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MSBA Conference Debrief – Post 1

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the annual Minnesota School Board Association’s (MSBA) Conference.  With the ideas, examples, and insights still fresh in mind, I write this post in-flight to the Performance Excellence Network’s OPEX (Operational Excellence) Business Transformation World Summit in Florida for work.  As a Continuous Improvement Consultant, Transformation Coach, and “Personal Excellence Enthusiast,” I am compelled to learn and share. I find my life’s passion is in helping people and organizations to move from where they are today, to where they want to be in the future. Whether mentoring colleagues and students, coaching athletes, or applying my skills in my workplace and other organizations, I find this is the fuel that energizes me. I also believe that learning kept inside the individual and not shared or utilized is waste. So, over the next couple of weeks, I hope to share about the sessions I attended and how I connected them to my role as a board member and the work ahead of us. Each of the attending board members attended sessions and I’m excited about how we can synthesize our learning to inform our overall planning.

The 2020 MSBA Conference marked my second year of attendance. Last year, I had taken office only about a week earlier and was absorbing all I could, but without much in-depth context of our own district. This year, with our strategic work in mind, a holistic view of our priorities, and frankly a fire hose of 12 months of learning and on-boarding, I was more prepared to take away the benefits of each session. So here we go!

Disclaimer- These are my opinions alone and do not represent that of the School Board. : )

Session Reviews – 1 of 8

Vision 2020 On the Political Horizon with MSBA Directors on Government Relations Denise Dittrich and Kim Lewis

Overview

The Minnesota School Boards Association, like all other groups serving or related to education, takes positions on and advocates for various educational policies. The session provided an overview of expected legislative action affecting school districts and students. The topics ranged across legalization of marijuana, tax court decisions, curriculum mandates, funding, and more.

Insights

Most items were “ever-green” items of funding and local control. I like to say it simply – limit mandates that tell us what to do and teach, and if you pass legislation to mandate something, then pay for it. Unfunded mandates, like those in Special education, reduce our operating funds to serve our students in our core instruction and activities. We current spend $22.8MM of our roughly $280MM General Operating Budget to cover unfunded special education mandates alone (see work session 12/3). Many legislators come up with great ideas on what “all students need to know to graduate.” These are not necessarily poor ideas, but each time the state legislates curriculum or new requirements, it squeezes out the opportunity for us to offer curriculum and opportunities to meet the unique needs of our district’s students and families. Overall, our district is currently funded at $14,086 per student (See board meeting 12/17). I think we need an honest debate on what the “right” number is to educate our students. Second, within that which we do receive, we should constantly keep our eye on the educational return. If each district receives roughly the same amount, are we getting better or worse results with our investment? How does it compare to private or charter school spending and outcomes? Should we change how we fund our priorities to drive different outcomes for our students? The latter is part of the questions we are asking and will answer in our strategic work.

A couple additional items I think all residents should know about. The MSBA is recommending that vacancies for school board positions be allowed to be appointed and held until the next general election date because voter turn out is so poor on off-year elections (single digit votes in some areas of Minnesota).  At the same time, record passage of local funding referendums was celebrated in 2019. I posed the question as to consistency – if we believe we shouldn’t hold off-year elections for board vacancies due to low voter turn-out, shouldn’t the same position hold for levy referendums?  This is a difficult and politically heavy question, but one that should be wrestled with. For example, if we look ahead to our needs, should we levy when we need to (possibly off-year to avoid an extra year of delay) or when most voters are engaged? It has implications for how we plan and our timing to handle key funding and budgeting issues.  A second recommendation that the MSBA is advocating for, is that school boards be allowed to “Renew” voter-approved levies by School Board action instead of going back to the voters.  I find this problematic on many fronts. This would essentially guarantee voter-approved levies persist in perpetuity versus a defined amount of time. I don’t believe this builds community trust and accountability.  These are all issues to continue following at the legislative level.

Next Up – Opening Session: Opportunity through Education John Quinones’ American Dream, John Quinones and the topic of Dual Language Programming.

First Year

This first year as a board member has FLOWN by.

I hope you werimagese 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.            Image result for lead heart and mindMr. 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 Image result for directiongap 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 Captureconversation 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 Image result for listeningto 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.

Advisory

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.

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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 Related imageAssociation 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.

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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.

bright flora flowers homes

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.