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The Value of Sharing Best Practices & Innovation – MASA Fall Conference

Dan O’Connor

The superintendent’s seat can be lonely, so It’s important not to pass up opportunities like attending the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators. I was grateful to attend and network with peers, leaders, partners, and, especially my Future of Learning Council. 

The conference was filled with many great keynote and whole group sessions, but Jamie Vollmer’s opening session stood out the most.  Jamie, famous for his book “Schools Can’t Do It Alone,” spoke on “Rallying Support: How to cultivate allies and strengthen partnerships during times that try our souls.”  All are aware of how difficult the past few years have been, and it’s easy to lose sight of the larger picture as school navigated COVID-19 and changed community & parent voices.  Mr. Vollmer discussed the importance of celebrating the successes in our districts.  He reiterated how critical it was that we tell our story and not allow the narratives to be created elsewhere.  I can attest our social media and communications didn’t focus as much on successes as we became bogged down on dealing with the day-to-day challenges.  I was able to return to my district with a renewed enthusiasm to promote and celebrate the great work that occurs daily from our students and staff. 

As much as I enjoy a keynote, breakouts allow for a more personal experience and, often, a chance to dig deeper.  Two breakouts stood out to me the most.  The first was a study released by Michigan State University on rural education policies in Michigan.  The session discussed challenges of teacher recruitment and retainment, mental health, broadband, funding disparities, housing shortage, and the importance of school leaders being at the table around community development initiatives. As a superintendent in a county-wide school district, I can speak to the challenges, but the MSU study was incredibly comprehensive, with multiple data points and suggested action steps.  It now falls on rural school leaders and communities to advocate for policy changes.  The second session was facilitated by Grand Ledge Public Schools and Michigan Virtual.  It focused on an issue close to the FLC’s passion for personalized learning, this time not for students but staff.  Michigan Virtual’s partnership with Grand Ledge led to learning modules assigned and customized to fit the needs of each staff member.  As the FLC continues to help facilitate a conversation around students and adult personalized learning, this session gave me additional tools and tips to help my district begin to move forward. 

I was grateful to spend a few days focusing on learning as we can often forget the superintendent is the lead learner for their district.  I’m eager to share my learning with our FLC colleagues in future meetings and can’t wait to join the MASA Winter Conference in Kalamazoo!  

Dan O’Connor – Superintendent at Alcona Community Schools 

Dan started as a teacher at Alcona in 2006 for six years before spending six years as an assistant principal, athletic director, elementary principal, and middle/high principal.  Dan is in his 6th year as superintendent.