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2018 Stillwater School Board – Jon Fila

2018 Stillwater School Board – Jon Fila

The St. Croix Valley Gifted family-friendly candidate event is Sunday, 9/30 at Teddy Bear Park. Please check the event page for scheduling info, plus links to other candidates’ responses and voter registration support.

  • Website for Jon Fila – jonfila.com
  • Fila Campaign on Twitter @jontfila 
  • Read below for St. Croix Valley Gifted Q&A

1) School Board goals adopted 8 Feb 2018 begin with these statements:

The Stillwater Area Public Schools’ Board of Education ensures outstanding learning opportunities for the social, emotional and academic growth of every student in our school district through authentic partnerships and meaningful communication with our community, parents and students. Every decision is made with a commitment to equity for all students and for future generations impacted by our actions.

What do these statements mean to you as a candidate for school board? What do these statements look like when board members put them into action?

 JF: In some ways, statements like this further the divide between educators and the general public; not because the sentiment is wrong, but because of the language and complexity of those kinds of statements. It has also not been my experience that outside feedback has been as valued as this statement implies. Surveys go out, input is solicited, but if people do not see the resolution, nor a follow-up then are they really part of the process? Are these really “authentic partnerships”?

As far as the meaning behind the statement…by starting district goals with these statements, the board has demonstrated that the individual is valued, as well as, looking ahead to the community beyond right now… We want our students to have skills that transcend academic achievement. Are they confident; able to advocate for themselves; contribute to their communities? Having goals guided by those beliefs is a good start.

 

2) Community-building and outreach to the communities this school district serves are an ongoing priority among local voters. In the recent two years since the last board election cycle, Stillwater Area Public Schools leadership has undertaken several initiatives (focus groups, advisory teams, communication efforts, new events, etc.) aimed at community engagement, matters of transparency, student mental health supports, understanding community priorities, developing partnerships with area business leaders, etc. In what ways do you believe these efforts have been effective? In what respects does the school district have room to grow and/or adjust course?

JF: While those listed are important initiatives, it is difficult to know how effective they have been unless one has students who are directly impacted by them. We, as a community, are perhaps aware of the titles of the initiatives, but in terms of why and how they are enacted? The data resulting from the adoption of those initiatives? That information has not been widely shared. Volunteering for those teams may not result in being allowed to participate…then what?


The easiest way to do this would be through a clearly labeled website that documents district implementations, the stages they are in; and the degree to which they have been successful. The groups could certainly publish their agendas and notes. A yearly report card would also be helpful for community members to evaluate the effectiveness of district practices and resources. Those report cards could be mailed, there could be forums to discuss the results. We should be under continual analysis and review.


Some of what prompted me to run for the board was to actively participate in a process where I feel like I have been shut out. I know what that is like and will do my best to act on community outreach in a way that others feel heard and validated. I am a believer in Restorative Practices in my personal and professional life; I believe that it is time for the board to demonstrate some of these principles that are used by instructional staff.

 

3) Since 2013 (Minnesota Statutes, section 120B.11), school districts must develop a World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) Plan and Annual Report for each school year. For Minnesota to remain competitive, we must have students who are college and career ready, and who are poised to lead the state’s workforce. Per MDE, Minnesota’s overall population is aging and seventy percent (70%) of jobs will require more than a high school diploma by 2018. School boards have responsibility to establish the advisory committee of community members that develop their district’s WBWF plan and related goals.

In your opinion, what skills are important for students to build across their K-12 education as preparation for the 21st Century society and workplace?

JF: Skills important for students to build across their educational experience to be successful in their futures are:

  • Literacy (including digital literacy) – Can students research effectively for valid information? Do they cultivate their digital footprint? Can they use devices appropriately and efficiently?
  • Cultural Competence – To what extent are students able to interact with and value cultures different from their own? Are they aware of their own implicit biases and can they address that in light of new information?
  • Critical Thinking – Can they evaluate sources of information?
  • Creative – When faced with a challenge are they able to find new solutions? Can they build off existing ideas to form something new?
  • Effective Communication – Can they reach a wide audience through their use of technology? Can they convey their messages in a way that creates buy-in from their audience?
  • Scientific Literacy – Are students able to reach valid conclusions based on evidence?

Students who excel at those skills are able to apply new learning to multiple situations and can work effectively in groups. This assumes that students have a foundation in basic literacy and mathematics. Those skills can open or shut doors based on student ability. Being proficient not only increases opportunity, it can create generational change.

 

4) Conversations about equity and K-12 education are happening across the country. Minnesota’s federally approved ESSA Plan includes a list of 10 Equity Commitments. Access to services (counseling, student advocates, ELL and GT services, reading and math supports, etc.) and classroom supports receive attention through an equity lens. St. Croix Valley communities and district schools are seeing rapid growth in cultural, socio-economic and linguistic diversity.

What importance does equity have in the day-to-day classroom experiences of educators and students across the Stillwater school district (primary and secondary)? What should voting residents of this school district understand about the role equity plays in the well-being of our communities and in helping students develop the skills you identified in question three?

JF: The importance of equity in the day-to-day classroom cannot be overstated. It can be the driving force that keeps students engaged in their classrooms. Equity fosters stronger classroom communities. When students feel valued; when they see themselves reflected in the curriculum, are able to express themselves freely in a safe and supportive environment they increase their effort, which results in gains in achievement. These principles also increase the capacity of students who were already doing well as members of a dominant culture. The idea is not just that we focus on historically marginalized groups, but that by doing so, all students do better.

Equity means:

  • Effective intercultural competence/communication; how well people are able to communicate with people in cultures different from their own;
  • Confronting implicit biases that may advantage certain groups or disadvantage others.
  • Identifying our role in perpetuating systemic inequities. For instance, how many students of color are identified by race in their IEP/504 plans within the first few lines; checking how students of color are disciplined/suspended compared to white students who commit the same offenses?
  • How are we identifying students for access to enrichment opportunities? Are those processes biased or do they require further review
  • To what extent are students made to feel like an “other” based on the dominant cultural practices in a classroom, building, district? Is allowing students to “opt out” of those practices perpetuating the problem?

There is also an economic argument that can be made for increasing equitable practices in schools. As those students do better, achieve more, make greater academic gains it leads to a reduction in negative behaviors allowing resources to be redistributed. Students learning in these environments are better candidates for schools and jobs which allows them to be contributing members of their communities.

 

5) Advocacy on behalf of Stillwater School District is among school board duties. Board members are charged with using ongoing, two-way communications to build trust and support among community, board, superintendent, staff, and students. They also are responsible for addressing issues that affect education on local, state, and national levels. The district’s 2018 Legislative Platform includes two named advocacy priorities concerning boosts in State funding toward the special education cross-subsidy and pensions that impact the General Fund. How have past experiences prepared you to fulfill these assorted advocacy duties as a school board member?

JF: I work for an intermediate district (287) in the west-metro area. What that means is that I am intimately aware of how special education funding impacts an entire school or district. I am aware that Stillwater must contribute and additional 8 million dollars to cover special education costs. Stillwater is a member of an intermediate district (916) that can help to support the educational needs of our students, and provide expertise and guidance. I would also look to where there are opportunities to combine efforts. What supports, modifications and adaptations we make for our special ed. learners often help support the learning of all students. By developing a digital curriculum in a shared platform there are collaborations that can be leveraged that result in cost savings without sacrificing high-quality instructional resources. These resources are still used in traditional settings, but they offer opportunities for flexibility and transparency.


I have had experience bringing representatives from multiple school districts together on a regular basis to discuss, problem-solve and collaborate on issues that we all face. There is no need to recreate anything that other districts in the state are working on as well. We all exist to serve the needs of our learners and greater collaboration on these shared issues leads to innovation.

 

6) During the 2017-2018 academic year, this MCGT chapter conducted a Community Feedback Initiative to gather local input about access and availability of GT supports at St. Croix Valley area schools. Local sentiment can be summarized in this statement from page one of the resulting report:

Broadly speaking, local access to GT services in K-12 is unpredictable and inconsistent; identification offers no promise of supports, services, or programs.

The feedback we collected shows agreement around core concerns: student access to and continuity of GT services and supports (academic and socio-emotional learning) across K-12; whether promises about the type(s) of GT services to be delivered are kept or broken; and whether instruction strategies and decisions (procedures, personalized learning, acceleration, etc.) utilize evidence-based practices and reflect deep understanding of common GT attributes vs. being rooted in stereotype.

Where do GT learners fit within district priorities and accountability (under Minnesota’s ESSA plan) to demonstrate year-to-year growth and to provide personalized learning for all students in elementary and secondary classrooms?

JF: That local sentiment is one that I am familiar with based on my own conversations with community members. That sentiment does not just apply to GT supports, but for special education services as well. My observations are that many of these initiatives that support GT education are dependant on individual staff members and not yet operationalized at a systemic level. When these supports only exist because of dedicated individuals then they can be applied inconsistently and may even go away should that individual’s status of employment change.

The decision-making process about which students have access to GT services is also problematic. Basing access on test scores is a very inefficient way to identify which students would benefit from such programs.

What matters to me is that GT supports don’t just result in more work for students, but provide true enrichment opportunities where they can see, experience, demonstrate real-world value outside of a classroom setting.

Technology and experiential learning help to personalize instruction in ways that were not previously possible in years past. Providing enrichment opportunities helps students engage in school; take ownership in their learning; and demonstrates to the learner that we value them as individuals. I have witnessed impressive student projects through mentorship programs in which students are paired with professionals in industries of which they have an interest.

The decision to move away from Moodle as a learning management system (LMS) hinders the district’s capability to create evidence-based practices. The data resulting from student use in a tool owned and operated by the district wasn’t being utilized. By moving to vendor platforms like Schoology, we have lost access to the kinds of analytics that the previous system was capable of providing. Going with the flashy, simple, social media looking tools isn’t always the best option when one can be customized to suit district needs. At this point, it means working with our vendors to ensure that the data generated is something that we have access to so we can make improvements on learning analytics and create true personalized learning.

 

7) School Board Members must balance the work of being both listener and ambassador. What would you tell prospective families and/or voting community members who don’t have students currently enrolled about Stillwater Area Public Schools?

JF: To community members without students in the Stillwater district I would say, the strength and success of our district has a direct impact on you. When a school district functions well, we develop young adults ready to support our community in entry-level jobs. When a school district is highly regarded, people looking for a place to raise a family prioritize that community and property values rise. Young people are vital to the health and well-being of our community. They become the voices and decision makers that will make decisions impacting all of us. It is in all of our interests to make sure that these young people know that they are valued by their community and that we will take care of their educational needs. How we support our schools is a direct reflection of how we value our community itself. Stillwater maintains a large population of residents that grew up and stayed in the community. It benefits all of us when those residents have had access to the best education possible.

 

8) Why should voters consider you in particular as they choose among candidates for Stillwater Area Public Schools’ open board seats?

 JF: Voters should consider me for a seat on the school board because I care about the wellbeing of our students. I care that they are in a safe and supportive environment in which they feel they belong. I believe in meeting their needs so that they are better prepared for learning. I care about making sure they are well prepared for their futures and do not limit themselves, or their goals. As an educator for 20 years, I have dedicated my life (professionally and in my free time) to helping students develop; I understand how board policies impact classrooms and students directly. I know what helps students learn. I know the kinds of options students need to make the most of their educational experience. I want to use my experiences and my connection to our district to best serve all of our children, including my own.