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A Healthier, More Equal Future For All

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Dr. Deb Henton
Executive Director
MASA

You are probably aware that each year, Bill and Melinda Gates write a “letter,” an epistle that goes out TO the world, commenting ON the world, and speculating about that which might come next FOR the world. Despite the varying opinions about their entitlement (or not) to the bully pulpit, the Gates blog can be a great place to start thinking about where we humans find ourselves in this new year.

Of course, we find ourselves still focused on the pandemic, so I was intrigued to read the headline of the 2021 Gates letter: “The year global health went local.” They go on to assert, “The world has an important opportunity to turn the hard-won lessons of this pandemic into a healthier, more equal future for all. “ I sure hope so.

We have slogged through the last year, like soldiers willing ourselves to take one more step, and one more after that. We have watched community members fall ill, and sometimes die, without a way to ease that burden — a very hard reality for leaders. We have sent our students and staff home, even when we knew that that might not have been the best choice for learning, but the best choice for wellness. We pivoted and planned, prepared and procured. And still, there was another step, and one more after that.

Last year, we ended the MASA spring conference on March 13, and on March 15 Governor Walz announced school closings and planning time for “distance learning.” Since then our colleagues have become experts in contact tracing, health screening, PPE, case rates, and what seems like billions of pages of state guidance, none of which was addressed in their licensure programs.

So I can’t help but think that this is a hallmark of leadership. Doing what you must to provide the resources your communities need to be successful. And sometimes that success translates to something as basic as health. Are we seeing the end? It depends on to whom you are listening. In the Gates letter, they quote Winston Churchill’s remarks at what was thought to be a turning point in World War II: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

When I became your Executive Director last July, I never dreamed this job would look the way it has. But I know none of you dreamed your last year would look that way, either. I am anxious for a time when we can gather for a conference or meeting, and share stories about our students’ successes. We will get there, step by step.

If you have not read the Gates letter, it is readily available online.

Thank you for all you do for your students, staff, and community. Each week, I end this column with a quote about leadership and a reminder that leadership matters. This week I want to remind you that YOUR leadership matters. Stay safe. Be well. And thank you for your leadership.

More Kairos, Less Chronos

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Jeff Elstad
Superintendent
Owatonna Public Schools
MASA President

It is hard to believe that just one year ago, I was sitting in the ballroom at the Northwest Marriott when we heard the Governor address our state regarding the onset of COVID-19. Since that time, we have come a long way in our understanding of COVID, but it has certainly taken its toll. Frankly, “This. Just. Stinks!”  

If any of you have been thinking like I have this year, you may be wondering if all the work is worth it. I contemplated this many times this past year – until one Sunday morning about a month ago when I came across a video of someone talking about the topic, “More Kairos, Less Chronos.” The topic intrigued me mostly because of the ironic nature of the words and, let’s face it, I have watched every episode of “The Crown.” But I digress.

Chronos is Greek for time that is measured – in other words, ticking, quantitative time. Conversely, Kairos is used by the Greek to also describe time, but it refers to “deep time,” like the time that almost stands still. The best way to describe the difference between the two is this: Chronos is looking at our clock and watching the time tick away; Kairos is when we take in a breathtaking sunset or a shared laugh with friends.

As we try to find a silver lining to the past year, this may be it. A forced slowdown has caused me to notice things differently. I don’t know about you, but I now get absolutely giddy when I get to go into school buildings and see students interacting. To see kids playing sports and even hearing music come from instruments that may have been silent for much of this school year brings tears to my eyes. If you are like me, you live the entire week with a calendar that is consumed by “Chronos” and is overfull with days that bleed into the next. Perhaps it is time for us to purposely build in some “Kairos” and fill in some time every day with moments that stop time. I believe that finding time to get lost in the moment may lead to better balance and certainly would allow us to hit our proverbial “why” jackpot (Simon Sinek would be proud of me). Some of you know that I love the “Lord of the Rings” series and am a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. This Kairos perspective reminds me of something Tolkien once said: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”  

As we get closer to the end of a hectic school year and execute our plans moving forward, I would encourage all of you to consider this challenge:  What if you lived one week Kairologically, instead of Chronologically?  What would that do for you?

It is my hope that you stay connected, find balance, take care of yourself, enjoy moments that breathtakingly stop time, and keep the faith!

Spring 2021: MASA Legislative Update

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Valerie Dosland
Government Affairs Director
Ewald Consulting
MASA Lobbyist

The 2021 legislative session has been unlike any other as the Minnesota Legislature adapts to operating a full legislative session, in a budget-setting year, remotely amid COVID. Everyone seems to have adapted to the new way of operating, but it has not been without challenges.

Over the last two and a half months, the legislature has been busy reviewing the Governor’s budget and policy recommendations. House and Senate committees have also been hearing bills in their respective bodies highlighting their legislative priorities as well as ideas brought to them by their constituents and advocacy organizations, including MASA and our other education associations. This has all been amidst a larger debate on the Governor’s peacetime emergency powers, what is needed to continue to address the pandemic, and what role the legislature plays in distributing federal COVID relief funds.

First in the budget process was the release of the Governor’s budget recommendations. In E-12 education, Governor Walz recommended $745 million in additional funding to provide increases to the per-pupil formula, declining pandemic enrollment and compensatory aid, support for student mental health, funding to address the ELL cross-subsidy and special education cross-subsidy, initiatives to address lost learning time, continuing funding for VPK/SR+ among many other initiatives.

Next in the budget process, the Minnesota House and Senate will advance their respective budget bills. What we know now is a broad overview of their respective budget priorities. The Senate budget target is set at $152 million. Out of that, we expect to see funding for Education Savings Accounts (a new way to describe vouchers), support for student mental health through the safe schools levy, and additional referendum equalization aid. The House target, $721 million, is close to the Governor’s and we expect to see budget priorities similar, but not the same, to the Governor. Mid- April we will have a better idea of the details of the House and Senate budget bills.

The legislature has tackled several issues this session including a MASA priority to expand opportunities for school districts to offer distance learning for families that want it and additional flexibility in determining school calendars. Other issues addressed include the teacher of color shortage, teacher licensure, student discipline, and student mental health.

Throughout the session, MASA has been advocating for our legislative priorities, including funding on the per-pupil formula, declining pandemic enrollment and compensatory aid, the ability for school boards to renew expiring referenda, and against new unfunded mandates. Your work to connect with your local elected officials enhances these efforts and we greatly appreciate your efforts!

Federal Advocacy Update

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

State and Federal Advocacy continues to be an important part of what Superintendents do on a day-to-day basis, and we are proud to partner with MASA and AASA, as well as countless other organizations to best serve and support our students, staff, and communities. This past year has reinforced and highlighted the need for each of us to remain engaged, collaborate, and rely on each other more than ever. While it is easy to get caught up in “District Minutia,” superintendents must not forget the importance of working with legislators to ensure that policy helps school systems run well and right, rather than create barriers.

In March, the AASA Governing Board and Executive Committee Members ratified its priorities and elected to include a COVID-19 Section in the 2021 Legislative Agenda to ensure an appropriate federal response that will support local school system leadership. Below, you will find the new priorities, as published by AASA in its March Advocate Edition, which included the following:

  • A significant fiscal investment designed to flexibly allow local education leaders to make the decisions and implement the plans necessary to safely open and operate schools for students and staff. This should be a blend of education stabilization funding as well as investment in key categorical programs, including Title I and IDEA.
  • A high bar for states asking to waive their maintenance of effort requirement coupled with a need to ensure any maintenance of effort flexibility for states is similarly available for districts.
  • Flexibility to state and local education agencies to suspend, reduce and/or redesign assessment and accountability.
  • An explicit investment of $12 billion to address the Homework Gap, funding administered to and through the E-Rate program to support schools in their work to connect students to the internet.
  • Flexibility for state and local education agencies to expand, revise and modify their school/academic calendars to best address learning loss. At the local level this could include, but is not limited to, extended day, broader access to summer learning, expanded integration of online learning, and year-round school, among others.
  • An extension of liability protections that are afforded to employers to public schools.
  • Clarification that federal aid can be used to cover staffing absences necessary to keep students and other staff safe.
  • Any effort to reopen schools during the pandemic is dependent upon the availability of personnel. Federal efforts to support local education agencies with their teacher and staffing needs must include:
    • Increased annual investment in Title II of ESSA, which is critical to ongoing educator development and training needs to ensure educators have the professional knowledge to adjust their teaching to changing learning environments predicated by the pandemic.
    • Establishing a commission to address the long-standing teacher shortage exacerbated by the pandemic.
    • Support efforts addressing student learning loss through the deployment of support teachers and tutors.
  • A joint commission led by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services should be formed to detail how to locate, connect with and educate the millions of children who have not attended school since March 2020 and how to leverage resources available in both agencies for these purposes.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid should actively engage district stakeholders in updating technical assistance and guidance that will enable every district to access Medicaid reimbursement for much-needed critical mental health services for children.
  • A prioritization of vaccine access for school personnel and support for district-led vaccination distribution to students.

Also noteworthy, this year AASA members prioritized: ensuring that federal funding is available to support school districts’ ongoing efforts to respond to cybersecurity threats and breaches, including technology, training, and updates to infrastructure; support for the reauthorization of FERPA to include clear and updated language aligned with existing laws and regulations that schools are following, and support for universal school meals on the contingency that such policies do no harm to eligibility for and enrollment in existing federal funding streams serving schools, and fully cover costs associated with the program.

The full AASA Legislative Agenda is available by clicking here.

MASA Aspiring Academy Helps Leaders Explore the Superintendency

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Minnesota needs more excellent leaders who want to be superintendents. But this is a newsletter and that’s not news. The news is that we have a great group of leaders who are considering the superintendency by participating in the 2021 Minnesota Aspiring Superintendents’ Academy.

For quite some time, we have had evidence that the “supply and demand” of qualified superintendents is an issue of concern, and we know from our own anecdotal evidence (and member data) here at MASA that turnover is still an issue for a lot of districts. So a little over five years ago, MASA, with the generous support of AASA and Sourcewell, began an initiative to address this growing need.

The 2021 Minnesota Aspiring Superintendents’ Academy began the weekend of March 26-27 with 37 participants, the largest of the three cohorts thus far. Participants are from throughout the state (22 from “Greater Minnesota” and 15 from the metro area). There are 20 women in the cohort and 17 men. 18 cohort members are currently principals, with the remaining members from a variety of professional practices, including assistant superintendents, finance directors, special education directors, and others.

Academy participants meet for ten program days throughout the year, focusing on developing a professional practice in the superintendency that is grounded in evidence-based knowledge, skills, and dispositions contributing to successful capstone leadership. Sessions are taught by experienced, effective school leaders and each participant is paired with a coach for guidance during the cohort and beyond. We are grateful to our coaches for this cohort:

Tamara Champa, Superintendent, Pine Island Public Schools

Jeff Elstad, Superintendent, Owatonna Public Schools

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

Bill Gronseth, Superintendent, Saint Peter Public School District 

Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed, Superintendent, Hopkins Public Schools

Christopher Mills, Superintendent, Stephen-Argyle Central Schools

Astein Osei, Superintendent, St. Louis Park Public Schools

Scott Thielman, Superintendent, Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools

The Academy will meet again in May, September, November, and January, and coaching groups will connect between sessions as needed. Congratulations to our participating colleagues, thanks to our coaches, and much appreciation to Sourcewell and AASA for this opportunity.