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James Hess Receives Polaris Leadership Award


The Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA) has named Dr. James Hess, Superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools, the recipient of the MASA Polaris Leadership Award. Superintendent Hess will be honored for his exemplary school leadership and a lifetime of balanced achievement inside and outside of education at a statewide recognition ceremony to be held at the MASA Fall Conference, October 2-4, 2016, in Brainerd, Minnesota.

Polaris, the “North Star,” themes this award because, just as exemplary administrators serve as definitive leaders, Polaris is constant and unmoving in the sky. A navigator’s benchmark, the star marks “true north”, the fundamental direction that defines east, west and south. With this award, Dr. Hess is recognized for qualities such as professional courage, creation of a legacy of excellent leadership, fostering innovation, contribution through example and mentoring, exemplary conduct reflecting integrity and bearing emulation, and significant tenure in each position to support district vision and affect positive change.

Dr. Hess has helped create three new community preschools to address the needs of at-risk learners; provided for the educational needs of all children by passing a bond constructing 100 new classrooms and two new schools; assisted the Legislative Committee in rewriting the State School Finance Formula to recognize relative costs of students’ educational programs by weighted pupil basis; and worked with community groups to pass three operating levy referendums which added opportunities to maintain reasonable class sizes, operate all-day, every-day kindergarten, and replace aging school buses.

Dr. Hess has 37 years of education administration experience, ranging from principal to executive director to superintendent, and has been serving Bemidji Public Schools since 2004. Dr. Hess has been involved in several educational and community organizations such as: MASA, Lakeland Public Television Board of Directors, Joint Economic Development Commission, St. Philips Church Lector, Bemidji Symphony Orchestra supporter and guest conductor, Bemidji Noon Rotary Club, Paul Harris Fellow, and assisted with planning and preparation for Bemidji Day at the Capitol. Dr. Hess has also served as a guest lecturer at Bemidji State University, Moorhead State University, St. Cloud State University, Colorado University, and the University of Northern Colorado. In 2008, Dr. Hess was selected as the MASA Region 8 Administrator of the Year and the Region 8 Administrator of Excellence.

Dr. Hess received his doctorate’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Northern Colorado in Greely, Colorado. He received his master’s degree in elementary administration and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Northern State College in Aberdeen, South Dakota. •fall 2016

Fall Conference Preview


A “best practice” is a method that reliably leads to desired results. Great school leaders create effective systems that adapt to rapid and pervasive change, provide a culture supporting risk-taking and experimentation, and nurture a climate of possibilities. A best leadership practice in school districts manifests itself in strong systems that support those targets and therefor excellence for all students. Join your colleagues this fall as we share our own regional best leadership practices.

Networking, Networking, Networking! There will be numerous opportunities to socialize with colleagues you already know, as well as grow your professional network with fellow administrators from around the state. On Sunday afternoon, golfers will enjoy the MASA Foundation Golf Tournament Mixer. The tournament is newly named the Dale G. Jensen Classic to honor Dale’s many years of spearheading this important fundraiser. Information to register to golf can be found at http://www.mnasa.org. Sunday evening after dinner, we’ll gather for a casual Welcome Reception. We will announce the golf tournament results, so all the winners will get their bragging rights early in the conference!

Inspiring Keynote Speakers! Monday will feature a keynote address from Dave Weber, who will present one of his most frequently requested programs, “Sticks & Stones Exposed: The Truth Behind Words & Relationships.” The high demand for this program is due to its impact on the culture and climate of a school and the resulting improvement in student achievement, through the creation of a positive learning community. Tuesday will feature MASA’s 2016 Richard Green Scholar Dr. James Johnson, presenting his research “An Evaluation of Implementation and Effectiveness of Professional Learning Communities in Minnesota Public Schools.” Dr. Johnson’s presentation will inform us of the proper understanding of professional learning communities’ (PLC) concepts and practices. His study sought to determine if PLCs were being implemented effectively based on best practices described in research by: describing and contrasting the characteristics of PLCs employed in public school districts in Minnesota, the districts’ duration of use of PLCs, and barriers teachers and administrators have encountered when implementing PLCs.

Customize Your Experience! Individualize your professional learning with ten different breakout sessions presented by your fellow MASA members to choose from – and visit Monday’s Exhibit Fair. With more than 80 exhibitors offering the innovative products and services, you’ll discover the latest educational technology available for your students and communities.

Celebrate Your Colleagues! Throughout the conference we will be celebrating the service of our colleagues. In addition to celebrating our members’ years of service with milestone pins, we will present the 2016 Richard Green Scholar scholarship to Dr. James Johnson (special thank you to Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.) and the 2016 Polaris Award to Dr. Jim Hess (special thank you to Ehlers).

Gain Association Insights! Make plans to attend the Annual Meeting Monday afternoon. In addition to our annual business meetings, we will recognize our colleagues achievement with service pins, learn about MASA strategic plan progress, and hear from Gary Amoroso about the vision for next year.

Edcamp! Join us on Monday afternoon for our Edcamp, an opportunity for all of our participants to design their own conference experience by exploring the topics you determine. Our Edcamp subcommittee will be on hand to help participants arrange for the conferencing spaces and to extend invitations to the discussions. Our members ARE our experts, and here is a great chance to share knowledge and ideas.

Opportunities to Personalize Our Learning in the New School Year

Scott Thielman
MASA President and Superintendent
Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools

Welcome to a new school year! To me, and I’m sure to all of us, this is the most exciting time of the year as students and staff return with enthusiasm and focus for what lies ahead. In our districts, we have prepared our staff for new initiatives and in some cases a re-commitment to prior initiatives that need to be implemented with fidelity. A part of our responsibility is to provide direction and prepare our staff with motivating messages that focus on doing what’s best for students that can carry forward throughout the year. In anticipation of the new school year, we prepare for new opportunities in our districts and the same is true for MASA as we prepare for new opportunities for our members.

At the June Board retreat for MASA, board members heard from Dr. Jim Rickabaugh on the topic of “Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning.” Personalized learning has been discussed for decades and leaders have been pursuing ways to implement a personalized learning plan for our students through a myriad of ways. We are now beginning to create learning environments that facilitate flexible and collaborative classroom spaces and many districts are implementing one-to-one technology or supporting bring-your-own-device to maximize 21st Century learning experiences more now than at any other time in history.

While school district leaders look for avenues to create, support and attempt to make personalized learning experiences scalable for our teachers and students, so too does MASA look for ways to make professional growth and development personalized and timely. One of my priorities for MASA is for our association to provide adequate resources and support for quality professional development opportunities for all administrators. That priority also aligns with one of the strategic goals for MASA that states, “by 2017, MASA will coordinate professional learning that meets the needs and interests of each member.” One way MASA is meeting this goal is by providing an opportunity to support each region financially for professional development tailored to member needs if the region applies for funding.

MASA is also meeting this goal by providing personalized professional development opportunities. Last spring was MASA’s first attempt to provide a just-in-time personalized learning experience meant to be meaningful and relevant for members. It was titled, “The UnConference Session.” This approach will be used again this fall. The Edcamp/UnConference is an opportunity for all of our members to design their own learning experience by exploring the topics we will determine ourselves at the fall conference. Most of us reject the one-size-fits-all notion in which you attend a conference to sit-and-get information that may or may not be relevant to your personal professional growth. We would rather adopt a process by which individuals support the skill development and capacity building necessary for continued learning. Our members ARE our experts, and this is a great chance to share knowledge and ideas.

This year, the school district I serve, Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose, had the opportunity to have Kevin Honeycutt serve as our keynote speaker at our District Welcome Back Program. Many of you heard Kevin speak at the MSBA winter conference a few years ago. He spoke about the “Challenges and Opportunities for Today’s Learning Mind”. One of the points he emphasized was to engage learners by letting them help us navigate the content of curriculum through new uses of technology. He also encouraged us to use the students’ talents to help everyone in the classroom. The same can be true for MASA members if we use the talents of the members to help everyone in our association grow in their own professional development.

The UnConference can do just that; it will afford members who have questions or who have been researching topics of interest to share their expertise and experiences with everyone who is interested in the topic. It also affords members the opportunity to sit in on a topic that they are interested in exploring but haven’t had the time to begin researching. The goal is to connect learners with others who have like interests and would otherwise not have known of similar experiences or interests. It is MASA’s intention this fall to support you by organizing and providing dedicated time and space for you to accrue skills and make choices in pursuit of meeting your personal and professional growth and development goals and interests. Whatever topic you engage with, we look forward to your participation and leadership in these sessions.

It is an honor to serve as your MASA President and I look forward to maximizing our students’ educational experiences as well as our members’ experiences. I hope everyone has a great start to the school year and I look forward to your involvement in helping yourselves and your colleagues in personalizing your learning.

Have a great year!

Points of Engagement for Community Leaders

“What is community engagement? Community engagement is a two-way street where the school, families, and the community actively work together, creating networks of shared responsibility for student success. It is a tool that promotes civic well-being and that strengthens the capacity of schools, families, and communities to support young peoples’ full development.”
– Community and Family Engagement, Principals Share What Works, MetLife Foundation, NASSP, NAESP

“What can I do?” may be the most important question you ask yourself in your lifetime. The second most important may be, “What else can I do?” In other words, what can I do beyond what I am doing now to make the world a better place for everyone? What can I do to close the learning and income gaps so that all people have an equal opportunity for success? These questions can be addressed through engagement in education – not only the education that takes place in our schools, but more importantly, the education that takes place in our homes and communities.

The question of our purpose—or what we can do—to improve our world was explored as long ago as the recording of ancient scripture; it was the inspiration for the best seller, “The Purpose Driven Life”; it is the theme of Justin Bieber’s “Purpose” tour. As human beings, the desire to make a difference seems hard-wired into us. However, in this age of unimaginable conveniences, massive consumerism, and the inundation of media, we often fail to look beyond our daily occupations and toward our collective futures. The truth is we all have the capacity to make the world better…for someone.

The Search Institute outlines 40 developmental external and internal assets that support the healthy development of adolescents. (See them all at search-institute.org.) Among those assets are the following:

  • Family support
  • Other adult relationships
  • Caring neighborhood
  • Parent involvement in schooling
  • Community values youth
  • Service to others
  • Adult role models
  • Youth programs
  • Creative activities
  • Religious community

If you are wondering how to engage with learners or learning and where to start, following are some suggestions.

  • Ask your local school board, superintendent, principal, teacher or parent teacher organization to describe the needs and opportunities for volunteers.
  • Become active with local mentorship or befriender organizations (i.e. Big Brothers/Big Sisters).
  • Initiate a book shelf or reading hour in an underserved neighborhood.
  • Offer to tutor kids in skills or academics where you excel. Invite a parent to observe.
  • Hold open tutoring, math, or reading sessions in the local library or other public place.
  • Hold a monthly or quarterly neighborhood picnic or pizza party where kids and adults can participate in activities together and get to know each other.
  • Begin a summer and/or afterschool program in which children can participate while parents gather in another area to hone their own skills and develop a social network.
  • Hold local talent shows, music shows, art shows, etc. that encourage children’s participation.
  • Provide meaningful opportunities for youth of all ages to volunteer.

There is a role for everyone. Our children need you to be actively engaged in supporting learning through the opportunities you and your communities offer inside and outside of the school setting.

2016 Elections and 2017 Session Preview


While the prospects of a special session have become less likely, focus now turns to the November elections. While there is no statewide office on the ballot, the focus is high on the presidential race. However, it’s important to remember the entire Minnesota House and Senate is also up for re-election this year. The last several elections have shown that anything is up for grabs, with control of the House and Senate changing each election cycle. This election has us again pondering what the makeup of the legislature will look like.

Currently, Republicans have a 73-61 majority over their DFL counterparts in the House. The Republicans have six retiring members while the Democrats have four retiring, and five members running for the State Senate. For the House Democrats to retake the majority, they will need to retain the nine vacated seats and win elections in seven seats currently held by Republicans.

In the Senate, Democrats currently have a 39-28 majority over their Republicans counterparts. Senate Democrats have eight retiring members, one member running for Congress, and the Senate Republicans have four retiring members. For Senate Republicans to flip the majority, they would need to retain the four vacated seats while picking up six seats that are currently represented by a Democrat.

Even though a lot of focus is spent on re-election bids, legislators are also spending time looking at issues for the next legislative session. First, working groups are meeting to look at student discipline and teacher licensure and we expect recommendations to be brought forward next session. The Legislative Auditor is doing an evaluation on standardized student testing and most likely will have recommendations for legislative changes.

Looking to the 2017 session, the legislature and the governor must pass a new two-year state budget. Because of the veto of the tax bill a number of issues remain on the table – most notably a proposal to address agricultural land, bond referendums and property taxes. Other issues that will hold our focus continue to be the per-pupil formula and an unresolved fix to address the instability in the Teacher Retirement Association fund.

While you focus on the start of the school year, this time of year also provides you a good opportunity to connect with elected officials and new candidates running for office. They seek every opportunity to talk to voters and love to hear from you (particularly during an election year) – it’s an opportunity to educate candidates about your issues as they relate to your school district and the students you serve.