Sunday, March 24, 2013

NIC expands to 11

The North Iowa Conference (NIC) has been undergoing some changes lately.  Since adding North Union and Algona Bishop Garrigan as members recently, other districts have inquired, requested to join, and/or met with various members of the NIC.  During that process, one district had some very in-depth and obviously emotional discussions in their community.  Eagle Grove, a district on the  southwestern edge of the NIC, voted 3-2 at the board of education to leave the North Central Conference (NCC) starting in the fall of the 2014-2015 school year.

As one would expect, it is not easy to leave a conference such as the NCC with their strong history of success and doing good things for students.  There is also a prestige that is held in the NCC as a perennial power, and with that comes a bit of swagger and pride that is relinquished.  When Bishop Garrigan opted to leave the NCC and join the NIC, it was based on competitiveness, location, and a generally shared belief across the stakeholders that it was a good move.  For North Union, the simple fact was their conference (the Cornbelt) was shrinking due to mergers to a point of disbanding.  With Eagle Grove, the ties appear to still be very strong with the NCC and making that determination was a little more difficult.

The belief that Eagle Grove has a more level playing field is one I personally share, but not all do.  Over time, it truly is my belief that you will find like sized schools will be more competitive than those with differing populations.  In short, they fit into the general size of the NIC better than the NCC.  In conversations with their leadership and even some of the community, it is apparent that Eagle Grove is also looking to expand and support areas such as the performing arts, fine arts, academic competitions, and other non-athletic opportunities for students.  That belief also indicates a very good fit into the NIC.  As for travel, Eagle Grove leaves the generally central position of the NCC to a clearly disadvantaged location in the NIC.  Given the distance of travel between the larger schools and communities of the NCC, the change is not as dramatic as I had expected.

Ultimately the community came together, had the conversations, and made a decision.  Either way, it would have been my pleasure to support what they determined to be best for Eagle Grove.  As a lot is still remaining to be changed, I wish Eagle Grove, North Union, and Bishop Garrigan the best of transitions.  I hope you like it here.  Welcome to the NIC.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Growth in Shrinking Times

The North Iowa Conference (NIC) has lately been a leader in foward thinking.  With schools shrinking and merging, the NIC leaders have had the forethought to expand the conference or at least facilitate that growth.  In an approach of transparency and collaboration, the NIC has made affiliation available to schools that will benefit from a change of membership.  The schools of Belmond-Klemme, Garner-Hayfield-Ventura, Forest City, Lake Mills, Mason City Newman, North Iowa, Osage, and West Hancock have opened the doors successfully to North Union and Algona Bishop Garrigan.  Both schools have actively joined in the partnership which is the North Iowa Conference.  Additionally other schools have had similar conversations, including the entire Cornbowl Conference.  Collectively the Cornbowl Conference notified the NIC that complete merging of the conferences is not the current direction, but that future conversations are likely.  Although every school that has been involved in these conversations (upward of 20 directly) has an independent perception of what is best for their particular school, the conversation itself has created other conversations that have spun forward and created an impetus for change in thinking.  In the end it is all about serving students, so if the conversation creates that possibility, it is a victory for anyone that has taken the time to sit down and talk. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Letter to the Editor

It has been quite a while since I have posted a blog.  Shame on me, and slap my hand.  I wish it was different, but some scary events in Connecticut caused me to sit down and write again.  The below was also submitted to the local paper who graciously printed it, so I held off on putting it here on Bronco Bits until that paper was released.  Although this post is about a week after I wrote it, the value remains, if for nothing more than my opportunity to write it.

We live in an incomprehensible world.  That fact is not hard to support following the truly horrific events of this past Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  The loss of 26 lives – most of them young, innocent children – is something that we must now confront.  Although it is not sensible or logical to us, it is an inexplicable reality of our existence that these atrocities are possible.  At the Belmond-Klemme Community School District, it is imperative that we are not only aware that these potential threats exist but also that we maintain a preventative attitude and are prepared to move to action when necessary.  The remarkable educators in our buildings – including our teaching and associate staff, our custodial and food service department, and our transportation and leadership teams – all are part of keeping our students safe.  The simple phrase, “Plan for the worst, but hope for the best,” is a quick demonstration of our approach.  Our school has teamed with law enforcement, assessed our buildings and grounds, collaborated with our community, organized emergency provisions, and prepared a Crisis Plan that we want never to enact.  Today our school setting, both locally and nationally, looks much different than it did before the school attack at Columbine High School in April of 1999.  It is frequently less convenient and less accessible.  There are more routines and checks.  Additional procedures and practices are in place.  It is my belief that our community has come to understand these inconveniences and our individuals have adapted to these challenges.  Although we expect that our precautionary measures minimize the risk of many potential threats, we also continue to routinely plan, practice, and evaluate our processes in the event of an emergency.  Much like those individuals at Sandy Hook, our most effective response lies in those individuals within our buildings that care greatly for those around them.  As I feel sadness, horror, and empathy for the families and residents of Newtown, there is also a sense of pride for the educators that provided safety for their students.  Taking care of each other is both preventative and reactionary, and our Belmond-Klemme staff and students understand this and take it to heart.  On behalf of the outstanding educators of our district, I want to thank our community for your continued partnership in providing a quality education in a setting of safety and security for the students we serve.

Marshall Lewis, Superintendent
Belmond-Klemme CSD

Monday, September 3, 2012

Twitter organizer, anyone?

Here is the proof that I've been living under a rock.  I just got up and moving on a twitter account - @SuptMLewis.  Yes, I know that is something that should have happened a long time ago, and I hope that it isn't just a quick flash in the pan for me.  As this "new to me" opportunity emerges, I just wonder how I am going to stay on top of it.  I know that isn't the point, but until it becomes relatively natural to post things (shoutout to Dr. Scott McLoed, who appears to have an ability to post on his blog, twitter, and 7 other places simultaneously - and all with entirely different topics) it will need to be a conscious effort.  My downfall with blogging, facebook, and whatever else is not a lack of enjoying it, but it is a lack of getting things out of the process in general.  Essentially, what can I learn from this is process in a short amount of time or at least cause my interest to be tweaked.  I have used my google account to funnel most of the information, but I don't see where that will even really help me for Twitter.  Wise people out there, give me some advice on how to manage these awesome tools.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


New, new new!!  We all like the new stuff.  Cutting edge tends to catch our attention. 

So as we start a NEW school year with NEW educators and NEW students, it should be an exhilarating experience.  So far it has been just that.  On top of that, let's add:  NEW approaches to curriculum (Core), NEW technology, NEW initiatives, NEW reporting (C-Plan, anyone?) and NEW fill in the blank for you.

Someone stop me before I start selling a NEW mixer or NEW athletic shoes.  The one thing that still concerns me is that while we have all of these NEW things on which to focus, we tend to do so with the same approach with which we have become comfortable.  You do know that "we" tend to teach the way "we" were taught, which tends to be a little bit of a impediment to true progress.

Yes, a short post (some of you are amazed).  That doesn't mean it has to be a short conversation.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How Do YOU Define Success?

Listening to several people talk recently about the successes and failures that they had been experiencing caused me to stop and assess the concept for a moment.  In these conversations, the concept of success was relatively definable based on some objective form.  The concept of money, wins, happiness, possessions, and/or fame are all somewhat tangible concepts that people often use to measure success.  Typically it comes in a comparison with someone else such as "more money" or "more famous" than another person.  What eluded all of these people in the conversations was the fact that each one had their own "bar" set for what is success.  The possessions of one person may seem like a failure, while the next may feel exceedingly successful in amassing the same or similar assets.  That in itself may be the reason that so many of us never seem to "achieve" or reach any level of satisfaction.  When we reach one plateau and feel rewarded or content, we either focus on another area or increase the level of our success in the same area.  For example, one that wants to become a millionaire will find a new status symbol (such as owning a business, finding a spouse, or helping disadvantaged kids) or will increase the definition of success in amassing wealth (such as having 10 Million Dollars). 

It is good to have goals, and I'm not saying we shouldn't, but since our goals don't really satisfy our desire for "more" of everything, maybe it is the path or the methodology that is actually the reward we seek.  Maybe, the meeting of the goal has less significance to our life than the effort, dedication, ethics, and passion put into reaching that goal.  The amassing of money, things, power, etc. may be a way to keep score in our lives, as many do, but is the real victory in the game of life the game itself.  OK, for those that are struggling with my concept here, let me elaborate with an example.

If you know me, you know one of my loves in life is, and always has been, basketball.  I enjoy the game - the strategy, the skill, the finesse, the contact, the force, the speed and power combined, and all that goes with this amazing game that began with a peach basket on a wall.  Another thing that you may know about me is that I'm very competitive - I don't like to lose, I don't like to make mistakes, I don't like to look bad to others or even more to myself.  I like to be "successful" every step of the way, and I'll work hard to make that happen.  So in this basketball analogy - missing a shot, being out of position, or letting someone drive by me to the basket simply frustrates me.  Each of those is a "loss" or a "failure" to me.  As I get older and slower, have less stamina, and can jump only inches for a rebound or to challenge a shot, these "failures" become more frequent.  I have to adjust my play to cover for my lack of athleticism (my mind sees what I should/could do, but my body isn't able to make it happen).  Now all of these are the realities of who I currently am, but none of them are an excuse or reason for not doing my best - sometimes by accommodating in less athletic manner, such as reading a rebound better than I did 15 years ago.  Learning about myself from each play is part of the joy of the game (I see another post coming on a spin-off of the topic here).

Although my prime for playing the game has long since departed, I still very much enjoy getting out on the court.  Not many years ago, I played among a combination of young high school athletes, a few college guys, and some of us that still thought we had "it" for some reason.  Almost everyone who played had greater skill than me, and some were quite passionate, so it was a very competitive venue for me to challenge myself.  I loved it!  Sometimes the four on the court with me won, and sometimes we lost the game to 15.  As we shot freethrows for teams, there were times, I didn't get a chance to fill the team because I missed.  The hardest part of missing that freethrow or losing the previous game was not the fact that I had failed (but I obviously did - the goal was to make the shot or win the game).  The most depressing part was that I didn't have the opportunity to play.  The ultimate goal was to keep ME on the court to enjoy playing the game.  The win was a step in that direction.  Making the freethrow to become a part of the next team was a piece of that puzzle.  Doing things right on the court contributed to the likeliness of keeping me on the court. 

With that analogy, it is easier to see (at least for me) that the ultimate goal of my few hours of open gym basketball wasn't to make a freethrow, win the game, block a shot, make 3 good passes, or any other tangible goal that we would typically set for ourselves.  The goal was to be a part of as much basketball as I could.  In doing so, I also unlocked another key piece of understanding for myself.  I could better appreciate the good play of others and recognize that they too were doing what it took to keep their playing time alive.  Although competitive, it was in a different way.  If I left it all on the court and my team lost, I could live with that much easier than I could deal with losing my opportunity to play because I fell short of doing the things that could help our team.  In other words, the means were more important than the end.

When we define success, maybe it is in those terms that we all have a little bit more to learn.  It's not the money, wins, things, fame, etc. that are the successes in life (or the failures).  True success comes from playing the game and being a contributing player in the life we lead.  Our goals in the process may change by those objective measures, but our approach to meeting those goals can be consistent.  Then, win or lose, we can determine our satisfaction with ourselves based on our own effort.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Final Words to Belmond-Klemme's Class of 2012

The Belmond-Klemme Class of 2012 (which includes my own son) left the school doors just minutes ago.   In the welcome speech, I had the chance to have the last word before they officially completed their high school careers.  This is that speech:

Good afternoon. 

My name is Marshall Lewis, and I am the proud Superintendent of Belmond-Klemme.  It is my opportunity and pleasure to welcome you to today’s celebration of the students we serve…a celebration of the years of classrooms, sports, music, honors, accomplishments, and learning. 

As a community of learners, we formally recognize today the advancement of these young men and women on the basis of their academic success.  We informally recognize today that the pathways of their futures begin to dramatically branch as never before.  Today, Class of 2012, marks the beginning of making your own way…of self-reliance…of independence.

Let me guarantee that somewhere along that way you will find success.  You will find happiness.  And you will find satisfaction.  Let me additionally guarantee that each of you will experience more than these things.  Among some of those experiences, you will find failure, you will find frustration, and you will find grief.  These are additional learning opportunities…chances to look deeply into who you are, to grow even more as a person, and to evaluate the decisions that create the pathway of your life.  Embrace these difficult opportunities … as they are the teachers of your future.  It continues to be our job…the job of those around you today – as your family, friends, and mentors – to prepare you for this and support you along the way.  Rely on that support.  Count on it.

The greatest regret in life is not that we fail in our efforts – it is that we fail to meet our potential.  So, soon to be graduates…don’t sell yourself short.  Set your goals high.  Step up to the challenges of life.  Don’t be timid about your future.  And when you fail in your efforts – fail BIG.  Fail on the grandest scale possible because you pushed yourself to do more than expected.  That is how you eliminate the regret of not meeting your potential, how you strive to meet the challenge, and how you learn to be you.

I wish you all the best in your futures…with Bronco Pride.  Thank you.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Updating Posts: Blogging and Negotiations

Recently I have posted a couple of blogs:  Does This Matter and Negotiations - Yay!

In doing so, this is my opportunity to do a little "followup" on these two topics.

First, I don't know if it matters!  My plan was to post a blog every 3-4 days in April to see if I had any more readers based on the frequency of the posts.  Well, I failed miserably on my end.  I posted 3-4 all month!  So essentially I have no clue whether it would have enhanced anything or not.  For those of you waiting on the edge of your seat for my doctoral data to emerge, I apologize, although I'm pretty sure there is safety in acknowledging there is nobody in that category.

Second, the Belmond-Klemme school and both associations have achieved tentative agreements this past week.  Although there are always difficult moments and it is a very personal and oppositional concept, the outcome of finishing in and of itself is rewarding.  Thanks to all who were involved in the process.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Negotiations - Yay!

True - most people that are actually involved in annual negotiations are not probably kicking up their heels in celebration.  Whether it is in the school system (like I am) or in any other industry, negotiation of contracts does not typically elicit a positive, warm and fuzzy feeling.  Many people envision this conversation as a necessary evil of doing business - a distasteful aspect of the interaction of management and labor.

In all honesty, that is too bad.  What we really have is an opportunity for individuals representing different perspectives to get together and find solutions to what appears to be a problem:  "We want it" vs. "We don't want to give it."  Now, I'm not saying that the process should cause us to get all tingly and happy, because no matter how hard I try to envision that, I just don't see it happening.  I am, however, saying that it makes sense that reasonable people sitting around a table should be able to logically discuss and identify means to come together...if that is truly the goal.  If the goal is to "get as much as we can" or "give as little as we can" it isn't going to work.

With an open mind, I would believe that logically:
  • Labor would like individuals to financially keep up with the cost of living and maybe a little bit more.
  • Management would like to stabilize costs from one year to the next.
  • Labor would prefer to enter each day with an ability for flexibility.
  • Management would choose to have as much time dedicated to productivity as possible.
  • Labor would like to have a sense of security in their jobs continuing.
  • Management typically enjoys the ability to remove those not meeting expectations.
  • Labor is supported when competent and capable individuals are working along side each other.
  • Management weighs the number of competent employees against the level of compensation for each employee.
None of those concepts are (to my personal belief) beyond the scope of logic.  None are without reason.  The only part that becomes difficult is that, as you can see, they normally appear to be in conflict with each other (give and get). 

As a representative of the management side of the discussion, it is actually logical that we approach it in a manner of providing a competitive and attractive salary and benefit package to our employees while protecting the fiscal resources necessary to maintain our viability into the future.  Similarly the terms of the contract should promote security in doing those things necessary to make the job and life of each employee productive.  This includes leaves, procedures, and protocols intended to allow ownership and responsibility of those individuals that comprise the whole organization.  At the same time, it must provide a system to ensure that these trusts are not abused for the gain of one or some at the detriment to others. 

So there are clearly two paths that must be considered when approaching negotiations.  It may be, however, that the two paths are not actually in conflict but parallel in thinking.  It would be my belief that conversations with both management and labor would produce the above results.  Labor would want to provide a good living and work environment for employees, while maintaining the longevity and protection of the organization.  That means an employment that is fair and continuing.  Management would wish to provide the same with the concept of attracting and retaining the highest quality employees while sustaining a viable organization that provides a good or service to its customers.

The concepts are truly not that distant, and if all members of the conversation are able to focus on that aspect of the discussion, it should ultimately result in the positive determination of what is good and best for the organization and the individuals of which it is comprised.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Finding the Roses

It has been my typical effort to find something relatively intellectual or at least conversational for my posts.  After all, my purpose for blogging has been based in a desire to learn from others.  I'm clearly leaving that arena this time, and my post is much more personal and less professional.

Recently, I had the opportunity to golf with one of my children.  We have done this before, and we always have a good time.  This time, however, was exceptional.  Because neither of us is good, we play best shot typically.  Usually we use 80-90 percent of my shots.  This time, it was about 70 percent his.  Essentially, this means he out played me.  In a normal situation, that would have frustrated me as I am very competitive and do not like to do anything less than my best every time.  Although I didn't do badly, he was simply "on" for this round.  Yes, I'm happy for his success, and we scored a + 4 for nine holes...not bad for what is typically a bogey golf team.

All of that said, the key here wasn't the golf.  We simply talked and enjoyed each other as father and son, two guys on a course, or a couple of friends.  With all of the things that seem to be important to us on a daily basis, it is hard to remember to make time for the simple opportunities afforded to us in life.  I'm not saying that what we do every day isn't important because it is.  What I am saying is that we don't consciously take the time to least I don' least not enough.

Stopping to smell the roses is nothing new.  We've been told to do that time and time again.  What I personally have a tough time doing is identifying which roses are the most fragrant.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fiscal Responsibility and Rugby

The Belmond-Klemme Community School District has been working very hard in recent years to make financial progress in stabilizing the future for our schools, educators, and students.  The balance is a difficult one as we strive to provide the best possible experiences for ALL and yet maintain a tight rope on the expenditure line.  Some progress has been noted in certain areas, but we clearly have a long way to go and the road ahead does not appear to flatten, straighten, or smooth.

We will continue to be frugal and conscious in our efforts to provide for our students.  That means that we look at all of the expenses we amass at any time with the filter of "what is best for kids" and make appropriate determinations.  Not always does this mean there is an abundance of support for each decision - whether big or small.  In the last few years, there have been difficult decisions made, and some have come with understandably frustrated responses.  I don't anticipate that changing in the future.  At the same time, what is best for kids (and for the BK community) is that we are able to provide a strong education both now and in the future.

This is truly a battle.  Picture a rugby field with two massive teams engaged in a scrum.  By the way, I know very little about rugby, but I love the word "scrum" and the picture of power and grit that it portrays:

On one side:  student needs, government mandates, building improvements and updates, community performances, local support, the educators, school requirements, cost of living, learning opportunities, and technology advancements.

On the other:  negative cash balance, general declining enrollment, property tax, limited or nonexistent allowable growth, income surtax, unencumbered balance, spending authority, categorical funding, and across the board cuts.

For one team (or concept) to make progress, the other has to give ground. 

While it would be great to be able to provide everything that students want, that flies in direct opposition to the fact that we want to maintain or even lower taxes.  Now throw in the whole concept of Iowa's limitation on spending based on the number of students (which was originally effectively created as a method to be more equitable between districts of varying financial resources), and even the concept of constituents and voters willingly increasing taxes to support student learning is met with limitations beyond local control.

Unfortunately, the process in Iowa still appears to involve a lot of "voo-doo magic" to follow the funding stream and balance it all.  At this point, I'm still struggling with all of that and asking lots of questions of those experienced veterans that have so graciously allowed me to do so.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Does This Matter?

This morning I just did a little review of my blogging stats.  The final conclusion is this:  It really doesn't matter what I do.

I'm serious about that.  It appears that occasionally people happen across my blog and take a peek.  The statistics say that happens about 10 times a day or so.  The reason I believe this to be the phenomenon is that I haven't blogged since January 24th, and the numbers aren't really changing.  At one point I thought maybe a few people were interested in some of the topics and conversations that were being held here.  Some of that may be true, but it doesn't seem like that is the overwhelming majority.

Now, that being said, I did have almost 800 hits in one month (compared to the 300 or so recently), so there may still be some interest in at least something.  There were a few good articles and events happening that were the reference, so my interest has again been stimulated.  I'm wondering if this month (April) will show any more activity if I post a couple of items.  We'll give it a shot and find out.

With about 50 posts so far on this site, some have received a few comments and some none.  Hopefully a few people have even gotten an insight, been informed on a topic, or caught a phrase that made them think about something for a moment.  That is what I hope.  I have generally tried to post things that were somewhat thought provoking and had some level of importance.  Not always, but generally.  It is my intent to keep with that concept, but I also believe it may just be flat out fun to toss in some other items along the way.

So with no guarantees, no expectations, and at least some level of genuine determination...let's see what April brings.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snow Day!

Everyone loves a snow day!  At least it is my hope that you enjoyed the day doing something you like while Belmond-Klemme took a day of unplanned vacation due to winter weather.  Although it took some time to get here, North Iowa felt the snowy effect with a decisive Friday morning of the white stuff.  This time it looks like it will stay for a while, which means that roadways and travel become more unpredictable.  Keep your vehicle prepared and be wary of the wind, which can cause whiteouts and drifting even with no snow in the forecast.  This being the first day that BK has cancelled, we are on the third planned make-up day of the year.  February 20 will be used in order to keep the annual days of learning at 180.  This is Presidents' Day as well, and if needed (but we hope not) there are two other days during the school year that could be used as well - March 26th and April 9.  If we don't lose any more days, those will be days of vacation.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome to 2012

So the ball has dropped, the midnight kisses taken, the champagne toast given, and 2012 has begun.  To my east I saw a beautiful sunrise and the snow has stayed away from our Northern Iowa residence.  We have had time with family and friends, some time at the office allowed me to catch up on some (not all) outstanding items, and the Holiday Season, full of hustle, bustle, and stress has faded into the past.

All in all, a wonderful and productive few days.  Life is beautiful and things are going well...

So what?  (Insert sounds of screeching tires and crashing garbage cans here).  What can I possibly mean by, "So what?"

Seriously?!?  How in the world can I say such a thing after the near miracle of a Holiday Break filled with all of the above?  How can I think such a thing?

OK, this is what I'm thinking...satisfaction is something to be appreciated.  The good things of life should be recognized and enjoyed.  We absolutely need to do this.  Then we need to take the next step.  We are blessed, rewarded, and amazed with life on a daily basis.  In order to continue that enjoyment of life, we need to do our part as well.

Whether it is finding a better way to do something at work or making life a little better for someone else, it is our responsibility to move forward.  Kicking back and enjoying what live has given us is a temporary state of life that we get to enjoy.  Making that opportunity available to others is a constant state that enhances our own appreciation of life.

So what?  So, let's go make it happen.  Happy 2012!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Good Bye to the Old Horse

After spending the last however long blogging on Bronco Bits, it is now time to close the door on my original blog:  Beating the Dead Horse.  Although the time I spent on that blog was equally enjoyable, and there were a few good discussions/arguments, it is just something that I have not kept current.  So, to that one reader somewhere in France that has checked in a couple of times in the last month, including today:  Farewell.  All of the articles that were written there have been uploaded (or is it downloaded in this case?) to Bronco Bits, so there is still a bit of the "Old Horse" in the "New Bronco" I guess.  If you are extremely bored and just are wondering how to spend those last few minutes of precious time this evening, feel free to look back at the 2010 and before posts that you may not have caught on Bronco Bits.  If it doesn't get your head thinking, maybe it will cause you to drift off into a dream-filled slumber.  Good Night, Readers.  Good Night, John boy.  Good Night, Horse.

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