Dr. Matt Hillmann
Northfield Public Schools
MASA President 2022-23

Our recently completed legislative session has been described using many adjectives: sweeping, historic, and transformational — just to name a few. Regardless of the term used, we know several long-time MASA priorities were included in the bill signed by Governor Walz:

  • At long last, after decades of effort, the basic formula will be indexed to inflation. 
  • At long last, the state will pay to reduce the special education cross-subsidy substantially.
  • At long last, locally elected school boards will be authorized to renew an operating levy once using the same terms and conditions initially approved by the voters.

The substantial legislative victories result from outstanding leadership by our Executive Director Dr. Deb Henton and lobbyist Valerie Dosland. Your lobbying was a significant factor in the success of these structural education finance reforms. As I have shared before, democracy is not a spectator sport. We were engaged. We were involved. We influenced the legislative outcome.

The Legislature has also provided the opportunity for MASA members to lead policy implementation in numerous areas. The substantial amount of policy that was part of the bill may feel daunting. In Flight of the Buffalo, Ralph Strayer and James Belasco wrote, “Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have — and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” I have used this quote many times in managing change. I have already found that quote beneficial in my thinking through the policy changes I will be tasked with implementing. Rather than lamenting it, I am choosing to be intrigued by the road that lies ahead and lean into it.

Legislation like the READ Act allows us to shepherd vital changes in teaching a foundational skill. This new law was carefully crafted, using the latest literacy instruction research while also listening intently to stakeholders’ concerns. The result gives direction while maintaining district choice in curricula, training, and assessment. It expects successful outcomes while providing support. It includes a partnership with our world-class research institution, the University of Minnesota, to assist in implementation and evaluation. 

Required changes to other curricula areas, specifically in high school, could catalyze further reimagining of required courses, schedules, and instructional methodology. Productive disruptions like these can spur change in adjacent sectors. While complex in the short term, change can lead to positive outcomes. It all depends on how we view change. Do we look backwards or ahead?

I also like Peter Senge’s quote, “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.” There will be problems created by legislation. That is a given. We have the vehicle to address those problems — annual legislative sessions. We have addressed some of the most prominent and longstanding items from our MASA platform; we will have the capacity to lobby for solutions to the unintended consequences that are likely to manifest after such an impactful session.

This year, I have had the privilege of serving as MASA president and being honored as Superintendent of the Year. As a result, I have gotten to view school leadership in our state through a different lens and in a national context. It has been a unique experience and provided multiple data points for reflection. The key takeaway is that we are fortunate to lead Minnesota school districts. While we have challenges, public education in other states faces more substantial obstacles. While the Legislature didn’t provide all the funding we desired, there are states where public education got very little (if any) new funding. While we prepare to implement new policies, there are states where legislation has dramatically altered the local autonomy that we take for granted.

Significant changes can lead to significant opportunities. Times like these require strong, forward-thinking leadership and skilled management to realize the potential that was envisioned in them. I know that MASA members possess the talent and disposition to lead their communities to do good things for kids.

Matt Hillmann is the 2022-23 president of MASA and the Association’s 2023 superintendent of the year.

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