Friday, December 19, 2008

281 RAS Facility Meetings 1 & 2

I attended the Q&A of both meetings in order to better understand the actions being taken by the district. Also, I wanted to understand what the citizen's are concerned about during this time of change. Here are my thoughts regarding the meetings:
  • I was disappointed that only ~60 citizens showed up at each of the meetings. Seemed low given ~60,000 adult citizens in RAS community.
  • The presenters did a good job of describing what they have learned so far and the process that will be followed. (Material)(schedule)
  • During the 1st mtg, the questions and comments were primarily focused on clarifying what had been presented. There were a few questions regarding scenario creation criteria.
  • During the 2nd mtg, the questions and comments started out in a similar manner. However they somewhat shifted over to pleas for their local city, schools or programs. Some polite and proper, others not so much so.
  • Also, the most interesting event to me was when the crowd applauded a parent's comment that action should be taken quickly and as deep as necessary in order to allow the kids to get use to their new schools. And to avoid the year after year talk of future school closings. I think I agree.
  • The Admin also made clear that any "above planned" cost reductions will be put into savings. They are very concerned that the state funding increases will be zero in the near term, with the outside possibility of some reduction.
  • Finally, the Admin agreed there would be many factors considered in formulating and choosing the scenarios. (ie Pain{student density in schools}, Bldg renovation status, School locations relative to students, Transportation planning, Program fit in bldgs, Possible program expansion, etc.) They noted that who voted for or against the levy will not be one of the criteria.
Overall the meetings went well. Now the scenario creation is in the hands of the consultants and their teams. Let's keep them in our thoughts as they complete this important work...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shrinking Districts are Hard: Let's Work Together & be Rewarded

Here are some hard realities we need to face in District 281:
  • Student enrollment continues to decrease (fewer kids in the community)
  • State funding continues to decrease with enrollment decline
  • State funding pays for variable, fixed & overhead costs, therefore there is less money for teachers/supplies, buildings/technology & support/admin
  • Partially full schools drive excessive cost (ie interest costs, tie up capital, maintenance costs, heating/cooling costs, other costs and extra sets of admin, staff, cooks, busing, janitor, library, etc.)
  • Taxpayers are rightly demanding accountability and the elimination of waste.
  • Teachers, supplies & technology help students learn. Buildings, support and admin have a less direct impact.
With these factors and a desire to avoid the 5C's in mind, what should we do as a community?

I hope the pending District 281 Facilites review meetings are focused on teachers, supplies & technology, and how to ensure RAS can maximize the % of budget that is used on these. Please make sure you attend one of the meetings. (281 Facilities site)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Life is Hard ! So Work and be Rewarded !!!

In "Life's Greatest Lessons" (Urban), one of his first lessons is that "Life is Hard". He does not say this to depress the reader, in fact quite the opposite. If life was simple, what would be the thrill of living? What would be our purpose? If we never faced any hardship, how would we really appreciate the good times and things in our life?

So given this simple truth that "life is hard", how do we avoid criticizing, complaining, comparing, competing and contending?

My advice is to start by really looking in the mirror and doing some deep soul searching. Only by truly understanding what you value and believe in can you move forward with a good rudder. Next, really evaluate where you are at in your life and accept responsibility for it. Then envision clearly your desired life and a rough path to get there.

By this time, you know your beliefs, where you are and where you want to be. Next is the hardest step, go back to that mirror or talk to your close friends to determine how your current actions and behaviors are aligned or not aligned with your beliefs or goals. Then envision clearly your "new life" and truly feel the benefits you will gain by behaving differently where necessary and taking the first step on your path. Since, "Life is Hard" it is critical that you keep the vision in place to help you through the challenging times.

By clarifying your values, goals & working towards them, I guarantee the 5 C's will be less important to you. This is because you will be seeing the results you desire and you will see the 5C's as just another distraction or waste of time. (ie keeping you from attaining your "new life")

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

5 Relationship Cancers to Avoid

If you want to gain the respect and friendship of others, and be much happier, here are:

5 Relationship Cancers to Avoid
  • Critcizing
  • Complaining
  • Comparing
  • Competing
  • Contending
By the way, this is hard at times, but it is so worth the effort... For more details: Stephen Covey "The 8th Habit" pg 135&6.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

RAS School Closings to Come

Well we made it through the referendum and are looking for a new Superintendent, now on to the new excitement. RAS needs to close more schools, this may surprise many of you since we just passed the levy and you thought life was good. However the student population continues to decline and RAS must shed the excess building/personnel cost in order to use our tax dollars efficiently.

District's Problem Definition

I am hoping that the citizens will look at the decision from the perspective of what is good for the whole RAS community and what is most cost effective for RAS schools/students. Unfortunately, this was not the case last year when folks fought tooth and nail for their local community schools.

As for my viewpoint: I want more RAS dollars in the classroom, not in buildings, unnecessary school staff, curriculum selection, & other "non-teacher/kid things". So sell all excess facilities and move the capital that is raised into classroom equipment. (ie smart boards, computers, etc.) And move the expenses that are saved into lower class sizes or higher teacher pay.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Constructive Feedback & Coaching

Since people typically do things because they truly believe their beliefs/behaviors are correct or justified, it is critical that we work hard to understand their perceptions/beliefs before approaching them. (ie question our own stories) This does not mean we need to agree with or condone their opinion or behaviors. We simply need to strive to listen and understand, and then approach them with empathy. This is the only hope for helping the recipient to sanction the feedback and not see it as an attack.

I spent years naively thinking that folks would be happy to hear my constructive feedback in the name of "improvement"/"excellence", however this was certainly incorrect. I made some folks very angry at me by offering unsolicited advice. Thankfully I learned better, I now only give feedback when it is requested or my "duty". Also, I adopted the following technique:

Feedback & Change Management
Remember to provide feedback/coaching and question rationale very carefully and with compassion, because the recipient's perception of the situation is likely very different from yours.
- Explain what can be improved (define)
- Explain what can be gained through improvement (sell)
- Provide potential solutions whenever practical (coach)
- Praise in public & coach in private......

For more detail see the book: "Crucial Conversations"

Friday, December 5, 2008

If a Business CEO ran Education

Speed's on a roll: here are some interesting perspectives from an ex-CEO:
Lessons from 40 years of Education "Reform"
And here are some interesting perspectives from readers:
Speed's blog regarding article

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Public Education in MN Video

Speed Gibson provided a link to an excellent video regarding the state of public education in Minnesota. It contains a great deal of perspective from different education experts. Please take the time to watch it.

My advice is try to keep an open mind and beware how you filter what you hear. There are a lot of messages in this that I am sure will be used by the pro & con groups. I have provided a couple of links to blogs strings that are discussing this.
MN at a Crossroads (select broadband if applicable)

Speed Gibson - Prep Sports 2020
281 Exposed - Must Watch TV

Monday, December 1, 2008

Key to Resolving Issues: Listening

During my research I have found the following method described in different ways. It has shown up in marriage improvement books, self improvement books and business books. Yet it seems hard for people to apply it in everyday discussions. I have come to believe that if this were used more often, many of the conflicts we have would cease to exist.

The challenge is we need to learn how to stop listening to ourselves and planning our response for a period of time, and totally focus on what our spouse, kids, parents, friends, co-worker, supervisor, customer, etc is saying.... Of course, this also means we need to focus on what they are saying, and not what "we think" they are saying. This is challenging for most of us, especially when strong emotions are involved.

Two Steps to Achieving Synergy (Covey)

Would you be willing to search for a solution that is better than what either one of you (us) have proposed?

Would you agree to a simple ground rule: No one can make his or her point until they have restated the other person’s point to his or her satisfaction?