In Case You’re Wondering
I’ve listened and learned; Now what?
Turning the calendar to January signifies a time for New Year’s resolutions. As I dive into January 2017, I want to celebrate and reflect on all that I have seen, heard, and learned over the past six months in Emporia. It has been a wonderful journey.
My intent has been to be visible and present while creating a culture of transparency and comfort where anyone can contribute to an open dialogue about all that’s good in Emporia schools. I have been overwhelmed by the #EmporiaProud moments that are shared every day by and for school staff. The positive stories are infectious and have carried over into other aspects of the community.
I have received valuable insight from the administrative team, our teaching and support staff, students, parents, and community leaders over the past several months. I embarked on an informal listening tour, and I’ve studied the input given through our recent climate survey and trimester survey. So, you might ask, what’s next?
Some important themes have developed in the areas of educational programs, staffing, and district facilities. Now, I am ready to start narrowing my focus to some specific goals.
The essence of effective programs is to get students started in school with a good foundation, keep them engaged through high school graduation, and prepare them for the next phase of education and a rewarding career. That is the path outlined in the Kansans Can vision, starting with school readiness, individual plans of study, and high graduation rates. The combination of our efforts should ultimately help to support postsecondary success for our students.
You have already seen our interest in school readiness, and we are forming strong partnerships with other educational institutions and private preschool and child-care providers to get all children ready for school. We are starting to study student data through a new lens – one that begins with reading on grade level at first grade and ends with high school graduates who complete a postsecondary course of study. The current research shows that Kansas needs a minimum of 71 percent of our graduates to complete a postsecondary certificate or degree. I would encourage you to attend our February 22 board study session where we will begin to shift our focus and attention to how we move the needle closer to 71 percent each year. The study session will be part of a regular board meeting starting at 7 p.m. at Mary Herbert Education Center.
Success in this area relies on our second focus – recruiting and retaining a high-quality staff. It is clear that we have assembled a quality and caring staff; yet in order to move to the next level, we need a solid succession plan to replace the veteran educators who will retire over the next few years.
We have developed new goals for staff recruitment that have us filling anticipated vacancies much earlier in the year. This month, a group of new teacher interns joins our team with the hope that they will be first to be considered for permanent positions in 2017-18. They are full-time paid teacher education graduates ready for their first teaching job. They will participate in staff development, learn the Emporia way of quality instruction, and fill in as substitute teachers as needed.
Finally, a third area of focus will be making sure we have 21st century learning spaces for our students from preschool through high school. This district has a long history of taking care of what it has and renovating existing spaces over new construction. We are close to paying off the 2000 bonds and many of the systems purchased through that capital project are nearing the end of their life. Heating, cooling and ventilation systems installed more than 15 years ago are all aging at the same rate. Classrooms, science labs, libraries and other learning spaces are showing wear, and we are using these spaces much differently that we did decades ago.
In the next few months, you will start to hear discussions about long-term plans to keep our learning spaces modern and functional. We must do this with a mindset of efficient financial management. Our facilities must reflect the importance our community places on education, which allows Emporia to be attractive and competitive for new families and businesses.
Emporia’s educators and support staff are clearly doing great things that impact the lives of the 4,700 students we serve each day. While it is important that we reflect on and celebrate our past accomplishments, it is crucial that we dream about and begin the process of creating an even brighter future for out students, staff, and community. A joint venture, a new journey, and a bright future lie ahead.