Kelly Smith, Ed. D.,
Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors

As a retired public school leader who now works with public schools in my consulting role with Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors, I am constantly reminded of the outstanding leadership that our public school officials provide to our Minnesota school districts. These leaders take the form of superintendents, assistant superintendents, finance directors, principals, directors of special education, directors of curriculum and instruction and directors of technology, to name a few.

While serving in leadership roles throughout the years, I often talked to my district leadership team and staff about the number of activities going on during the year that kept us very busy, but I was “sure everything would slow down the next year.” Suffice to say, it never did! Something always came along that added stress to the job and required a strategic decision at the leadership level to help the district move forward. Some of the items that came up throughout the years include:

  • Navigating the politics of school consolidations and re-organizations
  • Leading the district through difficult financial times as the state balanced its budget by borrowing school district revenue and/or providing zero new funding
  • Managing the despair of a failed operating or bond election and enabling the district to move forward in a positive manner for students and staff
  • Effectively developing annual budget solutions that continue to provide excellent programming to students while maintaining tax burden levels on district residents
  • Working with districts that were in Statutory Operating Debt and collaborating with others to develop plans to reverse that course over three years
  • Helping students, faculty and community members cope with the tragic death of students and instituting health and safety guidelines across the district
  • Defending our public education system when faced with ever-tightening budgets, dwindling levels of public support and increasing regulations from state and federal agencies
  • Maintaining continuity of educational programming during school construction projects taking place in existing buildings over the course of several years
  • Handling labor unrest over contract negotiations during times of limited resources

None of the issues mentioned above even compare to what public education leaders are undertaking right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic isn’t isolated to your district (or school districts alone), but it is a crisis that all districts in Minnesota and across the country are facing. School leaders are being asked to make politically charged decisions that can cause discord between school personnel, board members, fellow school leaders, community leaders, community members and residents while maintaining academic congruency in a remote or hybrid learning setting.

Despite this environment of turmoil and uncertainty, I consistently see school leaders making sound, science-based decisions that best serve the needs of their students, faculty and staff while maintaining a system that educates students, feeds families and keeps the classroom a priority (even virtually). I am truly in awe of the work that each and every one of our Minnesota school leaders are doing on a daily basis. Thank you for how you are leading our public schools every day!

While giving so much of yourself to serve others in your community and beyond, please take care of yourself and stay well.

I couldn’t be more proud to be associated with MASA/MASE and all of its members. Leadership matters! Thank you for what you do!


  1. Great article Kelly. Thank you for your continued leadership as a mentor in so many ways. A true servant leader that continues to give back and support others.

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