Friday, August 22, 2014

New Superintendent Workshop

The Kansas Associations of School Boards hosted their annual New Superintendents Workshop on August 21, at the KASB offices.  New superintendents from around the state participated in the day of activities.  Topics included information based on our mission of “Being a Voice, Improving Student Outcomes, and Culture of Service.  Several staff members shared insights into the many services KASB provides for school boards and districts.


New superintendents in attending were:
Jason Crawford, USD 283 Elk Valley
Lyn Rantz , USD 464 Tonganoxie
Bill Mullins,  USD 364 Marysville
Greg Clark USD 112 Central Plains
Steve Lilly, USD 342 McLouth
Derick Reihart, USD 303 Ness City
Joel Lovesee, USD 205 Bluestem
Tom Dolenz, USD 225, Fowler

KASB asked several experienced superintendents to help participate in the day by sharing insights from their early years in their new role as a district leader.


Mr. Doug Conwell, from USD 417 Morris County Schools shared insights about the evaluation process and the impact a high quality model can have on improving instruction and impacting achievement.  Mr. Darrell Kohlman, from USD 115 Nemaha Central discussed the many trials and challenges of leading a district through the consolidation process and unifying a newly designed district.  He also share how utilizing KASB Legal Services helped to make his job more manageable.

Dr. Mike Berblinger, from USD 313 Buhler shared the importance of working with the board to establish clear goals and expectations for continuous improvement.   He explained how developing a clear set of goals has allowed he and the board to focus their attention on what really matters to the district and community.  Dr. Berblinger had just concluded his first year as a superintendent.  His insights allowed the new superintendents to witness the influence a new superintendent and the local board can make on the culture and climate of a district.

All in all it was a day of networking and sharing insights with leaders new to role of district leadership.  KASB staff also took the opportunity to create an awareness of the many services we provide for districts that can help improve efficiency and effectiveness.   

Friday, August 15, 2014

Preaching to the Choir

The first few times I heard that expression years ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. Of course we “preach to the choir,” they are always in attendance. Members of the choir are committed and engaged; they want good things to happen and are happy to participate. That is the problem many educational leaders face; we have done a great job telling our story to the people that are committed and engaged. That is good strategy but not a winning one. We need to find a way to spend some time focused on some better ideas.

While traveling the state working with school boards for the past eight years, I have had the good fortune of being part of many wonderful discussions. They always involve education leaders passionate about improving public education. For the past four or five years many of the same concerns or common themes seem to come up at the meetings:
  • The needs of our students and community have changed;
  • We need do a better job of preparing our students with life skills;
  • We want to do more for our students, but we don’t have the necessary resources to make that happen;
  • We must do a better job of helping our kids that are at-risk.
These conversations have happened in districts both large and small and the sense of frustration is palpable. It is even more discouraging for school boards and superintendents when they make the difficult program/personnel decisions based on budget reductions and restrictions. When the measure of our success is efficiency vs. effectiveness, we are fighting a losing battle. The discussion should be about effective and efficient systems, not just cheaper ones.

So how do we move beyond the choir and the congregation and find a way to speak with our community? How do we have a conversation with our stakeholders to find out what they want for their students as they prepare them for the future? What do your students, parents and community members want from our school systems? There are many cities and towns in Kansas right now that are facing critical financial situations. The discussions at some board tables are focused on “how do we keep our doors open” to meet the needs of our students instead of how do we hire staff, add programs, and curricula that will improve student outcomes. When boards and administrators are forced to make the tough decisions angry patrons with legitimate concerns “storm the gates” and demand the school board “fix it.” There is no such thing as an easy fix. I have yet to visit with a school board member or a superintendent in Kansas that didn’t want to do more for their students. Boards are not cutting opportunities for students because they want too; they are doing it because they don’t have the resources necessary to prepare students for success.

How do we move these important discussions beyond the people that already agree with us? A few years ago school districts around the stated hosted “Kansas Conversations.” They were designed and developed to allow community members to come and share thoughts on their local district. We had 90 districts and over 2,000 people share their insights, ideas, and concerns. What we discovered was simple. Everything we do in our schools is important to someone. As one might imagine we had some people throw programs and people under the bus. “We don’t need sports.” “Why is the music/art department such a big deal?” “Why do we need so many teachers/paras in the school?” Yes, there were complaints about buses, meals, activities and taxes, but when they sat down across the table from a fellow community member and heard different parents perspective, suddenly they were a lot less critical and had a better understanding of “all” students. Some parents told stories of the importance of the fine arts; others share how important sports were to their child’s success. Everything our schools do is important to someone. That is the important message. We need to help our communities understand “WHY” it costs more to prepare our students for the future in 2014, than it did in 1974.

In closing, nearly every day I have a discussion with Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy and communication. They are always about the same topics, the importance of education, the future of education, what can we do to better share the message with our members. Therein lays the issue. Many of our members are well informed and committed to the cause of public education. We have come to realize that we can’t keep doing what we have always done. We have to take a different approach. We have to speak up and share our vision with more than just people that agree with us. Now we have to raise our voices and speak with all of the people in our district and community. The famous quote from John Lewis says: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” It really is up to us to carry this message. Let’s stop preaching to just the choir, and let’s get started today.

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Board Leaders Workshop

This past week KASB hosted two days of training for new board leaders.  Over 70 people from across the state attended sessions in Hays and Topeka.  The topics included discussions on board culture and the importance of student achievement for communities.
Dr. Brian Jordan facilitated the workshop with support from KASB staff.  This year’s workshop was designed in a much more interactive model.  Much of the day was spent in peer groups sharing insights and comparing board experiences.  A benefit of these sessions was the networking opportunities established by meeting new individuals with a mutual purpose. The lessons were prepared around common issues related to board leadership.  The participants were actively engaged in learning through doing during these workshops
Both days provided opportunities for questions for the KASB legal staff surrounding executive sessions and board procedures.  We ended both days with a “mock board meeting”  to present teachable moments to share best practices.
Over all it was two great days of learning.  Kansas is so fortunate to have so many wonderful people willing to serve communities in this important task.  The passion for students and schools was on display this past week  The staff at KASB was pleased have the opportunity serve educational leaders in their quest for continuous improvement.