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The Stockdale Paradox

Jeff Elstad
Owatonna Public Schools
MASA President

“You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”  — Admiral James Stockdale

You may be aware of the Stockdale Paradox, named for Admiral James Stockdale and his time as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. A colleague and I were recently discussing how this same paradox could be used to describe our current situation navigating the pandemic and what it means to us as school leaders.

The pressures on district leaders are enormous: pandemic, financial concerns, political division, social unrest and more. All of these issues find themselves in our schools, as we are simply a microcosm of the communities we serve. What is abundantly clear is that we have been asked and will be asked again to step forward and provide hope not only for our students and staff, but for our entire community.

Admiral Stockdale was keenly aware of the brutal fact that POWs would be tortured and some put to death. With this in mind, he found a way to communicate with the other POWs to keep their spirits up and look forward to the day they would prevail in their efforts to stay alive. Although our circumstances are not as dire, we are still charged with the task as leaders to keep our staff, students and communities looking forward to better days and times ahead.

It has been a while since I have used the term “merchant of hope” — however I believe that the challenges ahead will require us as school leaders to share hope for a brighter future through calm, confident and caring leadership. It is not always easy to be cast into the role of leader through tumultuous times, but it is clearly part of our role in times like these.

Leadership is a calling to inspire those whom we serve. I cannot think of a better group of professionals than all of you to be the merchants of hope for a brighter future. I consider it an honor and privilege to serve with all of you and am proud to call you friends and colleagues. Together, we can be the merchants of hope that our students, staff, families and communities need.

If I can be of any assistance to you please do not hesitate to contact me at jelstad@isd761.org

Keep the faith!

Ingredients for Leading During Our Times

Dr. Deb Henton
Executive Director

We know that in typical times, leading is exhilarating, engaging, and exhausting nearly all at once. But now we are in the midst of the pandemic caused by COVID-19. Has the job of school leaders/administrators, no matter the title, been transformed and those descriptors no longer apply?  

Seasoned leaders across the state are sharing that during COVID-19, leading has never been more challenging. New leaders are wondering if this is the way things are going to be once COVID-19 is no longer driving nearly every decision made during each day. Many wonder just what are the essential principles effective leaders should follow during our times.

Insights from crisis management expert, Jim Lukaszeski, whose article, “The ingredients of leadership: finding the personal power for moving people and organizations into the future,” may provide you with relevant information to share with your team. Jim’s thoughts might also lead you to reflect on your own leadership, and to feel validated for the leadership behaviors you are demonstrating daily. Here is a link to Jim’s article.

Jim has identified 11 transformational behaviors or ingredients he believes are simple to apply and with sincere effort will result in leaders having more influence and feeling more satisfied.  Here are the 11:

  1. Be positive
  2. Be a verbal visionary
  3. Be constructive
  4. Be prompt
  5. Be outcome focused
  6. Be reflective
  7. Be pragmatic
  8. Be a yes person
  9. Be focused on the crucial five percent
  10. Be a finisher
  11. Be relentless in seeking positive, incremental, personal improvement every day

Jim explains and provides examples of each of the 11 behaviors in an easy to read format. Stepping away from COVID-19 discussions for just a little while to discuss an article like Jim’s, may help your teams during one of the most difficult periods of our lifetime. 

May you continue to feel engaged and exhilarated. I know even in typical times you are exhausted. Let’s work on that another time. We will get through this together.

Federal Advocacy Update

Dr. Dan Bittman
Elk River Area School District
MN AASA Governing Board Member
MASA President-Elect 2020-21

Whether talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, the homework gap, inadequate funding, unfunded mandates, Title monies, various instructional models, broadband or any other topic related to current events, being an educator, and especially a superintendent, can be a challenge these days. Despite the uncertainty, however, I remain more hopeful and optimistic about the future than ever before. Think about the work we have done with our students, staff, and communities since last March! Together, we have reinvented education, provided meaningful learning opportunities through a variety of venues, created countless new partnerships and persevered. Our teams have shown resilience, grit, and determination every step of the way! For that, I could not be more proud!

While we will no doubt continue to navigate these interesting times strategically and thoughtfully, we must not lose sight of what needs to happen within Minnesota and the Nation. Let’s continue to share information, advocate for our children, staff, and communities, and look for ways to make a difference at the federal level. Below you will find a few things you might find helpful and interesting:

  • In November, AASA released its policy recommendations for president-elect Biden, A New Education Vision for a New Administration;
  • After the elections, the path forward still remains somewhat unclear. Two senate seats remain up in the air (both from Georgia, with runoffs being held January 5, 2021), and it is unlikely Democrats will win both AND control the Senate. In other words, there will be much work to do in order to bring people together and make positive change.
    • Annual Appropriations: The government is funded via a continuing resolution (CR) through December 11, 2020 at which time Congress needs to adopt another funding bill. It could be another short-term CR (level funding the government into the new year), a year-long CR (level funding the government through the end of the fiscal year, Sept 30, 2021) or an omnibus package. The Senate introduced its funding bills this week, but they are not expected to make it past the house, so we need to see if the two chambers can reach a middle ground or if this becomes a stalemate. Complicating this is the question of whether or not the appropriations work should be combined with the push for a COVID package.
    • COVID-5: Senate Majority leader McConnell has expressed an interest in getting a COVID 5 package done before the presidential transition, but it doesn’t mean the path forward is certain. On Monday, he indicated Congress should pass a limited stimulus bill before the end of 2020, in the wake of encouraging data on a Covid-19 vaccine and a slide in unemployment. His comments showcased continued Senate Republican opposition to the larger-scale aid Democrats want, risking a stalemate into next year. It appears the Senate is relying on an uptick on employment numbers and the announcement of a potential vaccine as a way to justify a smaller response package. As a result, education priorities within our national organization (AASA) will likely remain the same: $200 billion in funding for K-12, without carve out or requirement related to physically opening; at least $4 billion for E-Rate to address the homework gap; liability protection; and IDEA flexibility. There will also likely be support in continuing flexibilities through USDA related to school meals, but that was accomplished through the continuing resolution, and those flexibilities will be available for the duration of the 2020-21 school year (more here).

The Bottom Line: We need you, appreciate you, and am glad to support you during these unprecedented and exciting times. Thank you for all you do!

Winter 2020 Legislative Update

Valerie Dosland
Government Affairs Director
Ewald Consulting
MASA Lobbyist

Special Session VII?

As COVID-19 continues to be the focus everywhere, the MN political landscape is no exception.

The Governor must renew his peacetime emergency powers every thirty days and the Legislature must be in session for the Governor to do so, although the action does not require legislative approval. As a result, the Governor has called the Legislature back six times over the interim to extend his peacetime emergency powers to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Governor is expected to call the legislature back in the middle of December to again extend his peacetime emergency powers and possibly take up a relief package for businesses and organizations negatively impacted by the recent 4-week shutdown. The Governor and the legislature have not yet reached an agreement on a relief package, however.

During the last two special sessions, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate to help school districts mitigate the negative impact due to reduced pupil counts during the pandemic. Neither bill advanced then and it is still unclear what might happen in a December special session.

2020 elections result in status quo (mostly)

This year a record number of absentee ballots were requested and returned – 1.9 million. The sheer number of absentee ballots, and the fact that counties were given seven additional days to accept ballots because of covid, caused some delay getting full election results, with final counts not known until after November 10.

Minnesota will continue to be the only state in the country with a divided government as both the Senate Republicans and House DFL held onto their majority control despite shifts in the number of seats. Senate Republicans now have a 34-31-2 majority. House Democrats now have a majority by 70-64. What is notable about the election results is they show a solid political divide between the Twin Cities metro area and greater Minnesota. 

Budget outlook

Minnesota received a bit of good news on the state budget outlook. The November forecast, which is the official budget forecast the Governor and the legislature will use to begin crafting a two-year state budget, was significantly better than anticipated.

Earlier projections showed a $2.4 billion deficit for the current fiscal year and a $4.7 billion revenue shortfall for the FY22-23 biennium. The forecast released on December 1 showed a $641 million surplus for this current fiscal year. While not as rosy for the next biennium, the expected $4.7 billion deficit was reduced to $1.3 billion.

Looking to the 2021 legislative session

The next legislative session begins on January 5, 2021. With COVID-19 surging, we expect the session to be held mostly virtually, which will provide a few challenges for legislators and members of the public. For one, the ability to interact will be hindered and require virtual meetings and visits. Secondly, the ability to process the large number of bills we typically see each session gets more challenging. Because of that, we would expect to see more focus on solving the budget deficit than hearing an untold number of bills.

2021 is the first year of the two-year biennial cycle and the year where the Governor and the state legislature must pass a two-year state operating budget. Not surprisingly, we will likely see different approaches to addressing the state budget between the DFL-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. Expect to hear the ongoing debate regarding tax increases versus budget reductions that is common between DFLers and Republicans and discussions about using the budget reserve and shifts to address the deficit next biennium.

Education Committees – House and Senate

Because we are beginning a new two-year cycle, the House and Senate establishes new committees, appoint chairs, and make committee member assignments.

For the 2021-2022 legislative cycle, the committee structure remains the same, but some changes were made with committee chairs.

In the Senate, Sen. Roger Chamberlain was appointed chair of the Education Finance and Policy Committee. In the House, Rep. Dave Pinto will continue as chair of the Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee, Rep. Jim Davnie stays on as the chair of the Education Finance Committee, and Rep. Ruth Richardson, is the newly appointed chair of the Education Policy Committee.

Dr. Wayne Kazmierczak named Minnesota Superintendent of the Year

Wayne Kazmierczak
White Bear Lake Area Schools

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) has named Dr. Wayne Kazmierczak, Superintendent of the White Bear Lake Area Schools (WBLAS), the 2021 Minnesota Superintendent of the Year. As the Minnesota honoree, Dr. Kazmierczak is a candidate among other state recipients for National Superintendent of the Year, to be announced during the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Conference on Education hosted virtually on February 18-19, 2021. Dr. Kazmierczak was selected for this honor by a panel of representatives from a variety of Minnesota education organizations. Nominees are evaluated on how each candidate demonstrates leadership for learning, communication skills, professionalism, and community involvement.

“Dr. Kazmierczak has quickly become a beacon of leadership and inspiration across the state during his time at White Bear Lake,” said MASA Executive Director Dr. Deb Henton. “He has made immediate relationships with his staff and the surrounding community. It is clear under his direction the district is poised to make positive impacts now and into the future. We are proud to have Dr. Kazmierczak represent our administrators as Minnesota’s Superintendent of the Year.”

In 2019, Dr. Kazmierczak and WBLAS began a campaign for a $326 million bond referendum. The 2019 campaign included videos, print materials, and electronic materials that contributed to the district’s success. The most effective strategy was the in-person meetings held with stakeholders. More than 125 presentations and question-and-answer sessions provided an opportunity for stakeholders to connect with Dr. Kazmierczak and other school leaders authentically. In addition to typical campaign practices, he held additional referendum presentations for the senior living community, which proved important in strengthening rapport with WBLAS’ most senior community members. These meetings led to support for the plan that would not have been achieved had the district not focused on this audience in this non-traditional way.

During the 2018-19 school year, Dr. Kazmierczak led the development of an equity commitment statement and adopted a four-way equity decision-making protocol to guide the district’s work. The district conducted an equity audit, and in light of the killing of George Floyd and how conversations across the nation have evolved during this past year, the timing of the results of the equity audit positioned Dr. Kazmierczak and the district to develop and implement both meaningful and actionable equity strategies for the district. 

An example from the equity audit was the grading disparities among students of color. Grading can be one of the largest areas in which systemic racism and inequities are perpetuated. Dr. Kazmierczak and WBLAS believe grades should be a measure of what a student knows and has mastered in a given course. Grading should not be a behavior punishment and should not be a measure of how well a student can survive stress at home. Under Dr. Kazmierczak’s leadership and in line with the district’s strategic plan and commitment to eliminating systemic racism, the district began tackling grading disparities a year ago when they dramatically changed their grading practices. Leaders in the district know that they will be supported as they have never been before because of the strategic work that has already been done all through the lens of equity.

Dr. Kazmierczak began his career as a high school business education teacher and coach for 12 years. He has served as the Superintendent of Lakeview Public Schools and Assistant Superintendent for Moorhead Area Public Schools. Dr. Kazmierczak was the Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations for White Bear Lake Area Schools from 2014-2017. He was named Superintendent of White Bear Lake Area Schools in 2017.

An active member in both MASA and AASA, he served on the MASA Board of Directors for seven years from 2010-2017. Dr. Kazmierczak’s MASA involvement also includes membership on the Federal Advocacy and Legislative committees. He recently served as the chair of the Federal Advocacy committee. He is also a member of the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) and the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials (MASBO).

The honoree is active within his community. He is a member of the Rotary Club International, Vadnais Heights Economic Development Corporation, White Bear Lake Area Education Foundation, and the Minnesota School District Liquid Asset Fund Board of Trustees.
In 2012, Dr. Kazmierczak was the recipient of both the MASA Richard Green Scholar Award and the MASA Outstanding Central Office Leader Award. WBLAS received the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators (MAGC) Northern Light Award, the organization’s highest honor, for the 2019 Bond Referendum Campaign.

Hailing from Stephen, Minnesota, Dr. Kazmierczak earned a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He received a master’s degree in Educational Administration and a bachelor’s degree in Business and Vocational Education from the University of North Dakota.

The Minnesota Superintendent of the Year Award is sponsored by ATS&R, Planners/Architects/Engineers. Visit their web site at www.atsr.com.

For more information on the AASA Superintendent of the Year Program, please visit www.aasa.org. 

MASA is a professional organization of Minnesota’s school leaders, including superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors of special education, and other central office administrators, as well as state department administrators, college, and university professors, and other educators throughout Minnesota dedicated to educational leadership for students.