In celebration of our third year of partnership with educators seeding positive change, we’re highlighting three examples of the work being done by incredible school districts, charter school networks and non-profits. We sat down to talk with three fascinating leaders about who inspires them, what they’re looking forward to this year, and what keeps them going when things get hard.
Dr. Wendy Wyman, Superintendent, Lake County School District
If you have a few hours to yourself, what’s your favorite thing to do?
Be on the river with friends, paddle boarding or kayaking.
What’s the best thing you did to relax and have fun this summer?
We took a trip to Oregon in our VW Eurovan with our dogs. We traveled around the state and checked out the coast, old-growth redwood forests and some great little towns. It was a really nice chance to get away.
Tell me about one of your personal heroes.
Everyone I work with knows this: Peyton Manning. It’s a little odd. The reason I love him is he is a master of continuous improvement. Really a student of the game of football. He would throw a winning touchdown pass and be so humble, immediately looking at a playbook. Thinking about how can we improve, how can we get better.
How did you get your start in education, and what did you do before that?
I came out of college with a political science degree and thought I would go to law school, but it didn’t feel like the right fit. So I wandered around, spending time on rivers, and decided I better figure out something to do. I knew I wanted to make a difference and was committed to civil rights. Through that exploration I thought I wanted to be a teacher. While I completed my certificate, I worked in an after-school program. I loved working with kids and felt like I was having an impact. After I got my license, I came back to the front range and started teaching; it was during my first year of my master’s program. I had a mentor teacher that year who would come to my classroom once or twice a month. She helped with what first year teachers struggle with: staying organized, classroom management. But she also pushed on theoretical things: making difference for kids, promoting equity and access for kids, even then. It makes me think I should go back and find my mentor Nina and thank her.
What is your most important strength as a leader?
One leads to the other. Is it that I’m able to listen, or able to collaborate? Without being able to listen, one can’t really collaborate. I listen almost to a fault, and I acknowledge that it can make a process slow and tedious. But schooling is a community endeavor, and there are so many stakeholders in any one school or community. We have to listen to everyone so we can do what’s best for kids and families and teachers, every member of the community.
What advice would you give to young people working in education or thinking of joining the profession?
My advice would be two-fold. The first part: people who become educators are people who are involved in service. I would try to remind them that it’s important to take care of ourselves, too. We’re our best when we show up on Monday morning after having a good weekend. What goes along with that is bringing yourself and your passion to the field every day. There’s a reason that you chose education and it’s important to remind yourself of that and bring that to the field. There are so many wonderful practices and pedagogies, so many things we can improve. But there’s always that aspect of relationships: being your authentic self and bringing that. It’s what we hope for for kids: a chance to find that authentic self, find experiences in school and out of school that show them what they really love to do. I hope teachers have chance to model that. Find an environment that allows you to do that and supports you.
The past year has been very successful for Lake County. What are some of the moments that stand out in your memory, and why?
One of my weaknesses is stopping and celebrating, and it was nice to have a few chances to do that this year. What stands out for me: we have this thing called Wednesday coffee with people from the community — business people, the mayor, the police chief; anyone’s welcome. It’s a chance for people in the community to share what’s going on. When we shared that all of our schools had been rated green, everyone there broke into spontaneous applause. It’s because of what we talked about before: we tried to make this a community endeavor. It wasn’t the schools that did this, we as a community did this.
What were some of the most significant challenges you faced? Were any of those challenges a surprise?
The biggest challenge is actually connected to getting such positive ratings from the state. We want to stop and celebrate, but we are not there yet. We haven’t finished what we set out to do. There is some agreement out there around a belief that the first half of turnaround is actually the easy part. Looking back on how hard we’ve worked, that sounds crazy. But now we’re to the harder part; the hill is getting steeper. There’s the challenge of how do we actually finish that climb, and how do we sustain it. We’re digging in deep around that and trying to figure that out. I think we have some answers, some things we’re going to try, but it feels very fleeting right now.
What will Lake County School District’s big bets be in the upcoming year?
Our big hairy audacious goal is that we improve achievement to match the state averages for each of our subgroups. It’s a big challenge to ourselves to really focus on student achievement without losing the gains we’ve made around student culture and adult culture.
When the work gets really hard, how do you remain committed and invigorated?
I think about our kids and our families. Everyone comes to education for their own reasons; for me, it’s all about equity. I want our kids and our families to have access to living their best possible life. Realizing what they want to do, understanding who they are and what kinds of things make them happy, and having access those things. That’s the really important dirivng mission. Being able to contribute to that keeps me going. If the work is hard, I remind myself how important it is. Then it stops being hard. I also remind myself that we have so many assets and possibilities. Leadville is a really cool place to be doing this work — a place where people come together and ask how can we make this better. We have persistence and grit.
Springboard Communications led Lake County School District in articulating a new brand, with market research, messaging, visual identity, and marketing strategy support. Click here to check out a brief case study of our partnership, and say hello today!