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Until Next Time, Thanks for the Memories

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Gary Amoroso
MASA Executive Director

This will be my last newsletter article that I write as your executive director.  For me, it is really hard to believe that I have had the privilege of serving our members for the past nine years. Time does truly fly when you are having fun! Serving you has been the pinnacle of my 43 years in education.

I must start by thanking the best staff any executive director could ever hope for! Mia Urick, Jeanna Vohnoutka, Stephanie Kastanos, Deb Larson, and Dave Christians. It is amazing what this group does day in and day out. The association members are very fortunate to have them working on their behalf.

Many thanks to each of the MASA presidents I had the opportunity to work with: Kelly Smith, Jim Hess, Jay Haugen, Lynne Kovash, Jeff Ronneberg, Scott Thielman, Curt Tryggestad, Deb Henton, and David Law. I greatly appreciated the partnership that we shared.  I thank the two MASA treasurers, Chris Richardson and Jaime Skjeveland that kept the association in an excellent fiscal condition. Thanks to each of you for letting me do my job.

My last sincere thanks are for each of you! As I stated, these past nine years have been so rewarding for me. The opportunity to work on a daily basis with our members and others invested in public education at the state and national level is an experience I could not have dreamed of when I started my journey as an educator so many years ago.

The friendships that have developed will remain with me for the rest of my life! Though I am retiring from MASA, I sincerely hope that we can stay connected over time.

As this journey ends for me another will begin. As some of you know, starting in July, I will be joining CESO (Center for Effective School Operations) as a Senior Strategic Consultant. I look forward to being of service to you.

Best wishes to each of you as you continue to meet the many challenges that continue to come your way!

The public school students in Minnesota are in great hands. You are the BEST!!!

My year as MASA President

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“in times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.” 

Abraham Lincoln


David Law
Superintendent
Anoka Hennepin School District
MASA President

The 2019-2020 school year may go down in history as the most memorable in this century.

As I reflect on my year as the MASA president, I think about the incredible changes and challenges we as school leaders have faced. Local education leaders have been forced to work without guidance through unprecedented challenges to best meet the needs of our students in unreasonably short time frames. We have succeeded, and we have failed. I reflect on what has been delivered through distance learning and can say with confidence that staff in my district have delivered technology and schoolwork to our students and kept students engaged to the best of their ability. For these things, I am amazed by the effort of the talented, hardworking employees within our system and across the state. On the other hand, our solution has further exposed the existing inequities our students face within our public schools. We can do better. We will do better.

As the school year ended, as we all faced the disappointment of our students and families who were grieving the loss of their last season, their senior prom, their favorite class, their walk across the graduation stage, we fielded the painful calls for a return to normalcy. We worked together to find a better solution for our families, seeking guidance from everyone and anyone to ease the pain in our community.

On May 25, 2020, Memorial Day, the world changed again, after already dealing with the rapid spread of COVID-19, when a white law enforcement officer was recorded, seemingly without emotion, taking the life of George Floyd, a black man. This reignited the outrage and call for justice for George Floyd and the many other black lives that have been lost at the hands of law enforcement. This prompted protest as people loudly shouted “I can’t breathe” and while reaffirming that black lives do matter. The systemic racism within our society and within our governmental structures and schools, made all other challenges related to COVID-19 seem insignificant.

In a moment, I realized that our schools would be able to get through the pandemic. Then I experienced an immediate concern about our ability, our collective will and commitment to finally address the public school system that has unfortunately left many students behind. The ripple effect that creates waves leading to incarceration, underemployment, and inadequate housing may finally be addressed. I have always believed public education provides hope for the hopeless, and yet I acknowledge today that this is more true for members of our predominantly white affluent community than for our communities of color.

I believe that our actions speak much louder than our words. Let’s lead by example, as we move forward to a new school year and provide a renewed hope for ALL, with particular emphasis on our families of color, who have been disenfranchised and left without the hope that public education can be and must be for everyone.

I feel fortunate to have been able to be the MASA president and work with leaders around the state through these challenges. We have collectively led the path forward through COVID-19 and are taking on the challenges of systemic racism. This experience has shown me the talent that leads public education and I am confident that the future will be better.

Thank you for the opportunity to lead.

A Reflection on Education in the Wake of Minnesota’s Shift to Distance Learning

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Joel VerDuin
Chief Technology and Information Officer
Anoka-Hennepin School District
Eric Simmons
Director of Technology Services
Chisago Lakes School District

As we finish out our school year, it is nearly impossible to process the amount of change that has happened and continues to happen all around us. We have been so busy doing that it is not easy to pause and put the urgent aside. This piece is an attempt to reflect on what has been an overwhelming amount of change in a short period of time. For many of us in technology leadership roles, distance learning in Minnesota provided as much opportunity as it did headache, and we are hoping that we come out on the other side of education with sustained energy around the idea that technology and learning are intertwined. What follows are the top reflections of technology leaders from around the state.

The Digital Divide Exists – Partnerships Help

Access to broadband internet, or the lack of, became a spotlight issue during the last 3 months. As schools attempted to identify gaps and find solutions, it became clear that lack of broadband access now amplifies the disadvantage of certain populations of families. Minnesota continues to have struggles with rural affordable broadband internet access. In the metro areas, it is possible to have multiple competing services, but in greater Minnesota, affordable broadband may not be a possibility. During the period of distance learning, many companies expanded offerings in an attempt to connect underserved communities. In rural Cook County, Lisa Bauer details how several entities came together to provide services to families. True North, an internet service provider offered low cost internet access to families and connected many households without access. Cook County Higher Education, a local non-profit also offered low cost laptop solutions for families. Student interns from school districts signed on as technology support. It is important to continue to press the importance of affordable internet access across all of Minnesota, and at the same time recognize the partnerships that help amplify the effect.

Less Perfect, More Good Enough For Now

One cultural shift that seems evident, is less emphasis on trying to get to “best practice” and solutions to problems being, “Good enough for now.” If an institution is intent on cornering all of the best practices for improvement, it means that less perfect, good-enough practices may be shunned. During distance learning, time could not be afforded to determine what might have been, “best practice.” Instead, most districts needed to do the best they could with what they knew at the time. Jen Hegna, from Byron PubIic Schools emphasizes in her report to the school board, the statement, “Planning for Change, Not Perfection.” In nearly every aspect of what was done during the quick implementation of distance learning, most schools had to say, “What is good enough for now? What fits our current needs?” While schools like to pilot new things and slowly implement, along with providing effective professional development, and clearly communicating goals and the “Why” behind new things in the system, distance learning helped push schools to fill voids with what they could get to work and support within the capacity of their systems. Chisago Lakes School District, like many others across the state, put many new things in place to fill voids and anticipate student and staff remote needs as best as possible. Their technology team implemented an entirely new helpdesk system, software to support remote computers, a voicemail-to-email system, and expanded device management systems K-12. Worrying about “perfect” became a luxury that time could not afford. One could debate the use of Zoom versus Google Meet versus Microsoft Teams, but there was no time – pick one and go.

Technology Expertise is Not the Burden of the Few

In the early days of technology, there were very few applications and we often looked to the highly enlightened experts to help the rest of the educators. Today, there are more applications or services than any one person can be an expert in. The decline of the technology “expert” has been happening across the last several years. It has been a slow and less-than-obvious proposition. With distance learning, we realized several conditions. The first is that some level of technology expertise is not optional. With most technology integration efforts of the past, it was very likely that some resisted any efforts to integrate technology into instruction. With distance learning, that option was made a requirement. No longer could a teacher suggest that technology integration was not really that relevant for his/her content areas. Educators were asked to not only understand new concepts and technology, but to put them into practice from a hastily-built home office desk with twenty-six 4th graders in some cases. Secondly, this time of distance learning showed us that expertise is everywhere and not concentrated in the few. In Anoka-Hennepin, the technology team supporting instruction remarked that distance learning pushed their work 10 years into the future. For years, the team has been conducting professional development aimed at moving teachers toward improved practices, but the importance or relevance was not always seen equally amongst integrationists and teachers. While face-to-face instruction is what educators have known, distance learning created the conditions of, “You must.” Technology is now seen as mandatory instead of nice-to-know.

It’s Not About the Stuff, It Never Was

One thing that distance learning emphasized is that technology became a means for learning as opposed to a discrete topic to learn about, or the only way to learn. Many districts in Minnesota have embraced technology as a means to an end. That “end” may be more student agency in learning. That “end” may be in greater access to content knowledge, or that “end” may be connection and reach. It could be all of the above. If there is one thing distance learning may have helped point out it is that learning is more than teaching, and that technology may allow us to amplify the learning environment. Many school districts in Minnesota were already providing 1:1 technology access to some or all of their students. For Jen Hegna in Byron, distance learning meant that defending a 1:1 student access program was no longer a main issue. It was seen as necessary for carrying out the work of the school district. For Mark Diehl and the Little Falls School District, distance learning provided the emphasis to keep the school district’s work moving forward. The district has had a strong emphasis on student agency and choice in education, and the current situation amplified the need for students to practice these critical competencies. Mark is hopeful that the district moved several steps in the right direction and will not be turning back regardless of how we open in the fall. Teachers worked hard over the two-week closure to plan and prepare for distance learning, and continued that work through the end of the school year. When technology becomes your primary means to maintain relationships with students and support their learning, it is both exciting and anxiety-provoking for technology leaders to help align the work of each district and grow from our distance learning experiences.

Summary

It is very predictable that technology has an increasingly important role in education. It is undeniable that technology should not be a goal alone, but a means to some other educational end. The best of what school districts are doing now is finding a way to use technology to improve outcomes for all students. The state of ed tech has left us with educators seeing technology as a “maybe.” Distance learning showed us that technology is a “must be.” For our students, a lack of broadband access should be equated to any other education inequity issue. If we want our students to flourish, internet access is a necessity.

In closing, we technology leaders in Minnesota remain committed to addressing our students’ needs through better systems and structures of leadership, communications with system leaders, and raising the bar for all of us who hold these positions.

Thank you 2019-20 Mentors!

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Thank you to all of our 2018-19 MASA Mentors!

MASA wants its members to be supported well so that they thrive and achieve success. We believe that a strong mentoring program will support administrators new to their roles in building their capacity to lead their schools in student achievement growth. The MASA Mentor Program provides new members with resources to address their specific development needs. We use multiple strategies, including guidance and coaching, networking, training, emotional, professional and social support.

2019-20 Mentors

Gregg Allen, Superintendent, Mesabi East School District

Andrew Almos, Superintendent, East Central Public Schools

Benjamin Barton, Superintendent, Princeton Public Schools

Sherri Broderius, Superintendent, MACCRAY School District

Randy Bruer, Superintendent, Win-E-Mac Schools

Janell Bullard, Executive Director, MAWSECO,

Brian Clarke, Superintendent, Fertile-Beltrami Public School

Diane Cordes, Superintendent, Breckenridge Public School

Jeffrey Drake, Superintendent, Fergus Falls Public School District

Reggie Engebritson, Superintendent, St. Louis County & Mountain Iron-Buhl Public Schools

Tom Farrell, Superintendent, Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial School District

Keith Fleming, Superintendent, United South Central School District

Matt Grose, Superintendent, Deer River Schools

Luther Heller, Superintendent, Montevideo Public Schools

Robert Indihar, Superintendent, Moose Lake Community School

Phil Jensen, Superintendent, Hawley Public School

Cherie Johnson, Executive Director, Goodhue County Education District

Gary Kuphal, Superintendent, Mabel Canton School

Mark Matuska, Superintendent, Kasson-Mantorville Schools

Wade McKittrick, Superintendent, Wabasso Public Schools

Christopher Mills, Superintendent, Stephen-Argyle Central Schools

Gerald Ness, MASA Retiree,

Ryan Nielsen, Superintendent, Canby Public Schools

Jamie Nord, Executive Director, St. Croix River Education District

Jeff Pesta, Interim Superintendent, Hastings Public Schools

Patrick Rendle, Superintendent, Hill City and Northland Schools

Matt Schoen, Superintendent, Delano Public Schools

John Thein, MASA Retiree,

Rachel Udstuen, Superintendent, Spring Grove Public Schools

George Weber, Superintendent, Pierz School District

MASA Business Partner Membership Renewal

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This year, renewing your membership will be even easier because we have established an online platform for your renewals. You can renew your membership online at https://events.resultsathand.com/masa/1197. Simply click on the “membership form” tab on this page and you can arrange and pay for your membership. Each level of partnership and the related benefits are described on the form.

I sincerely hope that you will renew your business partner membership and consider moving up a level for the 2020-21 school year! If you would like a reminder of your current membership level, you can check on our web site at https://www.mnasa.org/domain/153, or call our office (651-645-6272). For those of you who are interested in arranging your newsletter and directory advertising, note the advertising link on the page as well. Business Partners receive discounted advertising.