Posted Date: 11/18/2021
It has been a whirlwind past couple of weeks in my personal life with the professional transition that just occurred. As I look forward to becoming the Executive Director of KASB, I find myself asking, "how did I get to the point in my life where this opportunity is even possible?" As I have had those thoughts over the past couple of weeks, I kept coming back to the great foundations that were developed at the various stages of my life through my upbringing, relationships, and education.
I was fortunate to have been raised on a farm in north-central Kansas and attend a great public school system in Beloit. The foundational experiences that I had while growing up in that setting created a base for the steps that I would take both personally and professionally. Early childhood education is often discussed around board tables, and the merits of its importance are hard to refute. The preschool that I attended, even though it was taught out of someone’s home, gave me the fundamentals that allowed for a smooth transition into elementary school. Discussing what quality education looks like for elementary school can often evoke passion around a board table about what should be offered or not. At the core, it should be providing all students with experiences that expand students’ knowledge about how the world around them works; this is no small feat for boards and educational leaders. There are costs associated with providing more than just reading, writing, and math. I was fortunate to attend an elementary school that valued a wide range of opportunities including the arts. We had an orchestra starting in the fourth grade, and a performance chorus group called the “Super Singers;” we were a big deal and in high demand around town at the senior center and retirement homes. These experiences established the fundamentals of being part of something larger than myself and individually discovering my strengths and interests.
There is often a narrative out there that schools are wasting money on unnecessary programs. My high school years were full of rigorous course work, dual credit classes, athletics, clubs, musical performances, and learning about serving a community, which helped lay the foundation for life after I left high school. These opportunities take resources, time, money, and staff, all of which are limited for every board of education. Balancing those finite resources is one of the greatest challenges school boards face. For example, we often immediately recognize that athletics helps in the development of soft skills, teamwork, and developing the ability to cope with setbacks. However, as board members we must continue to push equally hard for quality arts programming, or that FFA organization that teaches about leadership and community service, or that Student Council that lays the groundwork for students to experience democracy at the simplest levels. Those experiences also provide opportunities to develop foundational skills for countless students, which will have a compounding effect necessary for success later in life for our students.
Our communities consistently expect us to prepare students for their next step in life. I have worked with numerous school boards and communities over the years, and that expectation is universal. My next step after high school was to spend some time at Dodge City Community College, playing football and serving as a student ambassador. Those foundational pieces I developed in my earlier years of teamwork, communication, collaboration, and service began to have relevance. They became the springboard that gave me the base as an ambassador to build relationships with prospective students and help them see themselves thriving at DCCC, Go Conqs! I began to understand that the foundation of leadership is about people relating and connecting to a vision or direction they can see themselves contributing to. Those foundational pieces that the board of education valued in my early years was paying dividends for my journey.
I eventually landed at Kansas State University, where my path would take an unexpected turn. While at Kansas State I began to realize that I enjoyed serving others and working towards something greater than myself. I made the switch to become a high school biology teacher in the second semester of my junior year. Yes, the second semester of my junior year, I was 18 months from being done with school, and chose to sign up for at least another year! (Some might form a conspiracy theory that I just did not want to leave Manhappiness, but there is no proof of that…) Again, experiences from my early years laid a foundation that gave me the confidence to make a change that better aligned with my strengths and interests. As I was deciding to make the switch to education, I had enough self-awareness to know that I wanted to be in a role where I could create the best possible educational opportunities for students. My public education experience laid a foundation for success in life, and I wanted every student to gain those foundational pieces. Little did I know that I would end up being where I am today.
My journey since Kansas State has taken me through a large suburban high school, to a small rural high school, to a large diverse district, and eventually arriving at KASB almost 10 years ago. Each stop along the way allowed me to lay another foundational piece that I would build upon at the next step. All of those stops have a common thread; there are boards of education in a place that value ensuring each kid has the foundation to succeed with their next step in life. As a kid, I had no idea that I was obtaining foundational pieces that would be critical to my success later in life, but the people who were leading that system had a vision for what they wanted their students to experience and develop as they progressed. As we have new board members coming on it is a great time to step back to think about the foundations that great schools lay for students. These foundations will not be realized by those students for years, or even decades to come, but educational leaders must keep that long view in mind as they work to create the best possible foundation for each student.