Education Buzz is a new podcast from Harvard Community Unit School District 50. In each episode, Superintendent Dr. Corey Tafoya talks with leaders and innovators working in and around the world of public education.
A variety of topics will focus on the challenges and solutions facing students, teachers, administrators, and families in the landscape of 21st-century learning.
Dr. Corey Tafoya talks John Maurer from Wold Architects and Engineers. With a growing student population and school facilities reaching capacity, Harvard District 50 has been examining space needs and formulating a long-range facility master plan.
Education Buzz – Episode 3 – Transcript
Corey Tafoya: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Education Buzz, the Harvard District 50 podcast series. Today, we have a special treat. This is our first attempt at a podcast off site. We have equipment that allows us to do podcast from whatever, but we’re with John Maurer who is from Wold Architects and John invited us to come to his offices. We’re here in Palatine and it is really… John, I have to say this is impressive space. First of all, welcome.
John Maurer: Thank you. Good morning.
Corey Tafoya: We understand in our off comments before we got on that this is your first podcast either participating in or listening to.
John Maurer: Yes.
Corey Tafoya: So it’s going to be a brand new experience.
John Maurer: Right.
Corey Tafoya: Good. Thanks for hosting us. This is an impressive space and you just recently moved in here, correct?
John Maurer: We have been in this space now I think right about five weeks. And I can honestly say it has transformed our business. The most amazing thing about our new collaborative environment here is that it practices what we preach and it has engaged and invigorated our whole staff to be finally working in the kinds of environments we designed for our clients.
Corey Tafoya: And because I pulled up the wrong address for this, I know what your old space looked like because I walked in and no one was there and I thought, “Uh oh, I’m in the wrong spot.” But yeah, that’s remarkably different. That was maybe what you imagine is an architect firm look like. Rooms, cut up spaces and things like this. This is very modern looking. Very open.
John Maurer: Right.
Corey Tafoya: Just out of curiosity, when architects design a space to work in themselves, that’s an interesting process to figure out who actually designs the space where architects themselves work. How did that work in redesigning this space?
John Maurer: We did it just the same way we do with our clients. We put together kind of a steering committee. We developed our own guiding principles, all of the things that were important to us. We have basically created spaces that are agile, flexible furnishings that can all be moved around including hard seating, soft seating, tables, group areas, each one with its own tech center that anyone can log into with their phone or a laptop. We even have a room for nursing mothers and where people can get as a little retreat when they need quiet or to make a phone call.
Corey Tafoya: This is very, very impressive and inspiring. I’m sure as time goes on you’ll still figure out more of the benefits of this. I guess that’s a good segue to what we’re talking about because we’re in Harvard. I’ve been working with you for a long time and maybe that’s a good place for us to start. Tell us a little bit about Wold. Some people might know that, they might hear us talk about it and the partnership that Wold has had with Harvard and how long has Wold… I know that there are satellites of Wold in both Minneapolis and Denver. This is not just a-
John Maurer: And beyond.
Corey Tafoya: And beyond. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about Wold and then maybe that relationship with Harvard.
John Maurer: Actually, I’ve been working with Harvard since I guess about 2007. My firm was Ruck Pate Architecture. Many people who’ve known us a long time in Harvard would remember that. We were a Chicago area firm with a 40-year history in designing educational environments and planning. In 2017, we merged with Wold and Wold is a top 10 K-12 national architect. We do have offices, Chicago, Denver, St. Paul, Minnesota and Nashville. Really kind of nationwide thought leaders in K-12.
Corey Tafoya: That’s an interesting thing I think for maybe our public to understand is that we’re not with an architect that doesn’t specialize in school spaces. Because I think when you think about different architecture and designs, there are specialties learned over a period of time. Being that you’ve been involved with Harvard for over a decade, that’s really fascinating to know that you’ve learned and really specialized, spend a lot of time thinking about what are trends in education, what is educational need look like versus corporate need. Talk to us about how you kind of became a specialist in the educational field of architecture.
John Maurer: Architecture kind of by nature generalists, but also specialists. I often tell people that you become what you do. Your successes lead to people seeking out your expertise and doing those things. For example, over the years I’ve also developed a subspecialty in working with special needs students and special needs clients. But my real background has been in educational planning. So really on the design and understanding needs and what enables both the educators and the students to be successful.
Corey Tafoya: In all of our professional capacities, we all have these certain moments where you realize you’ve done something that has great meaning for the people you’re serving. And I keep telling my kids when they think about majors, find something where you’re serving others and you’re helping someone. There has to be an incredible sense of satisfaction because this process is lengthy. It takes time to do that, but to listen to someone understand what they need and to design something that meets their needs when that finishes, that must be incredibly satisfying.
John Maurer: It is of course, and that’s I think what architects really live on. Dr. Tafoya, you mentioned listening to what has made us successful is that our process incorporates all of the stakeholders. Both the educators, the students, administrators, and community members. Really understanding their needs and their value is really what makes a successful project and a successful building. We really enjoy hearing feedback back that, “While this works, you really listened to us.” That’s really what makes it all work for people.
Corey Tafoya: Many who are listening to this would understand, we have been listened to by you and your associates. We should mention that one of your colleagues, Alison Andrews, is not with us today but she’s been a part of this process, the board. I believe we started to consider this most recent steering committee and examination of district facilities probably about five months ago or I’m not sure when we officially signed on.
John Maurer: We almost started nearly a year ago when you got your demographic study and it was the first piece. And then understanding what that really meant to the district in terms of their building capacities and I think at that point the board realized a broader need to understand their facilities. They began making tours of the buildings themselves and then realizing they should bring the community into that and kind of put together a task force to look at district facilities and then some other facilities in neighboring districts. Maybe really understand where the district was at in terms of their buildings overall.
Corey Tafoya: Maybe we should do that for the listeners, just piece that timeline together. Because in my first year, there became some questions to me like, “What are we doing with space?” “This is tight, that is tight.” We found some immediate limitations. So my first inclination was, “What do we know about our projected enrollments moving?”
Corey Tafoya: One of the first steps was our demographic study that Dr. Kasarda did for us that gave us three predictions. Whether you go with A, which is kind of the conservative; B, the middle approach; or C, like how the highly aggressive growth. We took kind of an idea as most people do that we’re going to have moderate growth and that was a little different because people may be were surprised because many school districts in McHenry County aren’t growing or in fact declining. That was a different thing and we had assessed that but we wanted to actually get some professional, I guess, vantage point in view and opinion on what to expect because it’s silly to build much without kind of knowing what’s coming your way. Is that pretty typical?
John Maurer: Actually, that was one of the, I think, really astute moves that District 50 did. As you know, with a downturn in 2008 that affected McHenry County school districts very, very, very much. None of them have thought to go back and reexamine their demographic trends. In fact, they’ve just said, “Oh, we’re shrinking, we’re shrinking, we’re shrinking.” And been under this working assumption that that’s the case. We work with many other McHenry County school districts as you know. So I have kind of firsthand knowledge of that in their planning efforts.
John Maurer: It’s really a good idea to take that look ahead and really understand and as you learned through Dr. Kasarda’s study, you are going to see some growth at least in their B and C projections, and in my 30 years’ experience, I have found Dr. Kasarda’s B projections are pretty much spot on. How he does that, I’m not quite sure, but he was very accurate.
Corey Tafoya: Yeah, I think we were one or two student off on his prediction for this fall. That’s kind of spooky almost that he’s that good. But that was really something I think that the board really wanted for their confidence that, “We’re not barking up the wrong tree here.” But even without the growth and we’ll get into this minute, we have facility issues and things that we need to address even if we were probably not growing. But it certainly compounded the complexity of what we’re trying to address is, facilities that need some invigoration and renovation as well as the idea of growth.
Corey Tafoya: But one thing you bring up that I think is the specialty of Wold that we really appreciate is, “Are your facilities matching the needs of your curriculum?” I think that’s a critical point that we have to keep in mind is, “Do the facilities you currently have, is that what you want for the education you’re trying to provide?” We had a community coffee the other day and one of the residents that came, he said, “Right now, it kind of seems like your facilities are driving your curriculum rather than your curriculum is suited by your facilities.”
John Maurer: And that’s a pretty accurate description. Very thoughtful and insightful comment. Educators are amazingly resilient. They will teach anywhere and they will adapt. That’s one of the reasons why I have probably often heard me make comments that every school building is at capacity.
Corey Tafoya: Because they’re going to max out every closet, every-
John Maurer: They will max out every space in every building and needs change constantly. But let’s talk about your buildings, I mean the district has hundreds of thousands of square feet. People will say, “Oh, well these buildings have worked fine for years. I went to that, my, daughter went to that, my granddaughter went to that building.” Right?
Corey Tafoya: It’ll be fine.
John Maurer: Despite the fact that District 50 has been tremendous stewards of their buildings and buildings have been well cared for, building still age. I’m not necessarily talking about the bricks and mortar, the mechanical systems, District 50 has been very good at attending to those kinds of needs.
John Maurer: But you just look for example and we just had your five community open houses. For example, when people saw the difference between Crosby Elementary built in 2009 and going back to the buildings built in the fifties and sixties and portions of the high school built in the 1920s. And they can clearly see the difference in a contemporary and 21st century learning environment. It’s not just that things are newer. The types of spaces are different. And the ability to be flexible and to work in larger groups and smaller groups, those spaces and all of the various different supporting staff beyond the classroom teacher that have needs to work with students individually as we work and move towards personalized learning for every student. Those things are there in Crosby. They’re completely absent in the other buildings.
Corey Tafoya: We talked about that just what an effect that is on a student to go from third grade at Crosby to fourth grade at Jefferson where things… We mentioned last night that they have some of the tank bathroom’s systems where there’s a running tank elevated above the bathrooms. [inaudible 00:14:58] which is frankly an archaic, old way to do it. But it’s been maintained and it still functions. But those are some of the things that we are talking about in the renovation.
Corey Tafoya: As we did this, we relied on your expertise and John, we should mention is a McHenry County resident himself. He knows these spaces. We actually about a year ago did some tours of some of the spaces because specifically one of the things that came right away to mind, and I have brought up to the board is saying, “We really have to talk about the equity in our locker rooms and our spaces related to P.E.” We visited some McHenry County schools. We went to Jacob’s High School, Huntley High School, Johnsburg and Richmond-Burton and just gave us a sense and… Our kids go there and they get to see the locker rooms because they’re competing and putting on our Harvard black and gold and competing and they see locker rooms but parents and community members, we don’t maybe see that. So it was really eye-opening for us to take those tours.
John Maurer: I imagine it was.
Corey Tafoya: You see these spaces all the time. But for us it was like, “Wow.” Because we started with a tour of our own facilities. And so people, I think, if they haven’t necessarily been in our locker room facilities, they don’t maybe appreciate because it’s not a public space that you go to for graduation or parent-teacher conferences, you’re not wandering through the locker rooms. But they really do are in desperate need, aren’t they?
John Maurer: They are. People might be interested in why they’re that way. You have to go back and realize that like so much else in education, both Physical Education and athletics and its programming, is far more robust than it was in the day those facilities were envisioned. Even the physical amount of space that was allotted to each student in those are very different.
John Maurer: The types of spaces even that were designed for showering and hygiene, those aren’t even acceptable in our modern code environment. Dealing with accessibility was not there. But we use these spaces intensively now on a daily basis, whereas they might have suited up for P.E. People who know Harvard history, if they’ve ever been in the attic of the district office spaces, that was the P.E. space in the central school going up this 28-inch wide steep staircase and hanging from ropes from the rafters or boxing in the tower. P.E. is a whole kind of different world now from them.
Corey Tafoya: It is fascinating to appreciate that in one of the things that people that see it for the first time are shocked by this, but these aren’t easy solutions and they aren’t things that find… So there’s a number of obstacles. There’s the prioritization of, “Do we do this?” And the obvious question of the financial thing.
Corey Tafoya: So one of the things that is important for I think our community to understand and for families understand is that we’re at a really interesting time in the history of the school district because I think some of the financial obstacles that have existed, we have some potential things that might be able to help us in the upcoming months and years as we plan this. And one of them would be… There’s a reimbursement for some things that we talked about in our board, in our facilities committee meeting last night, some $50,000 grant and $50,000 sounds like a lot of money, but when you’re talking about major renovations of bathrooms and things, 50,000 can be spent pretty quickly.
Corey Tafoya: So there’s some matching ground, but there’s also a new state construction grant that was approved by the governor, which is significantly more money. And so one of the things that we’ve been talking about with legislators and people in the realm that are making these decisions is, “Would Harvard as a Tier 1 school be one of the first ones considered for what they call, when the applications come March 1st, to shovel ready project?” And that’s something I know you and I both listen to podcast of that committee how are they going to decide that?
Corey Tafoya: One of the things we’ve planned is to how to have some shovel ready projects in mind so that we can be one of the first ones to speak up for that funding and that funding is in the millions, not in the 50,000 range. So we are kind of thinking about that and is that realistic for our district to have projects ready and kind of be planning that in the period of time we have?
John Maurer: I think part of the board’s focusing on developing a long-range facility master plan will help with that because it gives you some sense of what are the needs, what are the priorities, and how various different things may be broken up into other pieces. It will be interesting to see how the grant program is going to work because it will be both similar and different I believe from prior things. It certainly will be based on need, but it will also be dependent on the community being able to fund its local share and how that is accomplished I think becomes the bigger question. So what will happen is, you may get an entitlement based on the need, but undoubtedly you won’t be able to receive funding of that entitlement unless you can provide your shares.
John Maurer: So a maintenance grant, for example, is up to $50,000, but the district has to match that dollar for dollar. In all likelihood, as a Tier 1 district, I think that you probably won’t have to match dollar for dollar on your local share but nonetheless it will be an expectation of substantial funding from the school district.
Corey Tafoya: One of the things that is also just part of all of these different layers of understanding of our situation is that now that the state has committed to a new model of school funding, the evidence-based funding, we are and I keep repeating this so you’ve heard me say this probably 10 times, we are the lowest unit school district in the state of Illinois in terms of our adequacy percentage. Meaning the amount of money based on our student and our population, our community, that the state should give us, we’re still the farthest away from adequacy, what we should receive from the state.
Corey Tafoya: And even though for the past three years we’ve received substantial funding supplements from the state, we’re still a long ways to go. But what we’ve been able to do with that money in effect the things in the classroom. We started an afterschool program for kids. We’ve started a lot of programs that really have directly affected kids, but we feel like now we were at a point where we’ve done enough to stabilize that and provide some really meaningful things that we can maybe shift our focus a little bit to this idea of, “Can that new money that comes through evidence-based funding go for our facilities?”
Corey Tafoya: So not only is this new state grant available, but we also might have some more local opportunity to support ourselves. And I think that’s maybe been one of the biggest obstacles in Harvard over time is not the will or the idea or the content with our facilities and sitting on our thumbs, there just wasn’t the money to do that nor was there the will to go out for a referendum or anything like that. The last time that was done in Harvard was to build Crosby.
John Maurer: Right. So Crosby for example, and I don’t remember the exact dollars, but I believe the community supported a referendum for the first new school built since I think it was maybe 1963 in Harvard. I believe the community got behind that because of seeing the need. In that case, particularly to be able to move and support the full day kindergarten programs and to move out of the central school and get into logical grade level configurations. It was before you were at the district so you probably don’t remember but they had first, third, and fourth together, but second was in a different building. It was a little bit strange.
John Maurer: But that was a 22 million plus I believe referendum. Subsequent to that actually being funded and built, the state then finally funded the grant for that need and the district received, I think about 13 million. So you know more than half of that cost. That money then was used to add classrooms needed at the high school and-
Corey Tafoya: Central office renovation.
John Maurer: Central office renovations and add new culinary labs and kitchen and cafeteria for the high school.
Corey Tafoya: I like the phrase you just turned there. Maybe you didn’t even think about it. John was saying as an Irishman, “I can spin time.” But I like the phrase you use, “See the need.” And I think that has been the focus of this steering committee is to involve community members, parents, coaches, principal. And we really tried to do that, see the need.
Corey Tafoya: So we’ve had monthly steering committee meetings over the course of the fall. We had our last one a couple of weeks ago and we also had some invitations out to our community to come see our facilities because that whole idea of seeing the need is really critical. We don’t want our community to think that we’re just kind of blowing smoke.
Corey Tafoya: Let’s talk about that for a minute and as we’ve done that you have what we’d sometimes don’t have is you have some comparisons. You are in different school districts, different places. You’re here designing new things. Let’s talk about that need. Is this something that is real? Is this something that we’ve engaged enough people on? What might be our next step? Let’s talk about the need. Because I think that’s something that’s going to take some time in our community for people to really believe that. Because you mentioned earlier, “Why? I was fine. I went there, it’s fine. It’s probably no different. And I turned out great.” How long can a district keep doing that? And just kind of saying that we’re going to be okay right through. Because we believe in our teachers and we believe in our kids and we believe those things. But the facilities they’re in has a huge impact on their learning, doesn’t it?
John Maurer: It absolutely does in my opinion. Of course, it isn’t the building. It isn’t the paint. It’s really creating an environment that allows the instructional staff and the students themselves to adapt. Anybody that has I think teenage students or teenage grandkids-
Corey Tafoya: I got two,
John Maurer: The interesting thing is you’ll find that they have a basic need to rearrange things. I came home one day to find that my teen daughter had dragged the recliner completely across the room to sit at the computer because we had a wired keyboard. She’s got this wired keyboard in her lap, kicked back in the recliner and I’m like, “Huh? What the heck?”
John Maurer: They adapt to their needs, which are very different based on using technology instead of sitting at a desk with books and straight ahead lecturing. They learn collaboratively and they learn independently. In fact, a lot of the learning takes place outside the classroom. The classroom is more of a place for kind of proving that they know what they know or proving that they don’t know what they don’t know and the instructor becoming much more of a facilitator. And even now add the addition of instructional coaches into the equation and really a deeper understanding of what each student needs to be successful and what is their personal learning style and being able to adapt your classroom in effect to become six classrooms in one space and to be able to take down the walls and extend that classroom outside.
John Maurer: Many of the newer environments we’re doing, there really aren’t even any hallways. Space just kind of flows together and learning takes place everywhere. So the space directly outside classrooms becomes what we call kind of a learning commons.
Corey Tafoya: So these are some of the spaces you’re seeing in schools that are being designed right now is that flexibility to provide that. Because one of the things that is comforting to some but alarming for many of us in education is if you asked our parents and grandparents to see some of our classrooms, they’re still rows of desks sitting in a line with a chalkboard in front and someone talking in front. That’s a stereotype based in some reality yet. But I think over time that’s really slipping away and what we are seeing more is what you’re describing, kids working more independently in small groups and pursuing their own learning rather than someone standing in front of the room telling them what they know. And the old expression is, “School is the place kids go to watch teachers work.” We’re trying to get away from that.
Corey Tafoya: In part of what we mentioned in Harvard rising is this emphasis on learning and right now I would have to say that our facilities are impeding learning in the way we want to teach kids and the learning that could happen. Is that accurate?
John Maurer: It’s at least missing opportunities.
Corey Tafoya: That’s a good way to put it.
John Maurer: I love to hear people say, “Oh, that person’s so lucky.” People aren’t lucky. People recognize opportunities. Today’s students are so sharp, they see opportunity everywhere. But if those opportunities aren’t there, yes, it impedes them.
John Maurer: I’ll give you an example. Picture what people think in their mind of a beautiful science laboratory, right? And what it is oak, furniture and cabinetry with glass doors that are shiny and I can see all these microscopes or balances lined up behind them. Today’s environment, instead of those doors being glass, what they need to be is they need to be surfaces the students can write on. Right there, they wheel their table right up against the countertop by the side there right by the sink and they’re busy working with their Chromebooks and they need to take their data results. And instead of them scratching them on paper very quickly, they’re just using an LCS to write it right there on the cabinet door, which will then get input into their Chromebooks. They’re doing things live as it’s happening.
John Maurer: Many people will tell you through the brain research, writing something imprints it in your brain in a different way than typing it into a Chromebook. So it becomes very important to be able to do that and do it with immediacy. Today’s students, they like to have everything they need right at their fingertips. Most of them have it in their backpack on or around with them.
Corey Tafoya: There is an urgency to they’re wanting to know.
John Maurer: Yeah, there’s an urgency to it. Like I said suddenly they decide, “Oh, hey, how about Jack and Jill and Sue, we need to go do this.” And they need to be able to get off in a corner and take a table with them or drag their chairs and do that. And that may need to be a soft seating. Because they learn in a more informal style than we’re accustomed to.
Corey Tafoya: That’s very true. We should also maybe backtrack a little bit. Our school board meetings are recorded so you can listen to those. You had some ideas for our school board last night and we plan to, in January, meet with the school board and you and Alison and some of our partners to talk about this building a plan. But you did give some specific ideas like what we could look at for the future last night. So maybe share us with us some of the thinkings that you’ve put together through this listening tour in this see the need tour that you’ve put together with us. What are some things that may be big ideas that we should give consideration to?
John Maurer: I think one of the biggest ideas that we introduced last night was rather than trying to improve and/or expand every building in its current location, many of which are on sites that are too small, we want to be looking at the possibility of consolidating some facilities.
John Maurer: An example of that was the Washington school being outdated, spaces too small, inadequate, the site being very small with some serious concerns about student safety, of buses that are unloading on multiple streets simultaneously. With today’s focus on student safety and security needing a lot of attention there, but rather than taking a position of, “Well we need to own property and we need to build a campus for this.” We threw out the idea of basically adding that Pre-K to the Crosby school where we can start to begin to share facilities that are already existing, parking and sites, and already safe bus lanes and things like that.
Corey Tafoya: Capitalizing on a modern design of the building.
John Maurer: Correct. Right. We need to look at things that even if it’s still costly represent good stewardship to the community. Just a back track a little of the steering committee. We challenged them to develop guiding principle statements much as we did to design our office. Interestingly enough, virtually every one of those statements not only included something about values to students and education, but also the word community. It left us with the clear understanding that this is a community that values its education and that believes that their students are really important to the fabric of the community. That’s probably Harvard’s a community where not all the students grow up and go away. Many of them stay and choose to make their homes in Harvard. There’s a true cultural value that exists between the community and the schools.
Corey Tafoya: I guess that is an interesting thing because then a listener might say, “Okay, that’s a lot of kids at Crosby. Can Crosby handle that?” You had some other ideas that spun off of that idea of enhancing Crosby. The Pre-K was there, the Washington school programming was that Crosby… What does that mean for other facilities?
John Maurer: One of the ideas we floated out there, and this is based on a lot of discussion with the educators and much concern about students moving too quickly from building to building. There has been the idea of actually taking the third grade out of Crosby and combining that with the fourth and fifth grade that are currently at Jefferson. Again, we’d be looking at a student ascending to the next level only every three years rather than having those smaller gaps.
Corey Tafoya: Because that has been mentioned just the two years at Jefferson, there’s some benefit to the stability of being in a place for a while and those teachers and having three grades together.
John Maurer: Right. The longer that the students have to work with the same group of teachers, they’re much better able to plan I think the learning experience for them and to get to know each student.
Corey Tafoya: People following along on this, if they’re still listening, God bless you. Pre-K1 and 2 together. Three, four, five together. What does that mean for junior high?
John Maurer: I think there is such a strength in the six, eight program and I think you’ve also heard me express this that it is such a critical time in a student’s social development that maintaining that six, eight configuration is really important. I’ve kind of somewhat of an expert in middle schools. I’ve designed about a dozen of them new schools. So I’ve learned a lot from the educators-
Corey Tafoya: And I think a lot of people that-
John Maurer: About that learning process.
Corey Tafoya: Yeah, when you share that idea there was a lot of head nodding like, “Yes, we think those. Great.” Because having fifth graders who seemingly maybe aren’t ready for some of that, that six, eight seems like a good break down. You’re right, they have more needs. One of the things we know at our current junior high location that we’re limited for space as we are in all of our places and you mentioned last night, our robotics program, which we’re proud of and they compete and do all these fascinating things, but they’re really doing this out of an office, an office that’s just been kind of used as a classroom and then they just have to spill out into a little bit of the library. But that’s happening all throughout the district. I mean it’s not just the library, but the junior high certainly has issues.
John Maurer: Right.
Corey Tafoya: The other thing that I think is a very public thing in some of the most, I guess, emotional reactions we saw in our tours were about, as what we talked about earlier, the design in the locker rooms. One of the things that is really a challenge for that is, as you mentioned, when the school was built, ADA was not a thing. Title IX was certainly not a thing. Now, we certainly live and value all of our students regardless of what gender or what their display. We want to welcome everyone and give them an incredible experience. That’s something we have to design. But it makes it a little bit challenging.
Corey Tafoya: So we have to think of what can we do short term to solve some of these inequities. How do we create solutions that don’t, the old expression, “throw good money for bad” and something that you don’t build a bathroom that you are going to tear down in just two more years because you’re doing something different? So the board has some real challenging decisions in front of them. Don’t they though?
John Maurer: Yes, they do. The board I could see last evening feels a strong obligation to act, but they also have the recognition that they need to act prudently and that the whole reasons they wanted to develop the long-range plan are to just do just that, to not spend money that is going to be undone by some future initiative. While they want to act, they recognize the need to act carefully. Of course as elected officials, they want to make sure that what they’re doing is what the community would like to see done.
Corey Tafoya: We mentioned some of the other events coming up in our timeline in the future. We will have that meeting in January. It’s a closed session just because we may be talking about a number of things that are related to things that can let you have private discussions in closed session. But I would imagine being that we would be going out hopefully having some ideas ready for that March 1st application. We’d probably be out sometime in the spring asking the public for more feedback on ideas and these ideas kind of funnel down. I know that you met with all of the principals last night even for a little bit, just kind of asking them to refine the idea.
Corey Tafoya: So we certainly will be in constant contact here with you, John, but thanks for willing to jump on a podcast with us and talk about this. This has meant truly not only for our community but others to stay in touch with that process and how at least one school district is attempting to address these questions of space and educational vitality of the facilities that their kids are learning and how to match those things. You and Allison had been great partners as well as Tim and it’s fun to come down here to see all the people that I recognize and worked with.
John Maurer: That you recognize and that you don’t.
Corey Tafoya: Yeah, I don’t. And you realize how big the team really is here. Thanks for all your partnership and dedication to the district. It’s really been a great partnership.
John Maurer: Well, Dr. Tafoya, thank you for this opportunity. Thanks for everything you do for the kids in Harvard and thanks for coming to our office-
Corey Tafoya: And hopefully-
John Maurer: It’s a pleasure to have you here. This has been fun. Like you said, “I hadn’t done this before”. It’s really great to just have a kind of open, honest conversation. I’ll throw just something out there for you because as you know I just went to my daughter’s graduation.
Corey Tafoya: Congratulations.
John Maurer: Their speaker was a former astronaut and his name was Captain Pierre Thuot. As part of what he did, he showed us his Wikipedia page in which it showed that he was dead. He was cautioning students about their research in the future, which is a good caution to all your students as well. But he put together a little theme and every time he mentioned one, he said, “I’m going to do this every time that I have something important for you to remember.” Basically he told those students I care. What that was integrity, commitment, accountability, respect and excellence. I saw so many people putting that into their phone and writing it down. So simple and yet so profound. It’s clear to me that you and your board and all the people in Harvard all care.
Corey Tafoya: Well we really do and we’re blessed to have a board that is so committed to putting the time. This concept of Harvard rising will include this and I think that’s the legacy they were hoping to leave for generations because, as you mentioned before, Harvard cares deeply about its kids and their education and they grow very attached to our facilities. So we want to make sure they’re things that are lasting and serve us well and hopefully at least we can get one more subscriber, your wife, out of this experience. I know she’s a podcast listener, so hopefully we can get here.
Corey Tafoya: Thanks everyone for listening to another episode of Education Buzz from Harvard District 50. Today, we are with John Maurer from Wold and we hope to hear you in… Or be back for our January episode where we’ll talk to a couple of our staff members from District 50 who have just earned their dissertation and talk about the idea of ongoing education and how you pursue that. So thanks, John. It was a pleasure.
John Maurer: Thank you.
For the second episode, Dr. Tafoya ditched his tie for a day and shadowed Harvard High School senior Desiree Brady. Ms. Brady shares her perspective on high school and what her life is like as a student.
Education Buzz – Episode 2 – Transcript
Corey Tafoya: Hello everyone. Welcome to Education Buzz Podcast. This podcast, the second in the series comes from Harvard School District 50 in Harvard, Illinois. This is Corey Tafoya. I’m the superintendent of our district here and today’s episode is a special one because I’ve spent the entire day with Desiree Brady who is a senior here at Harvard High School. Desiree, you’re very brave and kind for letting me shadow you today. Thank you.
Desiree Brady: Of course, any time.
Corey Tafoya: How did we do today? Did we have a good day?
Desiree Brady: Yes, I think we had a very good day and I think all the other students enjoyed it too, so.
Corey Tafoya: Okay. Well, good. Would you say that today was pretty typical or did we see a weird day?
Desiree Brady: No, today was pretty typical. The way that the classes we were in and the students’ behavior in the classes and all the workload and stuff like that is pretty typical.
Corey Tafoya: So I got to see a normal day. Well, let me tell you a little bit more about why we did this. One of my mentors, his name is Dr. Luvelle Brown. He’s the principal in Ithaca, New York. He does this pretty frequently and he does it with junior high and he does it with fourth graders and he does the same thing we did today, is turns over his Twitter and they just kind of copy their … Or they share their ideas and tweet out what they did, what they think, some of their experiences. And that’s what you were able to do today. I didn’t know you had so many nicknames. There’s D, Dezzie, a lot of people really must like you, but what I learned about a Desiree today is she’s the fifth generation, well this spring, to graduate from high school. So your roots run really deep.
Desiree Brady: Yes. Very, very deep.
Corey Tafoya: Yeah. So maybe that explains in addition to all the things you’re involved with that you got a lot of followers. I probably never had so many likes in one day in my whole life, other than when we tried to say if we should have the day after Halloween off. That was another high water mark.
Desiree Brady: Yeah.
Corey Tafoya: Well, good. Well, let me just ask you a few questions. First, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about yourself and I’ve already said that you’re a senior, but for all the people that don’t know how awesome you are, like I learned today, just tell us a little bit about yourself and your kind of where you’re at with Harvard high school. I assume you’ve been here for all your years of education.
Desiree Brady: Yes. All actually 12 so.
Corey Tafoya: Okay.
Desiree Brady: So I play volleyball and I run track. I’ve been in volleyball for my past four years here and I have a strong connection to the program and to all the girls and coaches and stuff. I really enjoy it and I encourage a lot of people that go off for volleyball. And for track, I’ve ran for the past two years, well this will be my upcoming second. Last year was my first year and I just wanted to try something new and that was the thing that I tried and now I’m going to be a captain and it’s crazy how many doors like Harvard High School can definitely open up for you too. Education wise, I’m involved in many clubs. I’ve tried many clubs, I’ve been in and out of many clubs. I really wanted to make sure that when I came up to the high school that I would get the experience that I would need in order to succeed in college, to gain any, how would you say it, abilities needed to strive through college and to use in other areas of my life as well. So I’m definitely using Harvard High School as a tool and using everything it can provide for me to-
Corey Tafoya: Well, I think we’ll get to that towards the end because you were telling me a little bit earlier about some of your plans for next year and your post secondary plans.
Desiree Brady: Yeah.
Corey Tafoya: Pretty exciting, some of the things you already got lined up in place, so we’ll talk about that. But one of the things that I noticed as I was with you today is just how familiar you were with staff members. You just could approach them, you talked to them. And one of the comments I wrote in my notebook is, I suppose there are plenty of downsides to a school. We have about 730-750 students here. I suppose there’s some downside, but what’s the upside of just really knowing everyone so well? Because in the first period of the day you said, “Well, let’s just go talk to Cruz. He’s the driver’s ed teacher,” and you probably haven’t had him for a couple of years since you’re a senior or maybe you had him as a freshman and you just went down and he knew you, you knew him and you started interviewing him, and we got an interview for him about winter weather driving. So I mean talk about that, being in a school this size and the family atmosphere that it provides
Desiree Brady: So I obviously have family deeply ingrained within the school as it is, but being able to have those connections with teachers, once you have them in a class, it’s kind of hard to lose that connection because being in a small school, they’ll always remember your face. They’ll always remember your name. I can talk about students that were here my freshman year and teachers still know who they are, where they’re at, they’re still in connection with them and knowing that I’ll be able to continue those connections is truly a great feeling as well.
Desiree Brady: Also keeping those connections will allow all doors to stay open with you. So being able to go and talk to them, being able to go ask them for help. Like if you have a math teacher who taught in a different style than the teacher that you have now and you need help in that particular class, you know who you can go talk to and who you like. And on top of it, being in a tight knit community as well allows for you to have a more open mind. And I’ve realized that we don’t have specific groups and cliques and all that other stuff here and the ones that we do, they’re not strongly bonded together and secluded. I think that being in the community this size and surrounded by a bunch of different people, you are forced to communicate with them and you’re forced to see from their perspective and to relate to them and it allows you to have an open mind as well.
Corey Tafoya: That’s awesome. One of the things that they really talk to principals about is how to develop the school’s culture and what’s the culture of the building. And one of the things that impressed me, and I’m here fairly frequently and my goal is to be in every building at least once a week. So I’m here fairly frequently and one of the things I’ve always felt, but I’ve never felt it as strongly as today shadowing you was how warm and supportive the students are towards each other because I’ve never … I’m more with the administrators. And so what principals are always trying to figure out is how do we create that culture where students are warm to each other and sure there’s going to be conflict when you can get a group this big and there are some problems. But I was just really impressed by just the good nature of students in their interactions with each other, supportive, talking, laughing, overall happy. Would you describe it the same way, and then how does that happen? Is that the responsibility of the students or the teachers or they admin? How does that happen? Because there’s probably a lot of administrators who might listen to this like, “That’s what I want to create. How do I do that?”
Desiree Brady: I would definitely agree with what you’re saying. When I go to other places, people kind of mentioned Harvard in a different tone and I just kind of look at them. I’m like, you haven’t been in the building and we’re not what we might be perceived as, you know? And just because we’re smaller than them or something. But being within the classroom, I think that comes from being a small school. But additionally, I think it comes from almost forcing students to engage with each other within the classroom and to solve their own conflicts. Even if it’s a problem, like an open ended question and letting the students debate and have a good, healthy communication bond between each other and then they get to realize how other students look at things and how they could look at things differently or what questions to ask another person have a different viewpoint. And I think essentially you just have to allow the students to grow together and to realize that they need to work towards the same goal. And in addition, the staff should be encouraging that and they should be wanting to see that and engaging in that as well and just being involved in the conversation.
Corey Tafoya: Yeah, that’s a good … Well, one of the other things I wrote down as an observation of mine just about you and I kind of want to know if this is something that you think, one of the words we learned in your psychology classes, is it an innate skill, something you were just born with or is this something you’ve grown over the years? But the idea of building a network, I don’t think we teach that to our students well enough is how to build your network and people are always asking me, “Why do you go to these meetings where you don’t really know anyone or why do you talk to someone?” And it’s really to build a network. And we talked for example earlier about the business incubator that people that I’ve met through my networking and talk, were able to help us get that room built without any tax money. We were able to find donors and that was just the network that I built. You have built quite a network. You were telling me not only here, but through athletics and through your work that you’ve built quite a network of people. Is that something you think about or is that just naturally who you are?
Desiree Brady: I think it’s naturally who I am, but also something that I’ve built. That’s kind of confusing answer, but I think it’s something naturally just because I’m going to keep coming back to this, we’re a small town. I know I have to communicate with people. I know I have reach out and fill a specific role that I need to fill, but it’s also something that I know that I have to do because there’s not many ways to go out of Harvard, I guess you could say. You definitely need to make the networks while you can and while in this situation of your life to try to build your future for yourself and to use the resources that you do have to go somewhere farther than here.
Corey Tafoya: So you’ve already had an offer of an internship to work with the Bears. I mean you’ve just had a lot of really cool opportunities just through, I suppose being in the right place, but being kind, being inquisitive. What are some things for anybody your age who might be listening, like, “Wow, she did that already,” how do they get started? Do they just kind of have an open mind or do they just talk or how do they get started with that if they’re afraid to?
Desiree Brady: Like I said, I think it comes with confidence. Even if you have to maybe lie to yourself a little about that. Just knowing-
Corey Tafoya: Fake it until you make it, they always say, right?
Desiree Brady: Yeah, exactly. And to know that everybody has connections everywhere and it’s up to you to reach out and ask them what those connections are and in that process you’ll make your own connections. So definitely have confidence to go and talk to somebody and don’t be afraid to talk to a complete stranger or to tell them your story or to listen to theirs. Also, just to be enthusiastic and optimistic about your future. For granted, you might be from a small town and for granted, you might not know where you’re going yet or you might be super young, but do what you can now. Make the connections that you can now and truly try and push yourself to go out and experience the worlds.
Corey Tafoya: Right. Well, kind of like you going out for track when you hadn’t done that before. That took a little courage. But that’s a kind of a good example of how you just have that ability to go out and try things. You were very humble that you didn’t mention even that you’re a three time all conference volleyball player. Am I right about that?
Desiree Brady: Yes, yes.
Corey Tafoya: Yeah. So quiet and … What position did you play?
Desiree Brady: I’m an outside hitter, but my sophomore year when I originally began, I was a right side and then I transitioned to an outside.
Corey Tafoya: Coach [inaudible 00:11:11] a lot of different things about volleyball.
Desiree Brady: Yes. I cannot thank that woman enough. She’s taught me a lot through volleyball and within volleyball and that’s why I push it so hard on everybody is because I hope everyone gets the chance to learn what I got to learn and experience through that sport.
Corey Tafoya: Having a coach like that, that’s fantastic. Well, that’s kind of a good segue. Let’s talk about your teachers. We saw some great teaching today. I was just really happy to see that because I usually walk in and out and I don’t get to see much and I don’t do classroom observations like I did when I was in a principal role. But talk about your teachers a little bit. You really had some good experiences today and really didn’t just kind of sit there and they talked to you and you just took notes. You really were active and did a lot of things today in the four periods. We want to explain to our listeners that I’m here at Harvard High School, it’s a block. So classes are exactly how long?
Desiree Brady: They’re roughly an hour and 20, and an hour and 30 minute. Yeah.
Corey Tafoya: So that’s a little different. And that’s a long time. I’d never sat through an entire block until today. So, but let’s talk about your teachers and kind of what they were like. We saw some fun things today. Talk about your teachers.
Desiree Brady: Yeah, so my first block class today, I had Miss Mackenzie and everybody calls her the mom of the school. She is very humble and kind, and you can truly talk to her about anything. She has the greatest patience in the world and she’s definitely open to other students and being a mom. So second block I had Mr. Petsca and he is definitely the uncle of the school. Kids find it very easily to connect to him and to be able to talk to him in a mature way about different conversations, especially since we have him for psychology. So some topics can be very hard to talk about, but he makes sure that he also relates to us by his own personal experiences, which are also difficult for him to talk about. But it allows us to relate to him more on a connected level. And he’s always joking about different things and telling us stories from previous years.
Corey Tafoya: We heard about his crazy college roommate Pete, [inaudible 00:13:24] So he does have good stories. I saw that a little bit.
Desiree Brady: Yes. And yeah, and so we all know him because of his personality. Third block, I had Ms. Smith and I’ve never had her before, but prior to even having her in a class, she had open arms towards me. I used to come to her for help in the morning with pre-calc last year. Just, I don’t know why I went to her. I was just drawn to her for some reason and I knew she was a good math teacher. Everybody talked very highly of her. But I walked into her room in the morning and then after walking in that one day I was there every morning after that. Not even for help, just to sit there and talk to her and hang out with her, and a couple other students as well.
Desiree Brady: And she’s younger than what I’m used to at for teachers here. But I think that that adds excitement to the day and students can really look forward to her class as well. And especially her teaching style. It’s without a doubt different than what I’ve experienced in the past. And you mentioned also using her AVID strategies and us seniors, AVID wasn’t there when we were younger. So using those strategies, we don’t really know or observe them, but it’s cool knowing that she’s trying to connect all aspects of her world to help us out. You know?
Desiree Brady: And then my fourth block class I had Mr. Ryan. I had Mr. Ryan my sophomore year for chemistry and when choosing classes this year I knew I wanted to take a science class. Without a doubt, I wanted to take a science class and I didn’t know what class I wanted to take because I really enjoyed chemistry and I knew that part of it was because of him and I enjoyed it more than biology. But then somehow I ended up taking biology two honors because Mr. Ryan taught it. So they definitely have an influence on decisions that you make, and you definitely know what you want to do because of them. And they become role models and mentors and you make those connections with them. And without the teachers it would be very difficult to get throughout the day.
Corey Tafoya: Well, it was fun because there were a wide variety of styles and like you said, Ms. Smith, she was wearing a math scarf for goodness sake. So she loves math. And so it was just fun to watch everyone the stories that you were creating in Mr. Ryan’s room about the fermentation, all that. It was really fascinating just to see all the things that they’re having you really deeply think about. And one of the things that I really noticed is they really want you to learn. They’re not just giving you information, it’s kind of your job. They really are going to care. You know, you took a formative assessment in Mr. Ryan’s class, I mean there were a lot of things that they really put you through today. That was pretty fascinating to watch. But I guess you have a unique perspective because you mentioned in your four years here, do you think back about how the school might be different than it was when you were a freshman? I mean, you were different, so he had a different vantage point perhaps, we can talk about that in psychology maybe, but how is Harvard High School different than it was four years ago when you were a freshman, do you think?
Desiree Brady: It has changed tremendously ever since I was a freshman. Just the whole atmosphere of the school. Walking in, kids don’t feel as dreaded, I guess you can say to be here. They feel excited because every day there’s something different going on. Like today we had the incubator people here. Other days we have student productions going on and other days there’s sporting events and Mr. Walter’s works really hard to get kids there and to encourage them to go and he’s provided-
Corey Tafoya: One of your friends went on a field trip today to Mercy Hospital?
Desiree Brady: Yes. And we have little field trips like that going on all the time and so students feel very excited to be here and to experience the different things of the day and stuff like that as well. But overall it is very different. Mr. Hobbs is super included with all of us and he walks around and everybody knows who he is, he knows who everybody else is. And if he doesn’t know who you are, he makes the effort. And seeing you in school is very different than what we were used to as well. We went from never knowing or seeing the superintendent to now he’s in our classrooms and now he’s interacting with us and he’s actually sitting in our classes. And I think that we have now gained the feeling of being cared for and knowing that there’s change that is being wanting to be made and that it’s not for selfish manners, but it truly is for the community and for the students of all ages, from K through 12.
Corey Tafoya: Well, we really know that students benefit and you described it better than I ever could with the benefit of having these great teachers that we got to watch today. But there may be some teachers that listen to this and they’re really struggling to keep going because teaching is hard sometimes, and maybe give a little pep talk to those teachers, say here’s why you make a difference. And maybe think about a teacher here that maybe you didn’t even have as a teacher, but someone that’s really made a difference for you. What’s the pep talk we should give them to say, “Keep going, you make a difference for all of us kids.”
Desiree Brady: Yeah. So honestly my teachers drive my day throughout the day because like you mentioned, I see different teaching styles. I see different challenges I have to face and I know that they truly do care. And for some students it’s hard for them to be motivated within school. So whether it’s a disrespectful student or something like that, I think it’s important to continue trying to understand the student first off and then trying to maybe solve that challenge and meet that obstacle together. And if you just do that or at least try and show them, I think it makes all the world’s difference to them rather than shutting them out right away maybe. But teachers set us up for our future, and this is kind of embarrassing, but the majority of my friends are teachers here at Harvard High School. And I say that with all the love that I can. But I think for every student they look for somebody in the school to attach to and to let them strive … Like, to drive them throughout their day. And I think trying to become that teacher right off the bat for a student can make their for next four years after that so much better times.
Corey Tafoya: And sometimes you’ll keep in touch with these people for a lifetime.
Desiree Brady: Yeah. I know Mr. Kostoff still keeps in touch with some siblings of students in my grade and grades of younger and so that’s really interesting to hear too.
Corey Tafoya: Yeah, and it happens in all different ways. The clubs, the sports, the things that you can do. It’s just, those relationships will stay and that’s really special. Let’s talk about a part of our school that is a hot topic, at least for me. And that’s just the facilities because we’re doing a big facility study of all of the schools, like what condition are they in? What do we need to improve? What needs renovation? And we love Harvard High School for sure because it was built in 1921, historic. That front, you know when you walk up to it, it just looks like the traditional view of high school and it’s just beautiful. But there are some things that maybe we could improve in terms of facilities. And so let’s talk about that little bit because you’ve seen it and you’ve been in parts and clubs and athletics and been in the locker rooms. And one of the things that we know that we need to really do something about is the locker rooms. And so one of the things that that I’m wondering is as you see that, I think students are incredibly resilient and malleable. They can kind of handle things. But don’t you wish we had some love and TLC spent on our locker rooms? Shouldn’t we do that for you?
Desiree Brady: Yes. That would help so much. And I know a lot of students prefer to not be in the locker rooms or to even go to areas of the building to change for gym or sports and stuff. Our bathrooms end up becoming very, very packed because our locker rooms don’t have enough space. Our showers don’t work. So we don’t have the privilege as the boys locker room to be able to shower after practices, especially with people that have morning practice. The lockers are super small. In the varsity athletic locker room, I can’t fit my backpack and my athletic bag in the same locker. So I kind of have to be flexible with that, whether it’s keeping one bag in one room and go into a different room and all that other stuff. And our varsity locker room doesn’t have bathrooms, so we have to go to the bathrooms that are packed with other athletes to try to get in there and try to get to practice on time.
Desiree Brady: So it definitely becomes a struggle to have to fluctuate between doing what we have to before practice and accommodating to what we have to work with before practice. So I think just doing something to the locker rooms will make it so much better. And I think that with the renovation to the locker room, it’ll make it more of a bonding environment as well because the girls will be around each other and all that other stuff.
Corey Tafoya: And they won’t rush out of there because it’s not a great place to be.
Desiree Brady: Exactly. Yeah. And so we even have students who are in gym class prior to having to leave for their practice. They’ll change right then and there and get out as fast as they can because they know that the whole herd is coming in behind them. So a renovation to our locker room has been talked with in the locker room for many years.
Corey Tafoya: So this has been a good little pep talk to those of us like me that’ll be part of the idea of how do we do this, and we really haven’t built that idea yet. As you understand there’s a school board that kind of does this and they’re really committed to addressing this. And so we have this big committee, we’re trying to figure that out, but it’s one of the issues. But I think the way you described that as more powerful than I can. When I’m talking to parents, we’ll just kind of rewind that little section and say, yeah, because what I wonder sometimes it’s like when you go to a volleyball game in Richmond Burton and you go into that locker room, do you guys just look around and go, “Oh my goodness, a locker room can be like this?”
Desiree Brady: Yeah, every locker room that, I’m not exaggerating, that we have walked into while playing in a sport. Every locker room I’ve walked into has been bigger than that of the high school. Our high school. And the first thing that is said out of the girls mouths is they start comparing it to ours and it can be a little selfish at times, but it’s truly difficult to realize that as much love as we have for Harvard High School And then seeing like, oh well they have this and they have that and like we can actually sit down and change or we can actually use the bathroom that’s in here or just all the other stuff. But I don’t think that we would necessarily say that we’re not lucky, but it is kind of difficult to look at other schools and yeah. I don’t know. I think that we think that we also deserve that environment as well.
Corey Tafoya: Well, and as I think I shared with you earlier, I have two daughters of my own who are athletes and that’s something very personal to me. That just, when I see that, and we had a tour here the other night and there was some people, adults were asking community members to come see the facilities, so they don’t think we’re just making it up. Because sometimes people think, “Oh, they’re exaggerating,” but it really is a deep, deep need. Wouldn’t you agree?
Desiree Brady: Yes. Sometimes I’ll walk into the locker room or other facilities and I walk in there and I’m like, “Okay, this is what we’re dealing with today. All right.” And then, you know, you kind of walk out and I think all students and athletes and whether it’s gym class or actual athletics or afterschool clubs or even changing for the play and everything, I think that they deserve an environment that they feel comfortable in.
Corey Tafoya: Well, it’s part of this thing, and actually when we were in first hour today we were walking down the hallway and it was right after we saw the business incubator people and did a little interview of them and why they were here. And it was pretty cool that they chose to come to Harvard for, their professional development, the incubator. And I don’t remember who said it but someone’s like, “Yeah, that’s Harvard rising right there.” And so that hashtag that I’ve been kind of putting on things is kind of growing a little bit. Do you get a sense, I mean we have facility things to do but I mean we’re making a plan for it, and that’s part of this whole idea that we’ve got to work really hard to provide what we should and build that. But you see little moments like that you’re like, “You know, we are on the rise.” You don’t think?
Desiree Brady: Yeah, I definitely would say that as well. Students will look at the school and they can kind of tell where the old part is and where the new part is. But we definitely see the overcoming of all the new stuff in how much more we’re being lucky enough to have and to experience and we think about the younger kids as well. It’s going to be amazing for them to have all this stuff and to be able to experience Harvard in a different way but still have the love and the connections and the family bond and stuff.
Corey Tafoya: Yeah, that’s cool. Well, even the always we were walking down the hallway, I see your uncle. [inaudible 00:26:15] I was like, wow, I would’ve never experienced that. That’s a pretty neat thing. Let’s talk about your future a little bit. You were telling me some exciting things about … It’s probably not all a hundred percent finalized, but you’ve got some pretty ambitious ideas for next year. I want you to let everyone know some of the things you’re thinking about.
Desiree Brady: It is not finalized yet, but I’m hoping to go and visit the college soon to get some questions answered and to have an overnight stay. But I’ve recently been accepted to Lake Forest College. It’s a liberal arts school in Lake Forest, Illinois. It’s about 30 miles away from Chicago and it’s a small school. And being from Harvard I knew I wanted to stay small. Just the feeling from here, I wanted to transfer over into my college experience, but I’ve been offered a deal scholarship wise. I have made my connections and network to hopefully get that internship at the Bears and to also just make connections in general with people in the surrounding area. And I hope to go into college administration prior or after, not prior, after being at that college and maybe even work my way into working at the specific college. I’m still working on my plan to get to my career goal, but I’m hoping that I can at least maybe get an internship within the administration office or to talk to other role models and mentors for myself to get there.
Corey Tafoya: So you met someone who has become or you’re hoping to kind of develop a relationship with as a mentor and this all happened on your tour, your first tour? it just kind of came to you, this epiphany?
Desiree Brady: Yeah, so-
Corey Tafoya: How’d that happen? That sounds really fascinating.
Desiree Brady: I know. And this is all been crazy to me because like Lake Forest was one of the first colleges that popped up when I started researching and I was like, eh, I don’t know about that. I never heard of it. I don’t really know what to expect. It’s kind of a wealthy area too, which I’m not really used to. But then I went through some other college research. I completely disregarded the idea and then continuing my college research, I mean that’s all you can really do is keep researching. But I came back to Lake Forest and there was a college visit that was next weekend and I was like, you know what? I’m going to go. And I was like, “Mom, we got to get in the car, let’s go.” And so we took the drive down there and I had an interview with one of the assistant admission directors and me and her connected to a connection that I’ve never felt with a stranger before.
Corey Tafoya: Right.
Desiree Brady: And yeah, so she just became my role model. And in that 30 seconds I looked up to her and it did not take long. And so now I’m going back and we’re going to see what happens.
Corey Tafoya: They always say that you find yourself connected, you just know when it’s right. And I can tell just by the sparkle in your eye when you’re talking about it, you found that there and that’s what we hope everyone has, no matter what they decide to do. And that’s an exciting thing, to realize that what we’re doing is kind of helping you. And we talked a little bit today too. You did a lot of writing during the day today. One of the things with AVID is our WICOR strategy and the W in that stands for writing. You actually did a fair amount of writing today and when talking to you about what homework you have tonight, there’s a little bit more writing to do. I guess that was one of my biggest takeaways is how much writing you actually did. And I was glad to see that because I think writing is one of those skills that you develop and you’re going to need in any type of position you have. It’s going to be valuable for you ad I think we overlook that sometimes. So talk about that a little bit. You felt very comfortable, it looked like, in doing a lot of these writing things you were asked to do today.
Desiree Brady: Yeah, and I’ve definitely learned a lot of that confidence from the English classes that are taught here. Our English department is very good at what they do. They really teach you the skills that you need and they teach you the different styles of writing and they give you options to choose a writing style that you are comfortable with. And that’s where a lot of the confidence comes from. But yeah, anywhere from emails to homework to having to have discussions in class about paragraphs and analysis and all that other stuff. It’s deeply ingrained in us that we express not only what is asked of us out of the assignment, but also our own character and personality and stuff like that. So that’s really fun to do as well.
Corey Tafoya: Well, one of the things we saw in psychology class is people reading their observations, if you will, about a movie that you’d watch and their reactions and I was really impressed by the way people read and expressed what their opinions were on that. And it wasn’t they were just freelancing, they were reading what they’d written the night before and kind of that observation. So I guess I was really happy with that because I think that’s something that really is a way to learn to understand things. That’s one of the WICOR things is, you know, you won’t know what people really know until they write it. So it was good to see. But it’s another way to keep people engaged. And one of my biggest fears as superintendent is that we’re just boring kids to death. I mean, there’s an old expression that a school is where kids go to watch teachers work, meaning that they’re working.
Corey Tafoya: I’m just sitting here, this is so boring, but today wasn’t a boring day for, at least for me anyway. I hope it wasn’t for you.
Desiree Brady: No.
Corey Tafoya: I don’t get the sense that this is a boring year. And one thing that you’ve chosen to do is take a fourth year of math and take a fourth year of science. And some people kind of bail out on that. So you have a dual credit class, your math is a dual credit class.
Desiree Brady: Yeah, along with my English.
Corey Tafoya: So I mean you really are preparing for things and you’ll save you some money hopefully at Lake Forest with those dual credit classes. Right? But you’ve not opted for the senior blow off year, it doesn’t feel like, to me anyway.
Desiree Brady: No, and I knew walking into the year that I couldn’t. And being from Harvard, you know that you can’t because while you’re here, you really want to take full advantage of everything that this high school has to offer you. And that includes the MCC courses and the dual credit classes and the more challenging classes that can prepare you for college. Because once you leave this high school, there’s no going back and there’s no trying to use those resources that you missed out on. So I wanted to make sure that I got everything that needed before I left, and I encourage other kids to do that as well. I’m telling sophomores right now to make sure that they take transition to college math with Ms. Smith. But yeah, so I know that my workload is very heavy and that I kind of knew what I was getting into before walking in and I asked questions to make sure I knew exactly what I was walking into. But the workload definitely pays off and it honestly is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made is to make sure that I kept going. Yeah.
Corey Tafoya: Good for you. One of the things that I told you, or I kind of pre warned you that I had asked you is I asked for some volunteers. Why do you think your teachers recommended you for me to shadow, to get a good sense of what it’s like to be here at Harvard High School?
Desiree Brady: I think that they chose me because, how would you say, I’m involved? I guess you could say. Like I mentioned before, I made sure that I was involved, but I didn’t want to make sure I was involved just for these types of opportunities and stuff. But I think I’m involved because I want to show other students what they can do too. I’ve always told myself like I wanted to show through example, not just by telling and so I pushed myself not just for myself and not just for my future, but for those around me in the younger classmen and the girls I meet through volleyball and the guys I meet through track, and just everybody. And I think that the teachers kind of see that. I take the lead and I ask questions during class and stuff and I’ll even ask … If I notice someone struggling next to me, I’ll ask a question on what they’re struggling on because they might be too afraid to ask, but they don’t know I’m doing it for them. You know?
Corey Tafoya: Well, I noticed that in the first hour of class with Ms. McKinsey that you were really asking questions to kind of get things going. In the note I wrote to myself is that you’re a real problem solver. Mr. Hobbs says that frequently, is like, don’t just … Anyone can identify a problem, come with solutions and you are really identifying solutions and I wanted you to give like a little workshop for some. Sometimes in my role I feel like people are always saying oh, this is messed up, this is wrong. And I’m like, well, yeah okay, but let’s come with a solution. Let’s figure out how we can fix it. One of my philosophy was always let’s not spend 90 minutes talking about the problem. Let’s spend five talking about the problem and 85 fixing it and that kind of … You seemed to have demonstrated that in your class because you had all kinds of ideas and you were like, “Okay guys, but what are we going to do? Let’s fix it. Let’s get to it. Let’s just not talk about ideas.” You’re doing things. That sounds like a fun class though, where you get to really get out and do things.
Desiree Brady: Yeah. And it definitely takes an independent role too. You have to learn how to be independent on your own.
Corey Tafoya: Right.
Desiree Brady: You get a little bit more freedom, but with that comes great responsibility.
Corey Tafoya: There you go. Spider-Man, right?
Desiree Brady: Yeah, exactly. And we have a constant deadlines and we’re constantly going back and forth with who’s going to do what because it needs get done by this time. And we understand that we’re not just producing stuff for each other, we’re producing stuff for the school and for the community, and what we’re really putting out there matters. And we need to make sure that we get it done to what it needs to be.
Corey Tafoya: Well, you met with eighth graders yesterday.
Desiree Brady: Yes.
Corey Tafoya: What did you tell them that they should know about this? This place, how to be successful?
Desiree Brady: Yeah, so we each had topics of conversations and my specific topic was I had to express to them the importance of good grades freshman year. Yes. So I just kind of talked to them about that and really stressed to them that colleges do look at your first semester and every semester after that and that the difference between the junior high and here is that we can hold you back and you can become ineligible and there’s different expectations that you need to meet here and just those types of differences and stuff. But I think the majority of them were getting it. That’s what my job was and everyone else’s job was to make sure that they were starting to understand and realize what it was.
Corey Tafoya: You also are really busy because you have a job.
Desiree Brady: Yes.
Corey Tafoya: And when we ate lunch today, five of the six kids at the table have a job and the other works for his dad. So everyone really had a job. How much do you work a week?
Desiree Brady: So I do have a seasonal job. So from all months other than winter, pretty much we’re open five days a week and I work almost all five days of those weeks. And I mean it really does overlap with school and my weekend is taken away because I work nights, but this is kind of my off season. So I still work three to four days a week, but the hours are shorter and just because we have less customers coming in. But I really try to utilize my time at work to work on homework and to get anything else that I need done. But when it gets a little bit more up to speed, then it comes a little bit more difficult. But that’s one of the great things about high school is that you can learn how to balance all of that. And now is your time.
Corey Tafoya: There’s a superintendent in the area, PJ Kaposi that says, you know, it’s not really about time management, it’s really about self management, that you just have to manage your own time and prioritize. And as we were talking prior to recording here, you’re like, “Oh, I’ve got this to do tonight and a plan.” And it was nice that you didn’t have to go into work tonight, so you can get that done and might actually be a kid for a little while. Desiree, you took a big risk by letting me shadow you today and tweeting for me all day. I just want to thank you, I had a blast. I didn’t wear a tie today, which was fantastic and I just had a blast hanging out with you, and just learning about that because it really helps keeps me focused. And as you can see by my notebook here, I just made all these notes, three pages worth of things to think about and keep in mind. Just like the food, just how we need to appreciate just that almost everyone that came in the first hour was eating and just the importance of our food program here and just that, that’s something I shouldn’t ever take for granted how important that is. I mean teenagers are always starving, all of them.
Desiree Brady: Yeah, especially with all the athletics and everything else too.
Corey Tafoya: But we had some good pizza today and so that was kind of fun. But thanks Desiree. It was my pleasure. Any parting shots for all of your friends and family and fans that are out there?
Desiree Brady: Just thank you guys for following along and I hope others get the chance to experience this because it was a great eye-opener as well for me and thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this.
Corey Tafoya: Great. Yeah, so you can now subscribe to our podcasts. You can go onto however you’d find your podcasts. I’m always a podcast on the iPhone, but I just searched and found Education Buzz. There was and I hit subscribe and now it will always keep coming up. So we hope as we get more sophisticated with this and get more ideas, we’ll keep going. There’ll be a lot of things, but thanks Desiree. You sure made our second episode a fun one for me to remember, so thanks very much and we’ll catch you next time. In December we anticipate talking to some of the people that are helping us with our facility study, John Mauer and Alison Andrews from World would be our topic about what is this idea of what we’re going to do [inaudible 00:39:44]. Looking forward to that. Thanks very much.
Desiree Brady: Thank you.
Education Buzz – Episode 1 – Transcript
Dr. Tafoya: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Education Buzz podcast. This is the very first podcast in Harvard Community Unit School District 50’s attempt to engage the educational community. We are not simply trying to engage just Harvard, though, even though that’s broadcast or whatever we are calling this thing, it is coming from Harvard. We are hoping that the greater audience for this will be educators all over in Illinois, across the country. A lot of my cohort people in my ASA Academy, I hope, will listen to this. I know today’s guest has a national network that she’s building from her conference she just got back from, and I’ll ask her about that in a little bit, but this title, Education Buzz, so you kind of get the idea of it, is to me both those things. We’re talking education, not just local issues that are important to us here in Harvard but also things that are going on nationally. So it would be interesting whether you live in Wyoming or Louisiana or whatever.
Dr. Tafoya: The other idea is the Buzz, it is very local to us, the hornet being our mascot. We like to work in those things so Education Buzz seems like an appropriate thing. Welcome to our very first effort to do this, and what we’ll always do. This is Corey Tafoya. I’ll introduce myself. I am the superintendent here in Harvard District 50, and this is my brainchild I guess. I am a big podcast fan and love driving and listening to other people’s ideas and thoughts and engaging in that forum.
Dr. Tafoya: I want to thank Guy Clark, our director of community relations and communication because he has really done a good job with kind of figuring this out and very open to ideas of how we can engage our community, and so this is his. But today is all about our very first guest, and she is a local talent, a local girl, Dr. Vicki Larson, is our assistant superintendent in Harvard District 50. Vicki has a history in education locally. I think she knows nearly everyone in McHenry County on the education scene. Growing up in Crystal Lake and working in Woodstock, and down here in Harvard she kind of follows that Highway 14 pipeline just like I seem to have for my career, but Dr. Larson, welcome to the very first. Do you feel very special that you’re the very first guest?
Dr. Larson: Oh, I feel special every day working with you, Dr. Tafoya.
Dr. Tafoya: Oh, good. Okay, well it always is hard to invite people on these because I know it raises everyone’s anxiety. So thanks for being a good guinea pig. But today, the reason we invited Dr. Larson to join us, because one of the things I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about is the idea of filling all of our open positions in our school district. In every school district, you have positions from superintendent to teacher to a library aide to lunchroom to recess. I don’t think people really understand just the magnitude of what a school district does, and many communities like ours, Harvard has about 10,000 people, and we are one of the biggest employers in the entire city.
Dr. Tafoya: The health of the economy and the school district is often, many times, tied to the personnel, the quality people we’re attracting. There’s been a lot of publicity, in Illinois especially, about the teacher shortage, and that’s our topic for the day, the teacher shortage. We’re note even going to say the Illinois because I don’t think it’s exactly just an Illinois thing, but the reason Dr. Larson is such in a good position to talk about that is because she handles much of our HR responsibilities, and she is not just the assistant superintendent of HR as she was accidentally introduced one time. She has a lot of academic responsibilities, but she’s really dived headlong into our HR, and so we thought she would be the great, good first guest and that.
Dr. Tafoya: Vicki, why don’t you just let everyone know a little bit more about you. Kind of give some idea of what your background is.
Dr. Larson: Well, you kind of gave a quick background, but I was born and raised in Crystal Lake, and so I attended Crystal Lake School District. My first teaching experience was in McHenry School District 15 where I taught and became an administrator, and ended up at a principal at an elementary school there. Then I moved my career to Woodstock District 200 where I spent 10 years as an administrator, and this is my second year in Harvard as the assistant superintendent. So very excited.
Dr. Tafoya: Now, it is very appropriate today because just a few minutes ago, we’re talking about this educator, teacher shortage. It’s probably not even just teacher shortage, it’s educator in general because we know that the number of applicants for all positions really is much lower. Tell everyone in the audience what we’re doing downstairs because it’s kind of like a perfect day to be talking about this.
Dr. Larson: Yeah, literally just came upstairs from our job fair. We were hosting a on the site job fair, so this morning from 10:00-1:00 we had about 20 candidates come in and have on the spot interviews. They brought their resume. They spoke with some of our administrators, and we’ll be following up pretty quickly with many of them in terms of the positions, and that range, like you said, it’s not just teachers. We have custodians, subs, classroom aides, lunch recess aides, lots of positions to fill.
Dr. Tafoya: The fascinating part of that is that when you host an event like that, you never know who’s going to show up, and we had a really surprisingly good turnout. I didn’t know what to expect, really. Maybe you had an idea of what you expected. There were a lot of people down there.
Dr. Larson: I was just going to be excited if one person came. We were setting up, and we were, “How many people do you think? How many things should we have ready in terms of pens and computers to fill out the application and tables for interviewing?” I think that it really exceeded our expectations for the morning. We still have an evening session tonight, and then I anticipate that’ll be higher than today.
Dr. Tafoya: And it’s kind of one of those things in what you would definitely call a competitive area that whenever you share your ideas like this, there’s the risk like, “Okay, then maybe someone steals our idea and takes …” But we know in education that we beg, borrow, and steal everyone’s ideas. It’s not really that we’re competitive, that we’re trying to help teachers understand, “You don’t have to be competitive. If you’ve got a really good lesson plan, share it because the kids are going to benefit,” and we know that in our world when we have a good idea, sharing it makes sense because how many different ideas have we stolen basically from other people?
Dr. Larson: Yeah.
Dr. Tafoya: So we want to make sure that maybe this is a contribution in the educational field that are out there facing the same dilemmas we are. One of the things, Vicki, that I think everyone should understand is last year, in your first year here, my goal for you was like, “Let’s really get a hold of this HR realm,” because we didn’t really have an administrator specifically really kind of in charge of that. I was doing a lot of that, and it was kind of bits and pieces of everyone. Why don’t you just fill everyone in, like some of the things that we did last year in the district? And when I say we, it’s mostly you is the [crosstalk 00:07:26].
Dr. Larson: The team.
Dr. Tafoya: The team, and there is a nice team that you’ve developed, but let me just talk about some of the things that were accomplished last year. Because I think if you looked at our organization, one of the things that probably made the most advancement last year was in the area of HR and really the profound growth help us to fill spots more so than we had the year before, and even with that we can’t fill as many as we’d like to right away. What are some things that we did last year in the district that people might be curious to know?
Dr. Larson: I think kind of going back to that whole sharing thing first. Recently when I was at an ASPA conference with lots of HR professionals, we talk about that. We’re all in a shortage with teachers and substitutes, and we’re all sharing ideas, and it’s okay to share because we’re not-
Dr. Tafoya: Right.
Dr. Larson: We are in competition, but not always because of regions and areas. So it is beneficial to share out those ideas. But last year, when I kind of reflect on the beginning of last year when we started, we still had buildings with significant openings and trying to fill those and really kind of listening to the building leaders and asking why do we think that that was happening. One of the biggest things is we probably started hiring too late.
Dr. Larson: So our biggest goal that we did for this year was kind of creating that staffing needs plan early, and we had our first meeting like last week about that. When we had our job postings out in February, many school districts around us said, “Wow, you guys got those out really early.”
Dr. Tafoya: Yeah, and we really have to, I think, stop for a moment and thank the board for that because we really didn’t have to explain to the board why we were doing things so much because districts depend on the board for authorization of whatever staffing increases you did, and so that was new for the district, and I think principals looked at us a little crazy like, “That’s really early. Do you realize,” like for high schools, “you’re going to have to ask kids to sign up for next year’s classes in November and December? That’s weird,” but it’s really necessary so that we can go out and attract the very best early in the process, you’re right.
Dr. Larson: Yeah, because we had our first set of interviews for all levels the first week in March. And so with our job descriptions and openings getting out in February, hitting the college job fairs at the end of February, beginning of March, we were able to have a really good candidate pool to start interviewing and hiring. We went to our board meeting in March with a significant amount of recommendations to hire.
Dr. Tafoya: Yeah, and that has made such a difference. Because I think you mentioned to me earlier that some of the people we hired very early on in the process are some of the people having the most success.
Dr. Larson: Absolutely.
Dr. Tafoya: We know that that talent pool, over time you would get a little bit more worried about the candidates you hire later on in the process for whatever reason they’re not hired. Maybe that’s their circumstances, but maybe they just haven’t been able to get other jobs. So we have been very early focused on this, and that remains so. That was a success.
Dr. Larson: I think one of the keys, I think in talking with administrators last year, are building leaders concerned about hiring too soon that there’s this lag of, “Okay, we’ve hired this teacher in March, and they’re really not starting in our district until August. So what are we going to do?” And so working together to kind of create like, “What can we do weekly for our new hire so they stay connected to us?” Is it sending them an email or sending them a note or getting them something for their building so they start to feel part of our community and our team, and they’re ready to start the year in August.
Dr. Tafoya: That was a really fascinating thing to share with our principals too is once you hire someone, what’s that ongoing recruiting? Even though they’re board approved and they’ve signed a contract, how do you continue to recruit them? Actually, I learned that lesson. A little known fact about me is that I was a college soccer coach at Cornell College for three years in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Shout out to the Rams. It was really a great experience. I was the men’s soccer coach there, and what I learned is that once someone put down their housing deposit, initially I thought it’s done, and I just kind of moved on as the only coach. I was everything. So recruiter, head coach, bus driver, everything.
Dr. Tafoya: I just kind of stopped talking to some of them, and then I lost, I still remember his name, David [Manrique 00:11:48] if you’re out there I still wish you would have gone to Cornell College because he was really into it, but then someone else just swooped in, and he found a better fit, and I didn’t stay in touch with him. And so I think that’s an important piece is how do you engage those people, and we did some cool things like as simple as t-shirts or getting them a login to the team drive of their grade level team or whatever, and I thought that was exciting to see that. Some of the new teachers said, “You know, I really felt tied to something,” and that’s what we’re hoping to do.
Dr. Larson: And some I know specifically at Jefferson Elementary, they did like a Skype-in with a teacher, right, like, “We’re having a team meeting. Do you want to Skype in with us so you can meet all of us?”
Dr. Tafoya: Right.
Dr. Larson: So I just think little ways of making people feel engaged and building that relationship because I think when we retain, we’re recruiting, and then that retainment is now the number one thing. Once we’ve recruited them, how do we retain them? Research shows and people say it’s all about that relationship that we’re building with people.
Dr. Tafoya: Some of the things out there, people are talking about this and trying to identify this issue that we’re talking about today. Is it a teacher shortage, or is it just that? We’ve seen, and we each I think personally know, educators that just got out of the business. I am thinking of one that is local, and she was a teacher for a while, and she just said, “The lack of support and some of parents issues I had, and the burnout of just dealing with situation … I couldn’t do it anymore,” and she found a job related to education, and she’s now totally out of the business. She was a really fine music teacher, and those are the compounding things.
Dr. Tafoya: There’s a stat that I heard at a conference in Springfield, the state superintendent conference, and the state superintendent, Dr. Carmen Ayala, said, “Currently compared to just 2010,” just nine years ago, “that there’s 53% less candidates coming out of the Illinois university pipeline.” And so when you think about people abandoning the profession, if you will, combined with less people, it’s really alarming on why districts like ours are trying to be very creative with going after the candidates as aggressively as they can.
Dr. Larson: You have to wonder sometimes specific reasons why that’s happening, and sometimes people say, “Is it because of how the public is viewing teachers and educators?” With higher standards for testing, teachers are often kind of beat up in the public eye for various reasons. You have to take a look at that and say, “Is that a profession that I want to go into where I’m constantly in the public eye and being ridiculed or criticized?”
Dr. Tafoya: Blamed for the TRS situation or whatever.
Dr. Larson: Right, yeah. And I think about that as being an educator my whole life and having two kids of my own and thinking, “Oh, do you guys want to be teachers?”
Dr. Larson: And they look at me and say, “Heck no. We see some of the things that can cause stress and burnout,” or how people talk about teachers to others and just sometimes it’s in a disrespectful way and really our profession isn’t elevated at all times.
Dr. Tafoya: I guess that’s something I really spend a lot of time thinking about is just the future of education is how do we continue to attract people. Because if you’re at a Halloween party and you know in education you’re outside of the business, just ask an educator, if you have kids, and like you Vicki I have kids too, and it’s a hard question to consider. Would you encourage them to go into education?
Dr. Larson: Right.
Dr. Tafoya: And my kids, like yours, seeing the things that I go through, not with any details, but they watch, and they know what your parents are doing and going through. They know what that job looks like, and sometimes it’s not easy.
Dr. Larson: Right.
Dr. Tafoya: That’s a concern is who is encouraging our educators who know the job encouraging their own kids to go into the profession. Sometimes the answer’s no.
Dr. Larson: Yeah, depends on what day you catch me on.
Dr. Tafoya: Right, exactly. It’s a good day. Let’s try and figure out, when someone decides they’re leaving our profession, is that a temporary thing? Is that just a one year, “I just need a year off,” or do you think people are staying out of it altogether and they’re done?
Dr. Larson: The people I’ve come across, they don’t come back. I think some of it is they miss … I am friends with a few people who have left the profession, and they say, “I really miss the kids and the teaching. Everything else around it, I don’t miss.” And so how do we help our current teachers with everything around it? We love the teaching and that autonomy of having the ability to engage students and see them grow, but some of the other things that weigh upon us, how do we help support our staff in that?
Dr. Tafoya: What can we as administrators do, not only on a macro, big level, but what can we do locally to support our staff so that they feel engaged and empowered to have a voice in their future? Because I think that’s part of it is sometimes people feel like they don’t have a voice in this, and one thing we know about the younger teachers we hire, millennials, that they want to have some voice in what’s going on. They want to feel a part of a bigger cause. They want to feel they’re a part of something noble, if you will.
Dr. Tafoya: Certainly we know in education we have that ability to really provide this noble calling of what we should be doing, and that’s I guess what concerns me so much is that if that’s slipping away, how are we going to attract people to this profession? Because if you look at some of the research of places like Finland where only the best of their university students get into the education department, and not surprisingly they’re performing incredibly well on all of the testing that are done internationally. It’s because they take that cream right off the top and put them into education. You can talk, is that salary, or what is it that [crosstalk 00:18:00].
Dr. Larson: They talk a lot about the autonomy, right?
Dr. Tafoya: Right.
Dr. Larson: That the teacher really has a lot of ownership over what’s happening in the classroom. Really interest based learning and teaching, and I think that … There are things that have to happen in schools, right? We know we don’t really have control over standardized testing, but we can control how our teachers are valued, and their input, and how they’re in control of things instead of doing things to them, how do we do things with them and have them more in the leadership role than they are?
Dr. Tafoya: Right, right. But there is no doubt that the education profession, and maybe I sound like an old guy, “get off my yard,” but sometimes I think our jobs are harder than when I started. I mean, maybe because I’m in a different role. I started off as a classroom Spanish teacher, and maybe it was like this and it’s been a constant, and I just haven’t been in the position to notice, but it does seem like the job is harder, and as you look at the last year in the Illinois state legislature, how many different laws did they pass that affected education? It was like an ungodly amount.
Dr. Larson: Yeah, I mean 600 were signed.
Dr. Tafoya: Were signed, and 200-some maybe were related to educate.
Dr. Larson: Yeah.
Dr. Tafoya: So just the demands that are being put upon us and the way things are change. We heard our tech director talk this morning about all these technology, every time we have a contract with MAP or any of our testing, we have to divulge what’s the data, and we have put that [inaudible 00:19:33]. Those are extra things. So it just feels like it’s added on. I know we try and do that with our teachers is say, “What can we take off the plate?” But it’s not always that easy.
Dr. Larson: Well, it’s hard to define or decide what comes off, right? I always say we don’t really have plates anymore, we have these platters that are kind of overflowing. Because it’s really hard to take off things when either kids are really engaged in it, teachers really believe in it, and we put on all of these other things. It’s really hard to just determine what is not necessary.
Dr. Tafoya: Now, like many districts our district is looking really closely at professional learning communities and PLCs. I really think that that work is really essential to teachers having that autonomy, and that voice, and that ability to kind of have some decision making flexibility and autonomy in their own world. Have you seen that in other places, or do you think that’s part of … What are other districts, maybe at your conference you were at, talking about ways to keep teachers feeling like they are in charge of their room, at least?
Dr. Larson: PLCs is huge. I think making sure that our teachers have that undivided time, and I think that’s where a lot of school districts, and sometimes I think we do also, struggle in finding that time where people are interrupted. However, we can define that more so that teachers aren’t pulled for this reason or that reason, or there’s a kid issue, and we’ve got to addressed that. Because the minute our whole team’s not there, we kind of lose that purpose. That time is spent a lot about talking about the learning of students, and that’s what we want to focus on.
Dr. Tafoya: Right. We’ve tried to be very intentional about not, every time we go to a conference, come back with eight new ideas and start something new because I think that’s part of the burnout too is the reform fatigue that sets in on teachers. Like, “This too shall pass. Don’t worry. We’ll get a new superintendent, or we’ll get a new principal, we’ll get a new whatever, and we can ride this out.” Rather than what PLCs inspires to be is something that’s built by teachers for teachers and really allows them to kind of be encouraged to share that great lesson plan, not hide it and say, “Oo, I’m going to whip this out when I have an evaluation just because it’s really good I know.”
Dr. Larson: Yeah, and I think that, and I’m trying to think of the speaker in PLC land that said this, but PLC’s a way of being, and it’s not something that we do. Like, we really have to stay away from saying, “Oh, we’re doing our PLC now.” PLC is a way of being collaborative, being engaged with our colleagues, sharing, questioning, and developing. It’s not something that we do.
Dr. Tafoya: The other thing that I think we should acknowledge, and we would do a pretty poor job in talking about this topic is we didn’t raise the statewide issue of retirement because that seems to be something that comes up. We know that now, under the new TRS retirement tiers both tier one and tier two, that if you really look at what those differences are, it is pretty easy to do outside of our circles to blame the teachers themselves for the debt that is obvious in the TRS pipeline.
Dr. Tafoya: I keep saying they didn’t create it, number one. Number two, they didn’t create it over night so how can we do this? But if you look at some of the requirements of what a tier two teacher, and that means that you’re retiring at a later age, more years of service, and that’s intended obviously to keep more employees in the pipeline. I’ve heard people say that’s a main reason I wouldn’t encourage my kids. So if you heard that too, and that’s significant. Am I off base on that?
Dr. Larson: No, I think that is a concern, especially … Well, I just know a lot of retirement information in Illinois since we work here, but people saying they don’t want to be teaching in Illinois is because of the retirement and their fear of forever working.
Dr. Tafoya: Yep, right.
Dr. Larson: Or, “When I do retire, is my retirement really going to be there for me?” And so I think those are-
Dr. Tafoya: That uncertainty.
Dr. Larson: Those are things that I think are consequences of why we have such short staffing issues.
Dr. Tafoya: Absolutely.
Dr. Larson: Because people are concerned about the retirement.
Dr. Tafoya: And even for administrators or future assistant superintendents and superintendent, if they were in tier two, the idea that their potential salary would be capped.
Dr. Larson: Right.
Dr. Tafoya: Or their potential earnings would be kept and not recognized. One thing we certainly know about our state is we are so vast in the different experiences. We have very rural areas. We have a fluent district, and those experiences are so different. [inaudible 00:24:24] the salaries are quite different, and their communities are quite different. So to have one rule to say, “We’re all capped at this,” is hard.
Dr. Larson: Yeah. I think people feel unfair which is going to cause people to head to different districts just like you say, because of the vast salary difference in areas. Which can cause why some of rural districts are having more difficulty. A lot of people, when we looking at data, it’s showing rural districts and our low poverty schools are really struggling to retain teachers.
Dr. Tafoya: And one thing that makes it a little more challenging even for us here in Harvard is that we have a thriving and very successful dual language program. That is something we cherish. We are very, very proud of it. It’s absolutely one of the reasons that people, I think, stay in our district and see, “Hey, I’m part of this dual language program.” So that’s a complication when you also have to find, for example, we’ve know that we’ve been short at our junior high with a dual language science position. Now we’re short two teachers, even though we were looking to hire. That’s cumbersome in so many ways for places like us that are trying to have unique programs. We still haven’t found a building trades teacher. So if anyone’s listening to this and knows someone that has a building trades background and a four year degree and-
Dr. Larson: Or able to get the provisional license with 8,000 hours of experience.
Dr. Tafoya: Come let us know. [inaudible 00:25:52] Dr. Larson, and she’s easy to find on Twitter @drvicki …
Dr. Larson: @drvickilarson.
Dr. Tafoya: @drvickilarson. Those are real issues that we’re facing right now. How many open positions do we have in the district right now?
Dr. Larson: We have 19 combined with certified and non-certified. Hopefully, though, after today’s job fair, that’s going to significantly lessen. And just really focusing on some create ways of reaching our December graduates in areas close to us.
Dr. Tafoya: And that was one thing that I had heard at the Springfield conference, that there’s some districts actively recruiting juniors in the education pipeline and at the university saying, “We’re offering you employment and contract,” and they hadn’t even started student teaching. They may be even, you know, six, twelve months away from student teaching, and they’re already contracted. Which for education is really weird. I think we probably were in the same way finished our undergrad stuff, and then got your paper resume, sent away a whole bunch of them and hope something came back, and that world is just so far gone.
Dr. Tafoya: Let’s give an example. When you were a principal first starting and you would have an open second grade monolingual position-
Dr. Larson: Hundreds of applicants. We would have to sit there … I remember it. I would be like, “Okay, how do we even begin to look at this?” That was even prior to having such online systems where you could filter out. I mean, you were looking at hard copy applications and resumes. Now, we struggle to get five decent certified applicants.
Dr. Tafoya: I mean, from hundreds down to five. I mean, we did have some monolingual positions where we had candidates, but it’s hard. That to me is one of those canary in the coalmine moments that like, “Wow, we’ve got a really serious problem.” What you heard in New Orleans at your conferences, this is not just an Illinois thing. It’s not just a Harvard thing.
Dr. Larson: Oh, [crosstalk 00:27:52].
Dr. Tafoya: Because sometimes I remind some of our teachers that are talking about some of the things that are difficult is we’re really working on it, but don’t think that’s just going on with us. That’s why it’s good. I like to be active in some national organizations, and it just kind of gives you some reassurance it’s just not us here, locally.
Dr. Larson: Yeah, it did make me feel better.
Dr. Tafoya: All right.
Dr. Larson: And even talking about there’s a teacher shortage, there’s also a substitute shortage across everywhere, and it was interesting to talk with administrators in other states that have different licensure requirements, and in other states a substitute, they don’t need anything except a high school diploma, and they’re still short.
Dr. Tafoya: Isn’t that remarkable?
Dr. Larson: Yeah, and so with very limited experience needed, still struggling to fill those roles.
Dr. Tafoya: Do you think that, you know we’re in a very strong economic period right now. They always say that when the economy is good that you have a shortage of subs, and when it’s bad and people lose their jobs, they kind of come back. That might be the case, again, with this because we are in better times, but I think it transfers beyond that. That was one thing … You did a presentation at this national conference about what we did to find subs. It was a really big thing.
Dr. Tafoya: So anybody listening that wants to know about that, I think that would be something good to look into, and contact Dr. Larson because that, Operation Substitute as you called it, was really a huge success.
Dr. Larson: It was.
Dr. Tafoya: Now, with a few exceptions we’re pretty well staffed. In that area, at least.
Dr. Larson: Yeah, absolutely. It goes back to what we talk about with sustaining our teachers and our employees in the district, it’s about relationships and adding value to them as part of our community.
Dr. Tafoya: And we’re trying to look into that too to do a better job explaining to our staff and create some documentation about why we stay in Harvard just so that people understand that we’re a district that offers nice loan forgiveness for those students. So if you’re an Illinois state student going to see Dr. Larson, is it October 28th?
Dr. Larson: What is next Tuesday?
Dr. Tafoya: 26th?
Dr. Larson: 20 …
Dr. Tafoya: I think it’s the 28th. Yeah, because it’s just a few days before Halloween.
Dr. Larson: Yeah.
Dr. Tafoya: We’ll be down on campus, Illinois State, trying to find people, and I guess that’s part of this aggressive approach that we’re trying to have is find people so they’ll be there. Now, I heard one person ask me, and it was a person inside education, who wasn’t worried about this at all. They said, “With personalized learning, we’re not going to need as many teachers.” I struggled with that idea because I think I understood what he was trying to say is that there’s a big move in our industry to personalize learning, which is good, but that idea is that they are more independent, they kind of know what they want to do, and I actually tell people this story about my own daughter asking … I asked her, “Would you rather have the things you had to learn in geometry and just you could research any YouTube video you want and learn about those things, or would you rather have a teacher?”
Dr. Tafoya: She said, “I prefer to have it with the YouTube videos.” That was kind of weird to me, and I don’t know what that means, but I’ve heard people say, “I don’t think we’re going to need as many teachers,” but I guess I disagree with that idea because I think the idea of teaching, well it’s especially learning, happens through the facilitation of a trained teacher that can [inaudible 00:31:23]. I think maybe Celia’s a little bit unique in that that she’s pretty motivated and might find her way. I don’t know if every kid is like that.
Dr. Larson: Yeah, I don’t think every … No. I think I’m on your side. I disagree with that because when I think about personalized learning, I actually think we need more staff because I think kids enjoy the video learning and things like that, but creating more of a flipped classroom atmosphere where they can do some of that building background knowledge, and then really the teacher facilitating their learning in a differentiated way, you need more people to facilitate individualized learning versus less. That’s my view.
Dr. Larson: Otherwise, you are now, again, demoralizing our profession. That’s saying, “Any yahoo on the web,” not yahoo, but any … You know.
Dr. Tafoya: Untrained, unlicensed, [crosstalk 00:32:21].
Dr. Larson: Yes, yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Tafoya: Just make a YouTube video and assume-
Dr. Larson: Like, read Wikipedia, and we’re all good to go, right?
Dr. Tafoya: Right, exactly. I want to give a shoutout to my colleague Dr. Jen [Kelsall 00:32:30] who is working with others in the Illinois Personal Learning Network, and I’m really fascinated to follow their work. Some of the things that she is doing in her district with the choice given to students about how they attain things and finding a passion project and working on it for a whole semester is really fascinating. So I think we’ll do that, but I do think that our role still exists in that. I think probably most especially at our younger grades where that care …
Dr. Tafoya: I was with a group of superintendents on Monday and Tuesday, and we continued to talk about that. Jim Gay who is the superintendent in Glenbard said, “You know, I’ve just told my people we have to care about SEL before we talk about academics,” and as you know high school are almost the last people to care first about kids, and then their content area, chemistry is why we’re all here, right everyone? Or yeah, that’s why what we have to focus on is the needs of our kids, and then the learning kind of comes as we facilitate that secondarily because it’s a different world.
Dr. Larson: Yeah. Well, and I think we always have to keep focus that any type of technology or personalized learning is to enhance what the teacher is doing and the student’s learning.
Dr. Tafoya: Sure.
Dr. Larson: Right, and it’s not to replace either one of those things.
Dr. Tafoya: No, that’s no doubt. What if this doesn’t get fixed, our teacher shortage? What will happen? Because right now we know the effort that we are doing here locally just to scramble and find people, but there was a study that was done in Illinois that talked about how many different, open jobs there were, and I think we in the Chicagoland area don’t have this as much as some of our colleagues downstate do.
Dr. Tafoya: What if your kid doesn’t have a first grade teacher and has a sub the entire year? What if you have, like we have at our junior high right now, where we have a sub dual language science teacher? Maybe they’re getting a little bit of the language, but it’s not the same as a full teacher. What’s the consequence if year after year your child has a sub or it’s an empty classroom? I mean, just play that out.
Dr. Larson: The natural consequence, right, if we have underqualified people in our classroom teaching students, the natural consequences are students aren’t going to learn. Right? It was interesting, I read an article last night that said we need to stop calling it a teacher shortage because we just have to come up with a different way to approach the issue.
Dr. Tafoya: Right.
Dr. Larson: When often people say, “It’s a teacher shortage. This is the problem,” and that’s the excuse that we’re giving to people, we can’t help it we’re short on teachers. Well what are we going to do about it? And I think that is something, in Harvard, that we’re really working on. Addressing the recruiting process, addressing how are we going to sustain-
Dr. Tafoya: No doubt.
Dr. Larson: … and onboard and mentor, and really create those relationships in the district with teachers. I think we just have to continue to build on that and really elevate and lift up the profession and how much we value everyone in it.
Dr. Tafoya: So in LGMC fashion, that’s our call to action I guess for the end of this podcast. Maybe that’s a good way to end all of our podcasts is what’s the call to action, is to elevate the profession by-
Dr. Larson: Absolutely.
Dr. Tafoya: … each doing that. And one thing that I had to do a little for you, maybe it was for Leadership Greater McHenry, I had to do a profile, and one of those adjectives I chose about you is just optimistic and energized, and I think that’s why, as you just described it, we are in charge of a lot of this, and sitting there playing the victim of this “teacher shortage” isn’t going to solve anything locally.
Dr. Larson: Right.
Dr. Tafoya: I mean, we can have a voice nationally and with our state government about appreciating all that Illinois is doing. You know, some of the things they’re doing to ease the licensure restrictions that we face that started some of this, perhaps, is appreciated, and we do think that that’s something good, but I really want to just mention to everyone listening that just your energy in this is making a big difference here, and if you know anyone that’s interested in coming in our world, get a hold of us. We’re not hard to find.
Dr. Larson: No, absolutely not.
Dr. Tafoya: Come work with us, Harvard rising, which I stole from my friend and my ESA cohort, but we do feel good about where we’re going, and it all happens with getting great people, keeping them, train them, making them feel appreciated.
Dr. Larson: Yep, absolutely.
Dr. Tafoya: Well my original idea for this Education Buzz podcast was called A Face For Radio, which my dad always told me that I had, and so we decided to go with Education Buzz anyway, but this has been a good start to what I hope is something that … we’ll learn how to let you subscribe, or we’ll push these out in someway, and just a good chance to talk about what’s going on in education and letting people know how we’re thinking in Harvard, and hope this builds network. You can always get a hold of Vicki @drvickilarson, and I’m @drcoreytafoya. We hope to engage with you and expand our professional learning networks.
Dr. Larson: Absolutely.
Dr. Tafoya: Which is important, and thanks for giving us a test run. Thanks to Guy Clark for making the technology side because neither of us know how in the world this works beyond just-
Dr. Larson: No. I’m just making sure I’m six inches from the microphone.
Dr. Tafoya: You’ve done a great job of that, and thanks everyone for joining us, and we’ll probably try and do these once a month. We look forward to talking at you next time. Thank you.
Dr. Larson: Okay, bye.