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Column: District 518 board members learn plenty at state conference

WORTHINGTON -- Have you ever wondered where school board members get information about their roles and responsibilities and the decisions they make? One place is the 96th annual Minnesota School Boards Association's (MSBA) Leadership Conference, ...

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WORTHINGTON - Have you ever wondered where school board members get information about their roles and responsibilities and the decisions they make?  One place is the 96th annual Minnesota School Boards Association’s (MSBA) Leadership Conference, an event designed for school board members to add to their understanding and to hear and discuss new ideas in education.    

Closing her remarks with “Let not our differences separate us but let them bring us together to do great things for our students,” Miranda Baird, the National School Boards Association president - an inner-city woman from Los Angeles - opened the conference discussing the need for equity in education, relating how she went from feeling she had no value as a child to knowing she had value and the ability to achieve her potential.  

“Failure is not an option” was how keynote speaker, Alan Blankenship, framed the need for equity in education. Using the theme of this year’s conference, “Courageous Leadership,” he said: “Instead of looking at what they can’t do, courageous leaders look at what they CAN do.” He added that courageous leadership is about building relationships and trust with stakeholders in the community. Blankenship noted the difference between equality and equity in education was that equality gives every student the same thing while equity gives each student what they need to succeed. Equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes, while equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fit.

With presentations by students, vendors, education leaders and public officials on over 100 different topics, Worthington members were hard pressed to choose which breakout sessions to attend. Presentations on student discipline, community engagement, racial equity, bond referendums and teacher selection provided insight to them.

A workshop titled “Reaching and Teaching All Students Through Culture” was led by Worthington native and 2001 graduate Heidi Franzen. As schools struggle to meet state and federal education goals she talked about helping educational institutions develop equitable learning systems and narrow the gap in opportunity, expectations and resources for every student and staff member through teaching, learning and engagement. As race and culture fundamentally shape and influence our core values as well as our thinking, Heidi encouraged board members to look through the lens of equity when making decisions that affect our diverse student populations.

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“Success comes one school, one classroom, one child at a time” said closing keynoter, former Minnesota Viking and retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page. Justice Page noted how preparation was critical to success. Success is built on preparation and being ready when opportunity appears. When fear or obstacles appear, preparation is what will help an individual to pick up and continue. He closed his talk with a discussion of racism, saying that the biases and stereotypes rampant in racism are not group problems but problems of individuals that can only be solved by the courageous involvement of individuals willing to engage in difficult conversations.

For the five Worthington school board members and superintendent John Landgaard, the conference was helpful in providing an opportunity to hear and explore ideas to make Worthington schools even better.

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