Vail Daily column: ‘Insiders’ join the dialogue
Ryan Summerlin August 27, 2014
Last year, Eagle County School started its first Insider’s Academy. The premise was simple: seven two-hour classes during the course of the school year with each one focused on a particular part of our operations. The outcome was amazing! We had 22 “Insiders” that included PTA and PTO presidents, parents, business owners, nonprofit leaders and our own teachers attend. Our group was comprised of supporters and skeptics. We had an agenda that walked through the many challenges we face as a district and the various departments it takes to operate the district.
Out mantra was “know who, know how and take action.” Our Insiders worked with assistant superintendents, department heads, teachers, principals and myself during the course of the year. We talked budget, curriculum, transportation, athletics, food services, achievement and state rules and regulations. They came to know which legislators at the state level influenced education policy and funding.
When I say the outcome was amazing, here’s what I mean: We, as an organization, learned something from each Insider during each and every meeting that would help us get better as an organization. They, as Insiders, learned something from us each meeting that demystified a complex process or debunked a common myth. We laughed, we challenged each other and we got emotional at times. We were, after all, talking about our community’s most precious and treasured resource — our children.
Maybe the most important outcome was trust and solidarity. They came to understand that the school district is a complex organization providing essential services to the community’s youth and that we take our moral purpose of educating kids very seriously. We are community members first and foremost, and we care deeply about these kids and their futures. Also, most of us are also parents — including my wife, Sarah, and me. We’re engaged with our students — dedicated, inspired, optimistic and even humbled by our charge as educators. Perfect? Certainly not, but as educational professionals, we’re pretty darn good.
The Insiders came to know that we are open and try hard to be transparent as an organization. Sometimes, the complexity of our operations is hard to capture in a sound byte or short article. While this challenges our ability to communicate effectively, it shouldn’t be interpreted as us not being transparent. With nearly $50 million stripped from our funding from the state since the recession, we’re spread thin and may not be able to address every concern all the time. But we are working hard to deliver a quality and caring education, regardless of budgetary limitations.
We came to know that the community loves its public schools. The Insiders see us as a success that can get even better. We learned we could also trust them for support, involvement and ideas. Even those who had a poor opinion of public education in general showed us they had an open mind and were willing to think honestly about the district and help us reach our lofty aspirations of globally competitive schools.
Now, with another school year just started, we want to meet 20 new Insiders. Parents, staff members, business leaders — folks with a keen interest in the future of education in our county are invited to apply. You are invited to become an Insider. It promises to be among the best 14 hours you’ll invest in the year. The Insider’s Academy begins in late September, so send an email expressing your interest and connection to the school district to our chief communications officer at email@example.com or sign up on our website, www.eagleschools.net. I look forward to sharing valuable insights with you!
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.