pace charts, and notions based on my own experiences were out the window.  Instead I had to meet each athlete where he or she was at and I had to learn what would motivate each one to come to practice each day. I had to learn who my athletes were as individuals and I realized I had to earn their trust in me as an adult and as coach. The relationships grew over time, with each run, each conversation, and each workout.

My athletes became “my kids” and I learned my kids’ stories – stories I had little background or experience to initially comprehend.  But as I learned my kids’ stories and they learned mine, we found connection and intersections. We found similarities among one another and celebrated each student’s unique strengths and personality.  We built a team and a sense of mutual accountability – we were partners and a team in this effort.  We set the goal together. My job was to help set the plan and workouts for them to improve and perform, their job was to put forward their best effort every day. It was everyone’s job to encourage and motivate each other. Not every day was easy and as I grew to know my kids, I learned that for some, just attending school and practice was filled with hurdles. I learned to open my eyes and heart to the experiences of others and to not just hear but to listen. Through my athletes, my worldview grew, and I learned how to go beyond the surface of what I thought I knew and what I thought I understood.  I learned that if we genuinely seek to understand one another, we will find we share much more in common than we might have expected.

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First Cross Country Team

Today, as I look back at the years of spreadsheets filled with kids’ names, races, and times, I see each face and remember watching them compete. I remember seeing their potential and anxiously watching them race, waiting to see if that day would be the day they themselves would recognize it, advance toward it, or realize it. I recall setting each race goal with them – was I setting the expectation too high or too low, was I pushing them too hard or not enough, had I prepared them for success?  When the race was over, I loved to see the confidence on their faces when a new best time was achieved or completing a tough course was simply done. We grew our team to nearly thirty kids from our original team of seven. We celebrated the seconds and minutes that were dropped from times and the number of miles ran over the weeks and months. The confidence of these achievements unlocked confidence in other aspects of their student life. I loved pointing out that THEY put in the work and THEY got the results and if they could do it with running, they could do it with anything in their lives.

My coaching career came to pause when I became a mom. During my last season IMG_E9760[1]coaching, I coached and ran with my athletes with my infant daughter in the jogging stroller.  Selfishly, I didn’t want to quit, I didn’t want to let go of “my kids.” But, I knew that it was time to recognize that the best coach for my athletes would be one who could be fully devoted in time, energy, and focus. Now I miss coaching because I miss the opportunity to work with young people in the unique way that athletics allows. I miss helping young people explore their talents and take steps forward in reaching their potential athletically and personally. I know there are kids who may not have an adult in their life telling them they are valuable, capable, and uniquely created to make a positive impact in this world – I miss being one of the people who could fill that role for them. I also miss the experience of continuously learning from an amazing group of students every day.

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My kids at track camp
I know the time will come when my phase of life allows for coaching again. Until then, my role as a mom is core to my foundation and I’ll work to serve the kids in my community as a Sunday school teacher and hopefully in the future as a school board director.