Kruse’s Korner

Notes from Jeff Kruse, East Sac County Superintendent

July 6, 2020

Dear Parents, Guardians, Staff and Community Members,

It has definitely been and most likely will continue to be a challenging year for education and the country. As many of you know the Iowa Department of Education has required school districts to develop a Return to Learn Plan  with assurances that we as a district can meet required Health/Safety, Social Emotional, Academic, PD, Equity and Digital Learning guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year.
East Sac County has begun the process of writing a comprehensive Return to Learn plan in June by assembling a group of personnel and have worked over the last several weeks to brainstorm how school may look this fall. The formation of these groups was done in no effort to exclude anyone from participating in the planning process but to get the ball rolling with the development of the plan. We are now getting to the point where there is a skeleton of the plan coming together that will reflect the district’s ability to move between on-site learning and remote learning (if necessary).

Throughout the development of this plan the situation has been highly dynamic and fluid as new guidance from the Iowa Department of Education, the CDC and Sac County Public Health has greatly influenced the timing and processes of preparing for the fall. Regardless, we are planning for a face-to-face opening in August with new COVID procedures and policies in place. There is no doubt that things will look and feel different at the start of this school year but together we will do our part, with what we can control, to provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone.

Please know that as we finalize plans, further information will be communicated with you shortly about professional development opportunities, state required trainings and back to school pre-service days. Thank you all for your patience and enjoy the remainder of your summer..

Superintendent,
Jeff Kruse
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April 17, 2020

Dear Parents, Guardians Staff and Community Members,

Today, Governor Kim Reynolds announced that all schools in Iowa will remain closed through the end of the school year to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

This announcement will continue to affect Ar-We-Va, East Sac County, and South Central Calhoun Community School District programming, including before- and after-school activities, all athletic and extracurricular practices and competitions. Graduation, awards programs, and prom options are being evaluated in each district by building administrators. To our seniors, we are trying to find options that will allow you to experience some closure to your HS careers. Your leadership is appreciated and valued. All spring activities have been discontinued by the boys’ and girl’s athletic associations. A decision for summer activities is to be communicated to local districts by June 1.

I know that this decision has caused a great deal of concern and disappointment for our students, staff, and families. The pandemic arrived quickly, and when we first were directed to close our school buildings in March, we did not realize it would be the last time we would see our students in person this school year. Please know that we share in your disappointment.

We will continue with virtual learning at this time and evaluate the pros and cons of the mandatory model. We encourage all families to keep their students engaged in these activities to ensure learning continues to take place through the end of the school year.  An end date will be communicated in the future as determined by each district. The governor also announced districts can modify school calendars for next fall to start earlier than the August 23 legislative set date for school start. Again each district will evaluate the benefits and concerns for considering this alternative option for next year. Districts are required to communicate to the Department of Education their “Return to Learn” plan by July 1, 2020.

Once again, thank you for your patience, understanding, and flexibility during this unprecedented time. We will get through this together. Please continue to stay safe, practice social distancing, and remain at home as much as possible. As more information is learned, it will be shared with the public.

Educationally,

Jeff Kruse, Supt.

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March 25, 2020

Since the governor’s recommendation to waive instructional time requirements for public education for four weeks in the state of Iowa, daily guidance is being provided to local districts by the Iowa Dept. of Education, US Dept. of Education, and the many other governmental agencies.  In addition, the three local districts that I serve each passed a Resolution – Pandemic Response and Emergency Suspension of Policy as provided by Iowa Association of School Boards.  Highlights of the resolution include:
  • The resolution allows for school boards to suspend some policies necessary during this 4 week period.
  • Most hourly non-exempt employees will be unable to work normal hours  because of the district’s closure and certified staff may be asked to help to provide continuity in educational services.
  • SF2408 granted a waiver of instructional time for all public districts closing before April 12 to prevent or contain COVID-19 and gives the governor the ability to waive instructional time after April 12 to prevent or contain the spread of COVID-19.
  • The DE has the authority to interpret graduation requirements.
  • The superintendent will consult with the board information about appropriate closures.
  • The superintendent can close any school without further action of the BOE.
  • The superintendent can direct staff assignments during the closure.
  • Public grounds and buildings may be limited as directed by the supt.
  • Certified, exempt employees will remain employed during the school closure until the contract has been fulfilled, unless otherwise approved by the BOE.  Days that contracted employees do not report for duty onsite or from a remote location, due to closure, do not constitute a fulfilled contract day except to the extent those days are forgiven by the district.
  • The BOE authorized the supt. to place hourly non-exempt employees on administrative leave and continue to pay them for up to 4 weeks during the closure and the BOE shall reevaluate this authority if the closure lasts longer than 4 weeks.
  • Board meetings will be handled differently using technology and possibly limiting public comment to written comments.

 

New guidance received on March 24, communicated information about the continuation of concurrent enrollment classes.  Each district is reviewing this guidance in an effort to begin teaching concurrent enrollment classes again in the near future.  Districts have the temporary ability to open up access to internet connections for students to complete concurrent enrollment classes if they do not have access at home by parking in near proximity to the school.
Each district is operating a food program for students between the ages of 1-18.  A special thank you goes out to the food service departments in each district and any volunteers who are helping prepare meals.  Meals served have grown in each district as communication has spread to the public regarding this service.
We await receiving confirmation from the governor when school can begin again.  Some dialect has been happening between local districts and the Dept. of Education for on-line learning options.  The original governance received by local districts was this could be provided as supplemental voluntary learning, but could not be required.  An immediate concern for on-line learning is equity.
Thank you for your patience during this unprecedented time in our country.  In visiting with many staff members, they look forward to continuing to teach again and working with our children.  I’m sure many parents are hoping for the same!

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Feb. 19, 2020

A letter from Superintendent Kruse…

I realize ESC has some challenges facing it as a district, but I am so proud of the work done by staff, students, community, and the board to date.  Testing data from last spring showed marked improvements by students.  Staff members have been supportive through the turmoil of the changes facing the district as ESC transitions from 4 to 3 to 2 buildings.  The board made a difficult decision in February to begin the transition process.  Now the community has an opportunity to continue to find ways to support the ESC Raiders during our journey of continuous improvement.  Therefore, I felt it was important to share a few thoughts on leadership.
 
Leaders Don’t Need a Title – If you have ever watched the movie A Few Good Men, at the end of the movie you will hear one of the characters say, “Harold, you don’t need to wear a patch on your arm to have honor.”  The same saying goes for all of us who work at school, “You don’t have to have a title to be a leader.”  You just have to lead.  Many different characteristics build leadership and a title is only a small part of being a leader.  Leaders know they are a work in progress.  They define themselves as model learners.  Leaders disrupt the status quo to bring positive change and are able to visualize it.  They stay the course without shying away from challenges.  They understand curves in the road will be expected.  When adversity strikes, they approach this as an opportunity to teach.  Leaders bring their best every day as a choice.
 
Leaders Build Capacity – Everyone has the fundamental capacity to lead.  Talented teachers insure all students are successful.  You are a leader because of your ability to inspire others, to build confidence, to influence thinking, and by your behavior.  Building a community of leaders is how we create a school culture where everyone believes they have an obligation to impact the school in a positive way.  You tend to be most effective and efficient when you cultivate others to become leaders.  If students and staff members are constantly asking for permission, you haven’t done a good job of building capacity.
 
Leaders Do the Simple Things – Embrace your vulnerability.  Don’t wait for others to do what needs to be done; do it yourself.  Take time to enjoy what you do!  If you want people to be less anxious, provide more clarity.  You are the difference between today and tomorrow.  It’s true hope is not a plan, but it is a beginning.  Every success story begins with that first step.  Stay the course.  Experience is still the best teacher.  And finally, build a resume of failures.  Failure should not bring shame; it should help you grow!  Everyday that we walk into our school, we are entrusted with the responsibility and gift of making a difference in student’s lives.  It doesn’t cost anything to help those who are in dire straits by being positive to help them through-out the day.
 
Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Say No – The one thing that leads to an enormous amount of stress in being a leader is having to say “no” to people.  It is one of the most difficult tasks you will do as a leader, but it is unavoidable in your role as a leader.  One of the lessons you will learn as a leader is the importance of saying no, even if saying yes feels easier and a lot less stressful.  
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Jan. 14th, 2020

A letter from Mr. Kruse…

For a number of years the district has been struggling with a decision about the number of buildings to operate to provide an equitable education for students and one that the district can sustain for the long-term financially.  This fall the ESC board approved a resolution to move forward to a two building scenario using the district’s mission statement, survey data from staff, improved academic structure, and financial stability as guides.  One building would be located in Sac City and one building in Lake View.  At the January 9 board meeting, the board approved a configuration plan of K-6 in Sac City and 7-12 in Lake View.

With that in mind, some renovations/additions/improvements are necessary at each building.   Approximately, 5-6 new rooms/classrooms would be needed at each location in the short term.  As an additional long-term consideration, decisions on use of the gym at the Wall Lake building, as well as, the Wall Lake athletic complex, and possibly the auditorium at the current middle school need to be made.  Secondly, the board intends to develop a long-term plan to improve the learning environment at the high school, but that will likely require some type of vote by the public.

The school board election in November confirmed a majority of the community members who voted supported moving forward with a plan of operating two buildings.  On December 19, the board met with a financial advisor and a potential architect to begin a process of creating a long-range facilities plan for the district.  We’ve spent a great deal of time discussing between the philosophy of “making it fit” vs. “having the right fit”.  After meeting with the architect, it seems unlikely we can have the “right fit” to make the transition from 4 buildings to 2 buildings in one move without some construction being completed at both sites.  Therefore, the board plans to make a decision at the February 10 board meeting whether to transition from 4 buildings to 3 buildings for one year and then to 2 buildings the following year.  The option with the most discussion has been to close the Wall Lake elementary site at the end of the current school year, with the goal to complete construction at the Sac City and Lake View sites during the 2020-21 school year.  If construction is successful, close the middle school building at the end of the 2020-21 school year completing the transition from 4 buildings to 2 buildings by the 2021-22 school year.

Many questions need to be addressed.  1) What will happen to preschool and alternative high school settings in the district?  2)  How is transportation developed district wide?  3) What happens to the facilities being abandoned?  4) How do you dispose of outdated equipment and goods?  5) How will staffing be figured and communicated?  6) What are the political impacts vs. the financial impacts of our decisions?

On February 10, starting at 6:00 p.m., the board plans to make a decision on how to proceed.  This meeting is scheduled at be held at the Sac elementary building.

 

December 16, 2019

Championing for Students

Wormeli, in his book, Fair isn’t Always Equal, addresses the importance of leveling the playing field for all kids.  In discussing late work, Wormeli makes a point regarding students who have already proven themselves as proficient, we hold them accountable to a certain level of meeting deadlines because they have learned the material, the skill, or content.  But there is a different frame of reference when you are first teaching students something they need to learn to become proficient.  Are we going to hold someone who is not proficient, who is struggling, to the same level of accountability as that of someone who has already mastered the content?  What can we do as a team of educators to advocate for students?
 
  • Seek to understand why the students won’t do the work.  Is it because they haven’t learned the necessary skills or other factors?  How do you build trust with struggling learners?
  • Maintain ongoing communication with the parents whose children are struggling.  There is no excuse for not contacting a parent whose student is failing a class and ongoing communication should exist.
  • Recognize that it is okay to ask for help.  Sometimes talking to the student isn’t enough we need to develop a plan.
  • Listen to students.  All students deserve to have adults who take time to listen to them.
  • ARM yourself for tough conversations – This means being strategic in your thoughts while creating an environment where people feel listened to and validated.
    • Acknowledge – Successful people enter every conversation focused on the other person.
    • Rectify – Strong teachers and leaders recognize that it is possible to stay calm and rationally seek solutions even in the midst of chaos.
    • Move On – Effective teachers and leaders have a unique ability to accept their circumstances and move on rather than spend time and energy dwelling on things that are beyond their control.
  • Address the barriers to a culture focused on championing for students.  There isn’t time.  It’s not my job.  Dealing with challenges isn’t worth the potential negative response.  When students behave poorly or fail to do the work, they don’t deserve my time or attention.
Students are the most important people entering our facilities.  Students are not an interruption of our work; they are the purpose of it.  We are not doing them a favor by serving them.  They are entitled to our service.  Students are not cold statistics; they are human beings with feelings and emotions like our own.  Students are people who bring us their wants, and it is our jot to handle them as expeditiously as possible.  Take care of the students; that’s why we are here.
In what ways can we personally invest in our students and each other so every member of a school community feels like they have a personal champion?

 

November 26, 2019

Championing for Students
During the first couple of months of school, I shared some insights with building principals from Jimmy Casas from his book,Culturize.  I think it is appropriate to share some of the information with others as well.  By being a champion for students, we must focus on the three “Rs” and the three “Cs”.
Some students feel school is an institution which puts limits on their potential.  The school system categorized them though-out their school experience and labeled them as average, low-ability, at-risk, poor reader, etc. while others got the labels of T/G, college bound, athletic, etc.  Some students have checked out and are just hanging around the prison yard of lost potential waiting to escape.
We can help students achieve by focusing on the “three Rs”:  relationships. . . relationships. . . relationships.  Getting to know students on a more personal level is vital to creating a culture where every child feels valued and understood.  Too often we stay near the surface of treading water rather than diving deeper.  A critical step requires allowing the students to get to know us down to our core principles.
Jimmy writes in his book advice given to him by a friend and colleague:  “Jimmy, everyone has a savior, but it isn’t always going to be you.”  Then after a pause he said, “But it doesn’t give you an excuse not to try.”  We must not judge a student’s contribution to our school community, but it is our duty to help them acquire the necessary skills and strategies to improve their chances of not walking out as a prisoner of potential but rather as the embodiment of promised expectations fulfilled.
The three “Cs” interrelated areas that either propel or inhibit a child’s success in school:

 

  • Connection – When educators sustain a connection with children throughout their entire school experience, the positive impact is profound.  A champion for students systems approach insures that all not some students are cared for on a more personal level at school.

 

  • Capability – We either believe all students have potential to learn or we don’t.  We have to share in the excitement when they are successful and offer guidance when they struggle.
  • Confidence – Lack of confidence can be the number one reason kids fail.  A growth mindset, complimented with a strong work ethic and determination, helps ensure students’ success in school and beyond.  Empathy, yes.  Sympathy, no.  

 

November 6, 2019

During my youth, I was a fan of the series Star Trek, as I liked to watch the conflict between Captain Kirk, Bones, and Spock play out each week as they found ways to work together to solve seemingly impossible situations.  In the movie, The Wrath of Khan, Spock quotes a line he heard from Captain Kirk earlier as he faced a challenge.  As Spock is dying, he says, “The needs of the many out weight the needs of the few, or in this case the one.”  I often think of this quote during difficult situations.  We all want what is best for students and staff, but some decisions must be weighed on their merits of benefiting the many, as opposed to the few or one.

Early in my tenure at ESC, I shared some information about facing tough decisions head on like a buffalo, instead of turning away from the storm like cows.  When a storm approaches, cows tend to move with the storm making the storm last longer, while buffalo tend to face the storm.  It is difficult during the storm, but the reality is buffalo tend to survive storms better because of their instinct to face the storm instead of running away from the danger.  At ESC, many storms seem to have brewed over the district including:  finances, achievement data, building issues, climate and culture.  I’ve challenged the staff and board to develop a plan to face each of these situations more like buffalo instead of cows.  Each challenge is difficult to face, but by working together we can face the challenges with positive solutions for each issue.

One financial issue faced was the voter approval of a new Revenue Purpose Statement on the November 5th election.  Approximately 80% of the voters gave approval for the district to continue to use SAVE funds as approved by legislation last year.  These are the one cent revenues shared on a per pupil basis for infrastructure needs in school districts.  For ESC, we currently generate about $800,000 annually for transportation, technology, and facility improvements.  The communities support will allow the district to continue to use those funds until 2051 or a new RPS is approved in the future.

On November 26, the ESC board of education will meet in regular session and for an organizational meeting.  The retiring board will complete business during the regular meeting; during the organizational meeting the new board will approve various committee assignments and set the date for future board meetings.  The new board will begin taking action to set direction for the district at the December board meeting.  One of the first issues to address will be developing a plan on facilities.  This plan will have a direct impact on district finances and should help improve structural challenges to improve academics and climate.

While we only served together for a short time, I want to thank Mr. Rodman and Mr. Wellington for their service to the ESC district.  Sometimes serving as a board member can be a thankless position, but I appreciate their willingness to serve.  Overall board member’s views are more aligned than different.  We all want to do what is best for students, and sometimes we may disagree on how to accomplish that responsibility to serve.  In addition, thank you to Mrs. Mahler, Mr. Jansma and Mrs. Kluver for your desire to serve ESC students, staff, and district.  Together we can face the challenges placed before the district and accomplish the district’s mission.

 

Oct. 18, 2019

Sometime last year I attended a AEA meeting and listened to the guest speaker, Jimmy Casas.  During the AEA meeting, he was presenting some information from a book he had written, Culturize.  In the book, Jimmy believes a positive school culture has four core principals:  champion for all students, expect excellence, carry the banner, and be a merchant of hope.
  • Champion for all Students – We must always begin with the belief that kids can.  If you have transformed your mindset to a belief system not deterred by failure or the unknown, you can stay the course and focus on the long-term rather than the short-term.  It is our moral imperative to advocate for all students until they are ready to experience personal success.  Being motivated by hope and faith allows us to act in ways that inspire others to do the same.
  • Expect Excellence – Staff members should expect this from one another and from their students.  Regardless, students should be held to the highest academic standards for learning when it comes to academics and behaviors.  When we don’t do this, we are saying to them we don’t believe you are able to learn or act appropriately; or we don’t care.  We tend to use these negatives as reasons to give up on a child.  Jimmy feels we give up on students who struggle with self-discipline or poor confidence.  We cannot let them quit.
  • Carry the Banner – As staff members, we must speak positively about our school and carry a positive voice.  When we don’t carry a positive banner, we begin to lose our sense of pride, our identity, and a desire to invest in the community.
  • Merchant of Hope – We may not be able to decide who we serve as students, but we do decide the kind of climate in which we serve them.  We serve in a profession where we are blessed every day with the opportunity to help change the course of a student’s life by our words, actions, and beliefs.
We cannot allow average or the status quo to be our standard.  Our goal should be to create schools and communities that equip young people to develop skills, habits, and competencies for their lives.

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