MARSHALL - While new Superintendent Scott Monson has only been on the job for five short weeks, Marshall Public Schools appears to be in good hands.
Monson has spent 25 years in education, including the past 10 as superintendent at Morris Public Schools. Throughout the years, he has gained valuable experience and built quality relationships, Monson said.
"I was a business education teacher, primarily at the high school, and I coached a variety of sports and directed various activities," Monson said. "I did that for 10 years, including four in South Dakota and six in Minnesota. I was a high school principal in Fulda for a year and then at Benson for four years before serving as superintendent at Morris for 10 years. I've worked with and for a lot of really great people. I've been very fortunate, very blessed."
Monson noted that he was drawn to Marshall because of both professional and personal reasons. While the community is much larger than he was used to at Morris, Monson believes that the expansion also means more opportunities for involvement.
"I believe you have to have pride in the community that you're going to live and hopefully work in," he said. "This is a town that I already have pride in, though I don't really have a right to yet. But it's a phenomenal community. I believe there's a lot more here than people realize."
Professionally, Marshall was a step up for Monson because of the increased size of enrollment and personnel.
"Professionally, it's career advancement anytime you go up in the size of school, there's no doubt about that," Monson said. "MPS also has, and I was aware of this when I applied for the position, a very good reputation in the state of Minnesota. I was also aware of some of the things that are going on in southwest Minnesota, like the flexible learning year (FLY) and specifically, the collaborative professional development that's done with all of the districts. Those things fit very well with my background and what I believe in."
While many people believe education is a business, Monson would argue that education is a people business. And he's extremely encouraged by the people he has met at Marshall so far.
"Education in general is a very challenging area to work in," he said. "We need really great people. That's what it boils down to. We're a people business. Roughly 80 percent of our expenditures are going to be for people and staffing, salaries and wages and various benefits."
Monson acknowledged that students are the ultimate priority in educational systems but that the personnel are the key to success.
"I'm not trying to diminish other things like technology or parent involvement or anything like that, but if we don't have hard-working, quality staff members who care about kids and want to do a good job, then we're not going to be successful as a school," Monson said. "You have to have a great staff, and from what I've seen at MPS, we do." Through his many years in education, Monson said he's also learned the value of staff member and student interaction, which oftentimes happens outside the classroom.
"I believe every staff member that interacts with a student on any given day can either adversely or positively affect that student's day," he said. "I just think that's a huge responsibility."
Monson appears equally prepared to be accountable as the district's administrative leader. He's spent the greater part of the past month familiarizing himself with people, procedures and projects within the school system and community in anticipation of the start of the 2014-15 school year, which begins Monday.
"I've been meeting with a lot of people, just trying to get to know as many people as I can in the district, certainly the staff and school board, but also become involved in the community," Monson said. "I've become aware of and involved with different clubs and organizations, different things that I can become a part of. That's going to be important for me. That's one of the reasons I wanted to be in Marshall."
So far, Monson has been to two Rotary Club meetings and a city council meeting in addition to ones at MPS.
"I've just tried to get out and meet people so I can start to build those relationships," he said.
There are also programs and initiatives that Monson has deemed as priorities to focus on early on.
"One of those is the facility study that the board approved, the agreement with ATS&R, so where we are going with that," Monson said. "We now have data that says we're going to potentially see a 16-22 percent growth in our student population over the next 10-12 years. And we don't have room for those students right now. So I need to focus on that facilities study and really make sure that we're doing a good job with that, that we have clear expectations, so that when or if a decision needs to be made, we've done our homework."
By homework, Monson means having good information that was gathered from community members and stakeholders and then analyzing it.
"We need to put it into different lists, or compartments if you will, and take into account as much as we can to really figure out what direction we're going," he said. "And we need to communicate that information, so that facilities study is going to be really important."
Technology is also a focal point, since the district is planning to roll out its new Mobile Device Initiative, beginning this fall.
"The plans are certainly under way to begin distributing devices on August 25, I believe," Monson said. "The first year is going to go well, but where do we go from here? I need to get caught up with others to figure out what we're trying to accomplish. They probably know that already, but I want to make sure we're of the same understanding and that our ships are all pointed in the same direction."
As the district implements Year 1, Monson noted that monitoring would be critical.
"We need to make sure it's going well for students, for staff and for parents," he said. "We also need to make sure we're seeing the types of outcomes that we expected and that's we're periodically monitoring our progress as we spin right into Year 2."
Monson said he was excited to see the technology piece unfold, so that the current generation of learners can be engaged.
"This generation of learners learn differently than we do," Monson said. "It's not better or worse. It's just different."
What it boils down to, Monson said, is that educators can't use 20th century techniques with 21st century learners, at least not all of the time.
"They live in a visually-stimulating world, a lot of it with cell phones, computers, video games and X-Box and everything else," Monson said. "It's a little different than the Pac-Man or Pong that I might have played when I grew up."
Along with the Park Side Innovative Learning Center, Monson said he was also excited to learn about the certified nursing assistant program going on at MA-TEC.
"The CNA program is another example of how we're tailoring, as a district, the specific needs of different learners," he said. "I think that's a way to meet those needs, and quite honestly address, in my mind, a workforce shortage in the community and region as well. So let's educate. Let's do what we can to provide the skills and education for students to stay in the community instead of always educating them to leave."
While Marshall does not want to discourage students from seeking post-education or careers elsewhere, Monson said the district should provide the skills and education for the students who do want to stay in the community.
"We can always do a better job of helping our students have the skills, experience, education and knowledge of the opportunities that exist right here in Marshall and southwest Minnesota," Monson said.
Monson has taken the opportunity to visit all of the public school buildings in the district and calls Marshall High School a "gem."
"It's an excellent facility, a beautiful building," he said. "I think that it was well-designed. Staff and administration had a vision, and I think they really carried it out. It's been well-maintained, and it's visually breathtaking, quite honestly. I think a year from now, two or three perhaps, when the whole Amateur Sports Complex is out there also, that whole area is really going to be attractive to folks."