Classes may be out for summer but, early on a Monday morning, hundreds of Des Moines Public Schools were showing up for a sort of school. A little after 7:00 AM they started to arrive, first one or two at a time then a steady flow until nearly 600 people filled a large meeting room at the Iowa Events Center.
The audience included a cross section of DMPS, from principals and associate principals to curriculum directors and counselors to leaders from a range of school district departments, such as business and finance to technology to food and nutrition and more. They were on-hand for the first DMPS Leadership Institute, an event to not only prepare for a new school year but to also continue work towards both educational and organizational excellence. The event, in part, helped all parts of the school district come together to better understand how everyone supports students.
The day began with welcoming remarks from interim Superintendent Matt Smith who, in his own words, described his presentations as usually being a mix of “Ted Lasso and a tent revival.” After sharing some stories about his family along with a little dancing to loosen up the crowd, Smith got down to business, including an outline of his priorities for the year ahead:
- Dramatically Increase Organizational Health
- Achieve Board Goals via Execution of Community-Developed Strategic Plan
- Development of Transparent, Multi-Year Balanced Budget Strategy.
Smith was quick to acknowledge the challenges of the past couple of years, largely around the impact of the pandemic, but noted some of the positives that came about during this most recent school year as many parts of life returned to normal. For example, DMPS students meeting the Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST) benchmark increased at a rate greater than the state-wide average.
A focus at DMPS in recent years – work that has been recognized by the National Association of School Boards – has been around educational equity. Smith emphasized that remains a priority, one that all leaders across the school district can support in their work. As he shared: “An equity-centered leader understands their own role in perpetuating inequity and injustice and works every day to build and transform our systems to directly address the needs of each person to create vibrant, welcoming, and inclusive communities where everyone can belong, thrive, and learn.”
The conference included not only educators but leaders from every school district departments whose work supports students, from getting them to school to keeping them fed and healthy when they arrive to keeping the district’s budget balanced. As Amanda Miller, director of food and nutrition at DMPS, noted: “Everyone matters, everyone is learning alongside each other so we can be more focused on the whole child instead of just bits and pieces.”
After the opening session it was off to a series of workshops throughout the day where school and district leaders learned about and worked on a wide range of topics. A few examples include:
- Data Literacy
- Health and Well-Being
- Effective Leadership
- Social and Emotional Learning
- School Safety
- Family and Community Engagement
- Employee Engagement
- Inclusive Language and Practices
And much more.
The DMPS Leadership Institute is a two-day event. Today, leadership teams are meeting in their schools and departments to look at how some of the district-wide priorities address on day one can impact and improve their work in support of students.