Category: Uncategorized

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.

 

Father’s Day

Today we have the opportunity to celebrate our dads – for who they are and for the impact that have made on who we are.  When I think about my dad two words immediately come to mind – adventure and sacrifice.

Nearly every fun childhood memory I have is anchored in my dad and his ideas for family adventure. Whether we were floating down the creek in truck tire inner tubes, camping out in our tent, or in the middle of the woods picking blueberries, it seemed my dad always had a plan to get out and and just do something together. Many times our family fun would result in something going wrong to turn it into a crazy story that we now relive and laugh about each time we get together.

As an adult with my own family, it strikes me as amazing that my dad could put the energy he did into me and my brothers considering how hard he worked. As an independent truck driver, he hauled anything and everything at all hours and through all weather to make a living. One of my most vivid memories is of the excitement of waiting for him to come home from being on the road.  In the age before cell phones, my dad would call my mom from a truck stop to let her know where he was and what time he expected to make it home.  When the time for him to arrive drew close, my brothers and I would go outside to play and eagerly wait to hear the sound of his truck coming down the country road to our house. The moment we could hear him, we ran to the end of our driveway to wait, where he’d stop to let us climb into the big rig and “help” him park the truck.  While my world was eager anticipation, I know my mom also had many times of worry – in bad weather waiting for when he’d check in or when he was overdue to arrive. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized the toll his type of work took on him – the worry of times when loads where scarce, the unexpected repairs, and the physical toll of being on the road. As an adult, I realized how much he sacrificed to provide for our family.

Today I am thankful for how my dad shaped and influenced me.  His work ethic shaped my foundation and instilled in me the value of hard work. He instilled in me the belief that goals are worth working for and that there are no shortcuts to long-term success. Though I’m pretty sure my younger brother inherited all of my dad’s “fun genes,” I learned the importance of creating family traditions and memories to bond us together. As I get older, I can see the numerous ways I am like him and the origination of many of my interests, abilities, characteristics, and beliefs. I am fiercely proud of my background because I am proud of the people in my life who made me who I am today – today I have the joy of celebrating one of them. Thank you dad for who you are – for making me who I am today and now for helping to build my kids into the people they will become.

Summer Time!

Summer time will “officially” begin at the end of today for many students across our district. For parents, some of us are looking forward to it as eagerly as our kids – planning trips, talking with neighbors while the kids play in the street, and hosting backyard BBQ’s.  Others of us are scrambling to find that last program, camp, or family member to help with summer coverage while we work.

As a lifelong Minnesotan, and after this extraordinary winter, I cherish our summers and tend to try to pack in as many summer activities as humanly possible.  My husband is in the unique opportunity as a teacher to spend summer time with our kids. While this is an amazing blessing, I admit I’m sometimes jealous that I’m at work while everyone is enjoying summer fun. This summer, I’m looking forward to watching my kids participate in sports through the district’s community education programming. In particular, I’m excited to see if my kids will share my passion for track and field – but if they don’t, there are many other opportunities for them to try out and to test their passions and talents.

As I consider my summer and the color-coded family calendar hanging on my fridge, I really am thankful that our district has so many diverse summer options.  This also extends into our overall district educational approach. I believe our district has a real strength in the variety of educational opportunities our students have available to them. Through this diversity of enrichment, focused programs, and community partnerships, our students are able to have their unique talents and abilities encouraged and accelerated. I believe we can do even more to expand offerings to support the skills needed for tomorrow. At the same time, we need to continue to close gaps with support programs that are proven to  yield results.

As we prepare to head into our summer plans, I wish the best for you and your family.  I am hoping to use the longer days to slow-down and spend more time connecting with my family and children.  Here’s to another Minnesota summer filled with memory-making fun!