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Supt. Olson: Creating change that resonates from our little corner of the world

This editorial originally appeared in the Sept. 26th Monticello Times

I find the beginning of each school year to be an important time to circle back to the things that are most important in life. It’s a time to remember why we do what we do, both as educators and humans. And, I believe, quite simply, that we are all here to make a positive impact on future generations.

I’ve shared many of these words before, and it likely comes as no surprise by now to hear of my passion for making our world, our community and our schools safer and healthier, as well as for inspiring others to greatness.

The idea of making a difference can be intimidating, when we lose sight of our scale and of our influence. But when the school year starts, and we have 4,202 students, 700 staff, and 9,000 parents or guardians returning to our buildings, I’m reminded just how much influence we wield in Monticello School District, and how great of a responsibility that is. Above all else, I’m awestruck and motivated by what an opportunity it all is. I start this school year as I’ve started so many before this, believing deeply that I, and every other educator in this great district, have the opportunity and great fortune to make a serious impact for students and families across this district. By carrying out that responsibility, and controlling what we can control, it is my dream that our work will spill out of the school buildings and into the Monticello Community and eventually into our world.

My first year as superintendent sharpened my perspective and my beliefs. As the person charged with being the leader of one of the most important institutions in this community, I want to be transparent with you about what I believe and how that guides the way I, and the district, operate.

I believe that every student can learn. I believe that every student needs at least one adult champion in their life. I believe that every parent loves their child. I believe the best in adults. I believe that learning about people that are different from us and developing a deeper understanding of our own strengths, weaknesses, and personal bias’ are equally important to building healthy relationships (which I believe are the key ingredients to a thriving organization). Transparency, vulnerability, trust, integrity, and courage are my essential values that guide me daily.

Nearly everything I see across our district both reinforces my beliefs and encourages my drive to ensure ISD 882 is creating the brightest possible future for Every Kid, Every Day.

Every day, I see beautiful children. I see their parents loving them the best that they know how to. I see 700 employees doing everything humanly possible to help students learn, even though each child comes through our doors with very different needs.

All of those things are keys to success, in school and in life. But, I believe there is one element that remains more instrumental to our success than any other. Our key to success is to have everyone pushing in the same direction, following the same plan, and inspired to achieve the plan together.

Of course, there are numerous challenges to making this happen. The biggest being that we all come from such different places, face such difference challenges, and view the world through such different lenses.

Every day we have students come through the doors that have not had breakfast and potentially even didn’t have supper the night before. Some students help their parents cook supper and breakfast. Some students spend hours at home learning with their family. Some kids have no books in their home. Some kids come from a home where no adult was there to see them off in the morning. Some kids have multiple generations who see them off to school in the morning. Some students have parents with physical ailments. Some students have physical ailments. Some students have mental illnesses. Some students have parents with mental illnesses. Some students have a diagnosed disability. Some students do not qualify for the extra support that they need. Some students love to learn. Some students do not know how to learn. Some students come to school with clean, new clothes. Some students wash their own clothes. Some five year olds wake themselves up with an alarm. Some students have a grandparent kiss their cheek to wake them in the morning. Some students know how to problem-solve complex, multiple step problems, or even relationship issues. Some students shut down and get angry when posed with a challenging problem.

I could write about these things for a week straight and I would still not uncover all that I see. This list is not meant to make any one feel sad. Your home is not better or worse than another home. Everyone has a different situation. Everyone thinks different. Everyone looks different. Being different is both the premise and the beauty of our world. What we need to is two fold - we must celebrate our differences and pull together to push forward.
I’m a 49 year old white man. My afflictions have been few, and the ones I’ve dealt with have had zero to do with the words that describe me. I also believe the words that describe me, particularly the word Superintendent, make it my responsibility to lead the movement forward, both for this district and this community. I believe the time is now for me to stop “wishing” the world would get better. It’s time for me to stop wondering why the same “culture of respect” problems that I experienced as a kid are still prevalent today.

These are big tasks. Creating equity and equality for all is no small thing. But the big tasks that lie ahead of us as a society do not scare or even overwhelm me. Because I know we have a chance to make change from the ground up, starting right here in Monticello. I picture our 4,202 smart, amazing, beautiful children that enter our buildings every day. I think about every family that we serve. And, I know that we have more than 700 adults that every day get the chance to be the one adult champion that a child or family needs in their life. That gives me an incredible feeling of hope and purpose.

As we begin the 2019-20 school year, it remains high time to stop seeing the differences in our world as good or bad. It is time to stop being mean to make ourselves feel worthy. It is imperative that we ALL work hard to build the same culture of respect across this community that I see across our district every day.

We aren’t perfect. No one is. But our district will continue to advocate for every child and for every family. We will be the change we want to see in the world.

Please join us. Let’s move in the same direction together, toward the best community we can be. Let’s continue to be a community that believes and invests in its children, that supports its families, that judges slowly and forgives quickly, and that welcomes new community members from all walks of life. Simply put, let’s be the “Magic City,” that city council person Charlotte Gabler often references with pride. Let’s pull together. Let’s push forward. Let’s build this thing together.