Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Meaningful Moments

The school year ended rather abruptly and did not allow for some of the traditional celebrations to occur in a manner that we would have liked.  There were too many disruptions to begin to list. I will most certainly overlook one if I were to start writing a list.  However, there is one tradition that is meaningful to the staff that we had to rethink and consider how we might change things up a bit.  I have mentioned before each year, we take time at the end of the year to acknowledge staff who are retiring.  At the same time, we also recognize staff for their years of service.  

We couldn't hold our gathering, but our leadership team took a different approach by making surprise deliveries to those being recognized. We could not reach everyone, but we did find some at home at just the right time!

Those recognized for their years of service this year include:

Retiring: Jon Skillern, Terry Fichter, Sonia Willers, Jackie Adcock
20 Years: Kim Leininger, Trisha Johnson, Mary Peterson, Kristian Vance, 
15 Years: Brian Daoust, Todd McGinnis, Brett Roberts, Cory Feller
10 Years: Kenneth Thrasher
5 Years:  Brain Blank, Craig Leigan, Kerri Nelson, Angela Hunter, Carissa Millikan, Sherri Ruzek, Lisa Holmes

It was a wonderful way to spend time.  There were some meaningful moments to treasure.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Uncomfortable Conversations

The last several weeks have been a horrifically turbulent time in our nation. The effects and stress can even be felt here in Shenandoah, Iowa. It is difficult and perhaps uncomfortable to have conversations about racial tension and discrimination. It can be unsettling when you cannot find the right words to communicate your thoughts, beliefs, and convictions in a manner that will be easily understood and accepted. It is also challenging to avoid being defensive and just listen in an attempt to understand different perspectives.

As a school system, we have policies and procedures in place that help guide and direct our conversation and work in these areas.  I have shared them in this blog before. Still, I believe it is essential to point to them again as a reminder and clarification that harassment, bullying, and discriminatory acts are unacceptable in our school learning community. This does not mean that these types of actions have not occurred in our district. It means that we take measures to prevent and action to address situations when they do happens.  Have we failed at times? I would be honest enough to say we likely have. I am regretful that it is true.  I also am willing to commit to you that we are taking steps to improve as a system.

In recent weeks, I have had individual conversations with some staff and led discussions with our leadership team about affirming our commitment to anti-harassment, bullying, and discrimination policies. We have reflected and will continue to reflect and take action to improve our practice as we consider disciplinary practices, curriculum and instructional resources, and professional development for our staff. I have also connected with the Green Hills Areas Education Association about the need for more training and support for schools.

Related District policies and procedures can be found here. This is important work as it is the policy and procedures we follow when complaints are made. It is published on our website, handbooks, and has been provided in other formats.  It has been and will continue to be clarified that this is an expectation of our work and learning environment that these policies are upheld.

Uncomfortable to discuss? Perhaps, but it is necessary and right to acknowledge, admit, and commit to doing better.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Roller Coaster Rides

It has been quite the roller coaster ride of a school year, and it has ended like none other. However, I am very proud of our staff and students who have held on tight and have found ways to continue to engage in the learning process through the end of the ride.  They are pretty amazing and resilient people to work through this current time.

I have been thinking a lot about some of our staff who have served the district long term. I am feeling somewhat deflated by the lack of opportunity to celebrate with them as we end the school year.  Like many events, we have had to postpone our end of the year celebration to another time.  I found this video of our staff encouraging and uplifting.  I wanted to share it with you today, so you can join me in acknowledging the longevity of our staff.  

I think it is also appropriate that we also take a moment to commend the staff who are retiring on a job well done and acknowledge the commitment they have made to the system.  These are special people that we all care about and will miss.  

                                     Jackie Adcock, Bus Driver      Terry Fichter, Language Arts Teacher

                     Jon Skillern, Math Teacher    Sonia Willers, Special Education Associate

Monday, May 11, 2020

Resiliency & Courage

This Spring, we spent quite a lot of time identifying new members to join our District's leadership team.  The process took longer, but I believe the outcome was well worth the wait.   I was also very pleased with the number for students, staff, parents, and community members that were involved in helping us find just the right people to fill these roles.  I know the input that we received along the way contributed to helping us find people who are committed to holding our educational values, building a strong positive climate and school culture, and vesting themselves into becoming a part of the Shenandoah Community.

Gayle Allensworth, the new High School Principal,  has been well vested in providing school leadership in Southwest Iowa for several years.  She has served a principal in Red Oak for the past 9 years as the Elementary Principal. Throughout her educational career, she has taught special education at all levels (including HS), served as a School Improvement & Professional Development Specialist for the Loess Hills AEA, a Regional Administrator for Green Valley AEA, and was a Principal & Special Education Coordinator at Villisca.  She was also named as the SAI Elementary Principal of the Year in 2018.  I have enjoyed spending time talking with her for the last several weeks.  Her energy for life and passion for education is quite evident.  I know that she will serve the District well.

Gayle Allensworth

Jordan Newberg, the new Assistant Principal at the JK-8, is original from Oakland, Iowa.  He is a graduate of Northwest Missouri Stae. He lives in Atlantic, where he is an elementary teacher. He has excellent experience participating in the school improvement process, being a member of the C4K data team, using the Instructional Practice Inventory, and is part of the data team to support SAMI.  Jordan has coached MS Wrestling and HS Soccer. He has led the YMCA soccer program for 7 years.  He has demonstrated solid technology skills and has been able to communicate effectively online. I have enjoyed visiting with him and his wife.  I have full confidence he will be a great asset to our team.

Jordon Newberg

Over the past several weeks, the unprecedented has become commonplace in our vocabulary when we describe how we are living and responding to COVID 19. I fully agree that hearing of the devastation, seeing the fear on the media, modifying our lifestyles, and feeling the isolation is a  daunting experience and unwelcomed change.  I have asked, and so have many others, "what will the new normal look like?"  I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on this, and I don't know that I have complete answers. What I do know is that it will require innovation, creativity,  collaboration to be successful. And, most certainly, it will require a fair amount of resiliency and courage to move forward and lead in new directions. It is something that I have talked with my friends, peers, and colleagues about. One friend was generous to share a YouTube video Simon Sinek posted with several of us. I think he makes some valid points for all of us to think about.  His work is pushing me to consider dropping the word unprecedented from my word choice and taking more courage to lead the path.  I am thankful for the people on our team and those who will be joining our team to work with me in this effort.  

Monday, April 27, 2020

Innovate, Create, and Demonstrate Flexibility

The last several weeks have been flooded with opportunities to learn to lead and work differently through the challenges we are facing in the pandemic. At times, it has been uncomfortable to experience, but it is normal for change to feel messy when it was not anticipated, expected, or desired. The comfort at this point is simply knowing we are all growing, learning, and experiencing this together.

Part of the work of leadership is to recognize the need to build the capacity of other people within the organization to take leadership roles within the current system but also the future system.  We aim to support and help the staff and others to confront problems that have never been addressed before.  While normally we are granted time to work toward the future, the pace of our work has become a critical factor in the success of our school and community. 

I have appreciated the efforts of staff step forward and work in new directions to provide online "voluntary continuous learning", continue and strengthen efforts to collaborate with their peers and provide feedback for their students using online platforms such as Zoom and Google Classroom, and seek out different methods and tools to deliver instruction.  They haven't been afforded the training or time to prepare for this, but they have responded with a positive growth mindset to make this come together in a short amount of time. It is perhaps not perfect, but it an extraordinary effort to continue to meet the needs of our students.  We will continue to get better at this as we innovate, create, and demonstrate enough flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing learning environment required of this present day and the future.

I am pleased we are continuing to make continued progress on the High School renovation project. We have had to make some accommodations to avoid potentially spreading COVID 19, but the work is advancing. The lights and parking lot areas are some areas that have been started that are more visible.  Continuing this work now will allow us to come back in August to a high school with a new look and feel, a welcomed change.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Good Things in the Middle of the Storm

My focus for the last several weeks has been centered around responding to the pandemic, COVID-19, and implementing guidance from the Governor, Iowa Department of Public Health, and Page County Health.  The impact of COVID-19 has been felt worldwide, and also in the very place we call home. It is an uncomfortable time; it is has struck fear in all of us at some level. It has changed the way we live, we work, and we socialize. However, it has also afforded us the opportunity to think about what we value most in life and dedicate more time to the things we find most important. It has also stretched us to learn new skills using technology and to be more intentional about the way we collaborate.  Those are good things in the middle of the storm.

The District has been closed, and many activities have been canceled, but that hasn't stopped the staff from doing good work. The Food Service and Transportation Departments have done a tremendous job of organizing to provide meals for children in our community. The custodians are deep cleaning and sanitizing the buildings, so the buildings will be healthier environments for our students and staff. The teachers are rethinking and developing online and paperwork packets to supplement student's learning while they are not in school.

We have also been practicing social distancing by holding District and Board meetings online. I have been really pleased with everyone's effort to use online platforms to communicate. It is a different way of doing business, but it is allowing us to continue to do the work that needs to be accomplished in a timely manner.

Tiffany Spiegel

Last night the Board held a closed session and then took action to approve an administrative reassignment plan.  Aaron Burdorf has been appointed the K-8 Principal, and Jon Weinrich has been named the Assistant Principal/Activities Director. Both Aaron and Jon have been part of our leadership team and are stepping forward to lead in new roles. Tiffany Spiegel's role will be expanded. Her new title will be Director of Special Programs, which will include curriculum. I am looking forward to working with these leaders in these new roles.  They are great leaders who will add a lot of value to their new roles and assigned areas.

Aaron Burdorf

Jon Weinrich

On an additional note, the High School renovation project bids came in well under budget.  This work has started and will continue throughout the summer.  The project is scheduled to be substantially complete at the end of August.  We are taking action to ensure this can happen, but we also know we will need to be mindful of COVID-19.  The construction crews will need to be healthy, and they will also need to receive their materials in a timely manner to make this come together as planned.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Shine Shenandoah!

I took some time today to think about some of the things about our district that I really love, enjoy, and make me proud.

If you take a minute to watch these today, I received from the High School. I am confident you will sense the pride and joy that is in my heart.  I am very proud of the collective efforts of staff to provide such a well rounded student-centered learning environment.  Our students are fortunate for these experiences. It is quite rewarding to see our students excel in so many areas.

Schools cannot do this type of work alone. I appreciate the financial support we receive from the area businesses and community service groups to provide some of the expanded learning opportunities for our students.

Meaningful Moments

The school year ended rather abruptly and did not allow for some of the traditional celebrations to occur in a manner that we would have lik...