MREA is pleased to announce more than 30 breakout sessions to be presented at its 2021 Annual Conference: Rural Strong. The conference will be held in person and on site at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd November 14-16. Click each Conference Track title below to view breakout sessions and presenters.

Want more details on the conference? Learn more here and register.

Conference Tracks

Student Learning & Engagement 

PANEL: 21st Century Collaborative Opportunities  

Monday, November 15 1:30 -2:45 pm 

Learn how four rural schools are working collaboratively to address the challenges of providing out-of-school programming in rural Minnesota. Panel presenters will discuss their 21st Century Learning Centers grant collaboration. Through communication, collaboration, and collective goals, the programs focus on student engagement and support for academic, social, and emotional growth, rural partnerships with community partners, and supporting positive climates for all students.  

Dr. Christopher E. Mills has served as superintendent of schools for Stephen-Argyle Central for the past 21 years. He has served as a board member of Minnesota Rural Education Association for 17 years and a professor for Minnesota State University-Moorhead for the past 10 years.  

Jackie Chwialkowski served as an elementary teacher in Stephen and Argyle for 38 years. She has served at the 21st Century Learning Centers Coordinator for Stephen-Argyle Central, Win-E-Mac, Waubun-Ogema-White Earth, and Fosston Schools for the past 2 years. 

Boundaries, Ethics, and Technology 

Monday, November 15 11:10 am -12:00 pm 

The rapid expansion of distance learning, technology, and social media has provided a brand-new window that never existed before. Learn rules and ethics to responsibly use technology to interact with students. Potential technology pitfalls and legal issues including mandated reporting, off-duty misconduct, and disciplinary consequences, and practical guidance and solutions for responding to common scenarios will be covered. 

Elise Heifort is an attorney with Pemberton Law Firm, practicing in employment, labor, and school law. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and attended the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Elise grew up in Fergus Falls. 

Abbie Thurmes is an attorney at Pemberton Law’s Fergus Falls office, practicing employment, labor, and school law, and has experience representing and assisting school districts with student and employee matters. Abbie graduated magna cum laude from Mitchell Hamline School of Law and was recognized for volunteering over 150 public service hours. Before joining Pemberton, Abbie was an attorney at the Seventh Judicial District Public Defender’s office. 

Grief Comes to Rural Schools 

Monday, November 15 1:30 – 2:45 pm 

Child and adolescent grief are all too common in today’s world, with school administration and staff often not prepared to effectively guide students through the confusion, sadness, difficulty concentrating and acting out. Students in rural districts may have less access to grief groups or counseling than students in more urban areas, and In smaller rural districts, the death of a community member may impact many children. Learn developmentally appropriate interventions and practices for students and educators to respond to grieving children.  

Kathryn Markell teaches at Anoka Ramsey Community College in the Department of Psychology. She also teaches death education to elementary and middle school aged children. She has published a book, chapter, and numerous articles on grief. 

Marc Markell teaches at St. Cloud State University in the Department of Special Education. He also teaches at Worsham College of Mortuary Science and teaches death education to children. Marc earned his PhD from University of Minnesota in Educational Psychology. He is a certified Professional Development Specialist, certified Thanatologist, and certified in Death and Grief Studies.  

Making Student Learning Public  

Monday, November 15 11:10 am – 12:00 pm 

This session by Opening Keynote Speaker Ron Berger will provide concrete structures and practices for schools to strengthen family and community ties to the school. Explore strategies of Student-Engaged Assessment: Student-Led Family Conferences; Passage Presentations (Presentations of Learning); and Celebrations of Learning (Student Exhibitions) to build community connection to, and pride in, student learning 

Ron Berger is Senior Advisor for EL Education and the author of best-selling education books, including: An Ethic of Excellence and A Culture of Quality, and co-author of Leaders of Their Own LearningTransformational LiteracyManagement in the Active ClassroomLearning that Lasts, and We Are Crew: A Teamwork Approach to School Culture. He also teaches at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he did his graduate work. He founded the website Models of Excellence: The Center for High-Quality Student Work, which houses the world’s largest collection of beautiful student work. Ron was also a public school teacher and master carpenter in rural Massachusetts and received the Autodesk Foundation National Teacher of the Year award. 

Why NOT? Thinking Outside the Box to Offer Students More  

Monday, November 15 10:05 – 10:55 am  

Have you ever thought, “I know there is more out there for my students?” How can you help students enter the workforce or higher education with more on their resume and give them a leg up in the career market? After a quick assessment of the Fisher community, it was clear there needed to be a greater connection between Fisher School class offerings and the agricultural community. Fisher school district now provides a broad range of CTE opportunities by offering courses related to students’ future plans. Learn to use resources to build and shape current curriculum to fit students and their needs for post-graduation. Come ready to step outside the box and open a new world for your students.  

Kristen Schwarz is not your traditional educator. Growing up on a family farm in rural Minnesota, she took a roundabout path into teaching and has now built a program in her hometown that addresses the needs of the current workforce as well as her students’ needs. She has taught for 6 years and strives to think outside the box, using professional connections to establish opportunities her small town never thought possible. 

Evan Hanson has served as the Superintendent of Schools in Fisher since 2015. Previously he taught music in Lancaster and served as Summer Recreation Advisor, Bus Driver, Sr. High Knowledge Bowl Coach, and Activities Director. He received his BFA in Music Education from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and his Master’s in Educational Leadership from MSUM. 

Why Schools Must Prioritize SEL And Mental Health Post-Covid 

Monday, November 15 11:10 am – 12:00 pm  

Tuesday, November 16 8:15 – 9:15 am 

The research clearly shows schools will not be successful closing the post-COVID-19 learning gap if they do not first address the mental health and social-emotional needs of the students — particularly students who had the fewest academic opportunities before the pandemic. Understand how a tiered, individualized approach using an MTSS framework can be customized to each student’s level of internalized and externalized social-emotional behaviors. Bridge the gap between curriculum-only programs and one-to-one therapy to fuel student transformation and use student SEL intervention outcome data from to give students coping skills to replace anxiety, depression and trauma with resilience, persistence, and success.  

Katie Dorn, MA, LSC, MFT is a highly experienced licensed K-12 School Counselor and therapist. After serving as a high school counselor, she opened a private practice as a therapist and also worked at Adler Graduate school as adjunct faculty and a program director in the school counseling graduate program. She helped align curriculum with state standards and gathered data to measure program effectiveness and outcomes. Her passion for effectively helping students and families with mental health obstacles fueled the concept of EmpowerU in 2015.  

Leadership & Planning 

7 Practical (Yet Impactful) Tips to Nurture Others to be Their Best! 

Monday, November 15 11:10 am-12:00 pm 

School culture and staff wellness are keys to the foundation of great schools. Without a positive and growth-minded culture, schools can be left in mediocrity. In this fun and engaging session, learn practical ideas and tips to build school culture, trust, and support school wellness. Using the acrostic NURTURE, we share years of experience and ideas on encouraging staff to become better teachers, better leaders, and better people.  

Dr. Wendy Schoolmeester has been in education for 34 years. She was an elementary teacher, an elementary principal, a former school board member and chair, and is currently a Professor of Education at SMSU. A few seeds she enjoys sowing include sharing her enthusiasm for education, being an advocate for elementary education majors, and playing with her four grandchildren. 

Dr. Sonya Vierstraete has cultivated 23 years as an educator. She was an elementary and middle school teacher, a K-8 principal, and is currently a Professor of Education and Chairperson for the School of Education at Southwest Minnesota State University. Sonya enjoys sprouting licensures: K-12 Administrative – Superintendent & Principal, K-12 Reading Specialist, K-12 ESL, K-6 ELED, & 7-12 Coaching. She also digs tending to her three boys and the family St. Bernard, Stella. 

Bringing School Board Standards to Life  

Monday, November 15 10:05-10:55 am  

Utilizing Standards for Effective School Boards, learn about a facilitation process and dialogue prompts that support School Board members in conversation leading to effective operations and relationships. This session will focus on the work being done in one rural state to support effective engagement of School Board members in district leadership. Handouts, dialogue prompts and facilitation strategies will be shared that can be replicated in the local context.  

Dr. Denise Schares currently serves as Associate Professor of Educational Psychology, Foundations and Leadership Studies at the University of Northern Iowa and directs the university’s Institute for Educational Leadership. She has held positions as Superintendent and Associate Superintendent for Educational and Student Services and frequently presents on alternative teacher licensure, adult learning, leadership change and cultural competency. As institute director she promotes education improvement by collaborating with educators to clarify educational issues in an innovative and shared manner. She currently serves as Principal Investigator for a grant awarded by the Kern Family Foundation called Leading and Learning with Character.  

Credentialing a Community Expert 

Monday, November 15 1:30 -2:45 pm 

Finding credentialed teachers – especially Agriculture teachers – is getting more difficult every year. “Community Experts” are a local option for filling open positions but may not be a long term solution. This workshop will address options for CTE teacher pathways so community experts can get the professional development needed to move within Minnesota’s Tiered Licensing. The workshop will include a statewide overview of Agriculture Education in Minnesota at all levels and resources for school districts. 

Keith Olander is Executive Director of AgCentric, the Minnesota State College & Universities Northern Center of Agricultural Excellence and Agricultural Partnerships. He has served as High School Ag Ed teacher, Farm Business Management instructor and Dean of Agricultural Studies at Central Lakes College. He holds a Master of Education (MEd) focused on Agriculture Education from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. 

Sarah Dornink is Executive Director of MN Agricultural Education Leadership Council, MAELC, a 16-member legislative council that provides leadership to promote and expand agricultural education in Minnesota and extend the reach of agriculture within classrooms, farms, and the Minnesota State Legislature. She holds a Master of Education (MEd) focused on Agriculture Education from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. 

Decoding the Licensure via Portfolio Process 

Monday, November 15 10:05-10:55 am 

This session will provide information and clarity around the portfolio pathway to licensure, an alternative process to assess the knowledge, skills, and competencies of individuals seeking a license who may not have completed an approved teacher preparation program in the licensure field being sought. Leaders will leave with the knowledge to assist current and future teachers navigate this growing non-traditional, yet somewhat misunderstood, alternative pathway to licensure. Discussion will include eligibility, requirements, application, review process, and costs associated with licensure via portfolio. 

Alex Liuzzi is the Executive Director of the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board. He has worked as a teacher in public, charter, and private schools and has instructed students from ages 2 to 82. He was an adjunct professor with three preparation providers, with a focus on cultural diversity and secondary methods. He has studied comparative and international development education and maintains a focus on equity and data-driven continuous improvement models in his policy work.  

Paul Peltier is a music teacher in Fosston and a PELSB board member. As a board member, he works to ensure all Minnesota students are taught by highly qualified educators — no matter where they live or what they look like. He is focused on removing barriers to quality teacher preparation, geographic, and racial equity. 

Federal COVID Funding Update 

Monday, November 15 11:10 am – 12:00 pm  

This session will provide school leaders with an update on the status of all Federal COVID funding sources, including funding provided through the CARES, CRRSA, and ARP bills. Upcoming due dates will be discussed as will any changes in funding and new allocations. 

André Prahl is Agency Finance Director at the Minnesota Department of Education. She has more than 14 years of experience in fiscal management at the state level. Prior, she held various positions at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, including 10 years as the administrator of the Accounting Department. André has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a minor in Accounting. 

Alicia Waeffler, ESEA Programs Supervisor, is a former middle school teacher, high school counselor, district program administrator, and educational consultant focused on leveraging Federal ESEA grants to eliminate persistent educational access, participation, representation, and outcome gaps in Minnesota. She is currently a supervisor in the Student Access and Opportunity division at the Minnesota Department of Education. 

MREA Advocacy in Action 

Monday, November 15 11:10 am – 12:00 pm 

Members new to MREA and advocacy will learn about MREA’s advocacy initiatives and how they impact education funding and policy at the local and state level. Simple steps can have the most effect for students in your district, from talking with a neighbor to contacting a legislator. At the state level, see how MREA prioritizes rural education and keeps it forefront at the legislature, on issues such as facilities funding, unfunded mandates, special education, and local levies. 

Sam Walseth, MREA’s Director of Legislative Action, has logged 21 sessions lobbying at the Minnesota State Capitol and leading successful coalitions to improve equity in educational opportunities for rural students. He has worked with MREA since 2011. 

School Endowments – The Sleeping Giant 

Monday, November 15 1:30-2:45 pm 

The greatest transfer of wealth from one generation to another is currently underway. Rural school leaders can develop and promote a public foundation endowment that creatively provides recurring revenue that positively benefits students, staff, and communities. This session will focus on strategies some vibrant Minnesota public school districts are using to creatively generate revenue to enhance public school programs. Districts can develop a recurring revenue stream while enhancing community trust, credibility, and cohesiveness. 

Rick Ellingworth was Superintendent of Redwood Area Schools for 28 years before retiring in 2020. He has since served as Interim Superintendent at Minnewaska Area Schools and is currently Interim Superintendent in the Lac Qui Parle Valley District. He has served on several foundation boards and is keenly interested in how public schools can develop creative funding sources while building community pride.  

Andy Ourada, Redwood Area Schools’ Activities/Community Ed Director, is a dynamic school leader who is highly engaged in building community support that benefits students and staff. He currently serves as a district, section and regional leader in southwest Minnesota focused on providing quality opportunities for student and community development. 

Southwest Teacher Preparation Partnership Program 

Monday, November 15 10:05 – 10:55 am 

SWTPP is a grant-funded collaboration between a K-12 school district, community college, and one university’s teacher preparation program to build pathways to teaching for diverse candidates in Elementary Education, ESL, and reading licensure programs. Pathways include concurrent enrollment courses in education, foundation education courses, and elementary methods courses. This session will explain how and why the program was developed, and challenges and successes experienced along the way. Program sustainability and replication will also be discussed.  

Dr. Rhonda Bonnstetter is Professor of Education and former chair of the School of Education at Southwest Minnesota State University. A former high school mathematics teacher, Bonnstetter has built strong bridges with schools and teachers in southwestern Minnesota through an array of workshops and collaborations. She has earned a B.S. in Mathematics Education, M.S. in Mathematics Education, an Ed.S. in Technology for Education and Training, and an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. 

Christine Quisley is an Assistant Professor of Education at Southwest Minnesota State University. She is a former elementary school teacher, math specialist, and school improvement consultant in southern Minnesota and north central Iowa. Her educational background includes a B.S. in Elementary Education, a M.A in Education-Curriculum Instruction Technology, an Ed.S. in PreK-12 Administration; she is a candidate in the Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at Minnesota State-Moorhead. 

Taking Flight: Aligning Initiatives Throughout Your District 

Monday, November 15 11:10 am – 12:00 pm 

Educational stakeholders will experience an authentic process to align their district’s multi-faceted work into a single coherent framework to ultimately improve learning. During the 2020-2021 school year, Little Falls Community Schools embarked in a process to align the district’s Professional Learning, Digital Transformation, Teacher Development and Evaluation Plan, teacher re-licensure process and Standards Based Learning shift through the #TakingFlight initiative utilizing the Modern Teacher framework. Learn about the district’s unique path to ensure all students and staff can learn — anywhere and any time.  

Aaron Sinclair is assistant superintendent of Little Falls Community Schools, overseeing personalized learning and human resources. He has served as the assistant superintendent of the Brainerd School District and the superintendent of Sauk Rapids-Rice schools where he passed significant building referendums. He has also orchestrated a Business & Industry Summit to connect the K-12 educational community with the business community. He began his career as an English teacher, an athletics and activities director, and football coach.  

Neil Andruschak was still offered a position in the Technology Department at Little Falls Community Schools after telling the hiring committee, “If hired this will be my 17th position since graduating high school 15 years ago.” He has been working in the Technology Department ever since. He is now the Digital Convergence Specialist, focusing on making tech talk to tech better so people can focus on relationships and partnering and developing #TakingFlight structures which personalize learning for staff, students, and the community. 

TRA: Your Benefit of the Future  

Monday, November 15 10:05 – 10:55 am 

This presentation for mid-career educators will share TRA website tools to access benefits features, retirement planning, beneficiary information, and disability benefits. The focus will be the online tools to better equip educators to access their personalized information.  

Sonja Parr has presented in school districts around greater Minnesota about TRA benefits for six years. She coordinates outreach presentations and online member education tools. 

Achieve Financial Stability Without Funding Increases  

Tuesday, November 16 8:15-9:15 am 

Along with pandemics and declining student enrollment, school districts face many other trends impacting financial strength. Hear about a systemic approach to right size your district for the long term, avoid a continuous cycle of painful reductions, and maintain staff, parent, and community support. This planning guidance will be a valuable tool to help Greater Minnesota districts in their organizational assessment as budgets become tighter. 

Michael Hoheisel joined Baird in 2014 and has more than 30 years of public finance experience. His primary focus is providing financial services to school districts in the upper Midwest, specifically Minnesota. He holds a BS in Management and Finance from St. John’s University and is licensed as a General Securities Representative (Series 7), a Uniform Securities Agent (Series 63), and a registered Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board Municipal Advisor (MSRB) (Series 50).  

Dr. Ryan Laager is currently Superintendent for Belle Plaine schools and in his 15th year as a public school administrator. Early in his career, he was a part of a district in statutory operating debt because of basic financial mistakes and saw firsthand the detrimental impact on district culture because of staff layoffs. He later worked in a district that made financial reductions in six of seven years, including a one-time reduction of $10 million. He has experience cutting money and then returning resources to recreate a fund balance.  

How School Improvement and Reform Really Work 

Tuesday, November 16 8:15-9:15 am 

Schools and communities can sometimes be stuck in a cycle of shifting through multiple school improvement reforms that never seem to make things better for the students. Sometimes these improvement reforms meet fierce community opposition because “that’s just not how school works here.” Learn how to navigate through the culture territory and create long-lasting improvements for the students. 

Noel Schmidt is Superintendent of Rock Ridge Public Schools and has been a principal, dean, school psychologist, English teacher, President of the Minnesota Middle School Association and taught adjunct classes at the University of Minnesota. A native of Westbrook, he has worked in White Bear Lake and Red Wing school districts.  

PANEL: Teaching & Learning Perspectives From Rural Teacher Educators 

Tuesday, November 16 8:15 – 9:15 am 

MREA’s 2021 Educators of Excellence will share perspectives about challenges, benefits, surprises, and recommendations regarding education in Greater Minnesota. Michelle Rinke Koch, MREA Board Member and Menahga teacher, will moderate the panel.  

Rural Strong 

Benefits of Living in Rural MN 

Monday, November 15 1:30-2:45 pm 

People often believe there is no opportunity in rural Minnesota and that rural places are dying, which makes staff recruitment more difficult. Get information and data on the reality of living in rural Minnesota and why it is a great place to live, work and raise a family. It will highlight the most recent CRPD research that pulls together cost of living and occupational wage data, showing that in most regions of rural Minnesota wages can go as far, if not farther, in meeting the cost of living than in the seven-county metro area. Learn how to access your own county and regional data utilizing the Minnesota Rural Atlas. 

Julie Tesch returned to her rural Minnesota roots after 25 years of living in urban areas. She became President & CEO of Center for Rural Policy and Development after working in Washington, DC and has been involved in non-profit management and supporting the rural lifestyle her entire career. She proudly graduated from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Economics and her Master of Education in Agricultural Education. Julie is the pied piper of living in rural Minnesota. 

Kelly Asche received his Master of Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and then was hired as the Research Associate at the Center for Rural Policy and Development, allowing him to move to the best city in Minnesota — New London. Kelly’s work at CRPD is focused on data analysis, busting myths related to the rural narrative, and attempting to become knowledgeable in whatever rural issues are considered important. 

Revitalizing Community Pride in Rural Education 

Monday, November 15 1:30-2:45 pm 

Studies have shown there is a crucial connection between a student’s education and the surrounding community – they learn and grow both intellectually and emotionally by establishing relationships within families and communities. No, in a season of distractions and challenges, a rift and mistrust has grown between public education and surrounding communities. Learn to bridge this gap and call attention to the importance of reconnecting communities to schools with case studies from rural Minnesota educators. 

Jeff Schiltz holds over 26 years of relevant and diverse experience partnering with clients on projects in overall facilities planning, referendum communication, project development and construction, and project oversight. At ICS he offers expertise on first cost, life cycle, energy efficiencies and overall building systems. 

Pat Overom possesses a diverse and extensive background on projects in overall facilities planning, project development, and construction with 24 years of relevant experience. He offers expertise at first cost, life cycle, energy efficiencies and overall building systems. 

Sometimes Dreams Come True 

Monday, November 15 10:05 – 10:55 am  

The Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert school districts both passed public votes to form a partnership and construct a new high school and two new elementary schools. Then they selected their mascots, colors, and names. Then in a public vote in both districts, they agreed to consolidate. How did this happen? Join this session to find out. 

Noel Schmidt has been a superintendent, principal, dean, school psychologist, English teacher, President of the Minnesota Middle School Association and taught adjunct classes at the University of Minnesota. He has also visited schools in Russia, China, England, Hong Kong, Finland, Cuba, Costa Rica, Germany, and the Czech Republic. 

Talking Finances with the Public 

Monday, November 15 10:05 – 10:55 am 

Levy sheets, budgets, and property tax statements can offer a wealth of information to help be good stewards of your community. The key is understanding how they all fit together. Learn how to translate complex public financial information into useful concepts to communicate with the public. Explore typical financial information inquiries and how to tailor communication strategies to help districts be more effective. 

Shelby McQuay is a Senior Municipal Advisor with Ehlers’ Education Finance Team, assisting districts with navigating the implications of legislative proposals on debt issuance. She worked with the Minnesota Senate as a non-partisan research analyst and a fiscal analyst, developing education finance and tax policy and reviewing the financial implications of the School Building Agricultural Credit and the tax credit for Maximum Effort Capital Loan districts. 

Matthew Hammer joined Ehlers in 2018 as a Municipal Advisor with the Education Finance Team. He has worked directly with Minnesota school districts since 2005, most recently serving as the Director of Finance and Operations for Fridley Schools. Matthew has specialized expertise in finance leadership, financial planning, and operations management. 

Celebrate Assets of Your District 

Tuesday, November 16 8:15-9:15 am 

Every school district has successful individuals and businesses that create unique opportunities for employment of their school’s graduates. The challenge is to find those opportunities and connect them to our students. Walk through the process of completing a district needs assessment in relation to the local industry base and complete a cost benefit analysis to strategically engage in collaborating relationships with those industries.  Examples from the Triton Agriscience Technology and Triton FFA programs will be provided to illustrate ways to connect with industry.  

Craig Schlichting is superintendent for the Triton Public Schools and has been with the district for more than 25 years, also serving as high school and middle school principal, dean of students, and physical education and health teacher. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Wyoming, Masters in Educational Leadership and Administration from Winona State University, and superintendent licensure from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. 

Robert Ickler is in his 12th year at Triton Public Schools teaching agriscience courses, coordinating the work-based learning program and advising the Triton FFA chapter. He earned his BS and MS in Agricultural Education from UW River Falls and taught in Wisconsin for six years. His work experiences include being a self-employed dairy farmer and running a small hobby farm with his wife and two sons. He credits the relationship between industry and his program as an integral part of his program’s success.  

Equity & Diversity 

Indigenous Representations: Resources for Educators  

Monday, November 15 1:30-2:45 pm  

The session will highlight English Language Arts and social studies resources to teach E-12 academic standards concerning Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities. Get overview knowledge on the importance of representation and basics of Indian Education in Minnesota and discuss representation issues in popular resources. Learn to access resources to build capacity for teaching Native content and to evaluate resources for stereotype and misrepresentation.  

Leah Larson administers the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants and oversees statewide library projects benefiting youth, especially grades 4-12. She supports school media specialists and was a teacher and media specialist before joining MDE in 2017. 

Iyekiyapiwiƞ Darlene St. Clair, citizen of the Lower Sioux Indian Community and Associate Professor and Director of the Multicultural Resource Center at St. Cloud State University, advises Dakota Wicohan, a Native non-profit organization to revitalize the Minnesota Dakota language and lifeways. She teaches Native arts and cultural expressions and connects teachers, students, and classrooms to Native Studies. 

Leading Equitable & Thriving Communities 

Monday, November 15 1:30 -2:45 pm  

School leaders are called to guide educators through equity and trauma work to build stronger communities. Building a strong foundation results in safe learning environments through equitable practices and policies. This can be messy and look different in a rural setting. The key is knowing where to begin or where to go next to ensure real change is taking place. Equity work takes intention, and this session will provide a framework for leaders to determine their next step. Understand the foundations of equity and trauma and the impact on student learning and identify a framework for intentional planning and implementation to create conditions for students to thrive.  

Dr. Melissa Erickson, Ed.D. is co-founder of Flint Consulting, which focuses on building leadership capacity in the areas of equity and trauma. She has worked in rural K-12 education for 20+ years and earned an Ed.D from Hamline University and a Masters in Literacy Education. She is obtaining her Principal and Superintendent license from St. Cloud State University. Her research and work have focused on Trauma-Informed Whole School Approach. 

Dr. Jessica Murphy, Ed.D. is co-founder and co-owner of Flint Consulting. Her background consists of 20 years in literacy instruction at the middle school level and professional development in rural Minnesota. She has served as district equity specialist, an instructional coach, and a reading interventionist. Jessica holds a B.S. in Elementary Education from St. Cloud State University, a Master’s in Arts and Education from St. Mary’s University, a k-12 reading license, and Ed.D. from Hamline University. Her research is centered around educational equity in a rural setting.  

Living One’s Best Life: Adults with Disabilities Talk  

Monday, November 15 10:05-10:55 am 

It is often unclear whether the strategies used during a student’s K-12 IEP process had the long-term effect to help individuals with a disability utilize available supports and if such K-12 guidance was beneficial to reaching their life goals. Only through asking adult individuals that have been identified as having a disability can we learn perceptions and insights to strengthen our K-12 school system. Learn key components from interviews with adults with an identified high-functioning disability who are contributing to a fulfilling adult life to help create positive change addressing K-12 strategies, accommodations and modifications that have the greatest impact. 

Dr. Miriam White has taught students at all grade levels in 25 years in the classroom. She has also taught as an adjunct professor for 7 years before beginning teaching full-time at Bemidji State University in 2013. She completed her Doctorate in Educational Leadership and has been the Special Education Coordinator at Bemidji State the past 4 years. 

Transforming Dual Enrollment – A Dialogue 

Monday, November 15 1:30 – 2:45 pm 

The Minnesota State system of colleges and universities is developing a systemwide strategic plan grounded in equity for dual enrollment to transform dual enrollment (PSEO and Concurrent Enrollment) across Minnesota. Learn about the newly developed dual enrollment strategic plan and join this dialogue about working together to transform dual enrollment to become a key driver of intellectual, economic, and civic prosperity for young Minnesotans regardless of race, gender, family income status, or their geography. 

Jessica Espinosa is Director of College Transitions at the system office for Minnesota State colleges and universities, providing support for dual enrollment programs, developmental education, course placement and other transition activities. Her K-12 experience includes secondary teaching, equity specialist, and dual enrollment specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education.  

Jessica Shryack is the owner of Clarity Collaborations, a Minneapolis-based organizational development consulting agency. She consults on a variety of topics, including strategic planning, program evaluation, facilitation, and assessing organizational inclusion. Previous experiences include leading institutional effectiveness efforts at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and coordinating undergraduate teaching, research, advising and concurrent enrollment programming in the Psychology department at the University of Minnesota. Jessica holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota. 

Why Have an Equity Plan? 

Monday, November 15 10:05 – 10:55 am 

Resources to help school districts develop an equity plan are limited, especially when looking for models from rural schools. Learn about Triton Public Schools’ process to develop an equity plan to ensure all their students are welcomed and valued and feel they belong. Starting with listening and learning, the district is committed to educating all students in a safe, caring, and respectful environment.  

Craig J. Schlichting began working at Triton schools more than 25 years ago and has worked in a variety of roles, now starting his third year as Superintendent. He is an advocate for students to create a culture of learning where every child has an opportunity to learn.  

Creating Safety for LGBTQ Students 

Tuesday, November 16 8:15-9:15 am  

There are students, parents and school personnel who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) and who may feel afraid because of potential harassment, bullying, and violence. Each time an LGBTQ person experiences physical or verbal harassment, they become 2.5 times more likely to harm themselves. In this session rural educational leaders can learn ways to support and embrace all individuals, so schools are safe places for everyone.  

Marc Markell teaches at St. Cloud State University in the Department of Special Education. He earned his PhD from University of Minnesota in Educational Psychology, is a certified Professional Development Specialist, and has presented locally, nationally, and internationally.  

Thanks to our Presenting Members for their support of MREA:

  • Baird
  • Captivate Media + Consulting
  • ICS
  • InGensa, Inc
  • Northland Public Finance
  • Sourcewell