A new blog reflects a shift in my consulting business: Engage Citizens

I’ve been a bit of a laggard here on LoGro lately. For years, I’ve had something new on the blog everyday but in the last month, I’ve only had a few new posts/week and have not been very active in the comment threads.

What’s up?

Engage Citizens - Vertical - 185wI’ve created a new blog called Engage Citizens as I’m shifting more of my Wigley and Associates consulting work to helping local units of government (state, cities, counties, townships, school districts) use online tools and services to—you guessed it—engage citizens.

I’ve been doing online citizen engagement as a citizen since the early 90’s in my work with Northfield.org and continuing here on Locally Grown Northfield since 2006.

Grandview-Development-Framework-finalGriff Wigley, Scott NealBut it was my consulting contract with City Manager Scott Neal and the City of Edina back in April of 2011 when we created the Edina Citizen Engagement project that helped me see how other local units of government could benefit from something similar.

The Grandview District Development Framework project in particular was enlightening because of how the online tools complemented the face-to-face work of the steering committee, consultants, and city staff over the course of 9 months.

Griff Wigley at  League of MN Cities annual conference, 2012Tim Madigan at  League of MN Cities annual conference, 2012Last summer, I presented and facilitated a session for the League of MN Cities annual conference about my work with the City of Edina titled Government 2.0: New Strategies for Engaging the Public.

One of the people in the audience that day was Northfield City Administrator Tim Madigan who, a few months later as most of you LoGro readers are aware, hired me to manage the online engagement for a Developing a parking management plan for downtown.

Chris Richardson, Griff Wigley, Matt HillmanShortly thereafter, when I heard that the Northfield Public Schools District had a calendar project in the works, I approached Superintendent Chris Richardson and HR/Technology Director Matt Hillman about adding an online citizen engagement component. I just finished up the Transformational Technology project for them and last week started another online engagement project with them titled A school calendar conversation with the Northfield community.

I’ll continue to post client updates on my Wigley and Associates blog but most of my consulting-related blogging energy will be devoted to the Engage Citizens blog. I’ve also changed my Griff Wigley Twitter username to @EngageCitizens. I’ll tweet all my new Engage Citizens blog posts but you can also subscribe to Engage Citizens via email or RSS.

Now that I’ve got all this in place, I’ll get back to posting more regularly here on LoGro. I’m scheming on a new doodad for y’all.

A school calendar conversation with the Northfield community: back to square one

Back in early January, I blogged here on LoGro that Northfield Public Schools Superintendent Chris Richardson had hired me (with my Wigley and Associates consultant hat on) to manage the online engagement for the  ‘balanced calendar’ that was being proposed.   It never happened. Chris later wrote:

At the Jan. 14, 2013 Northfield Board of Education meeting, 26 parents, students and community members spoke with concern about the proposed change to the school district calendar structure for 2013-14. The board voted unanimously to stop consideration of a more balanced calendar for the 2013-14 school year. They directed the administration to recommend a 2013-14 calendar in an upcoming meeting based on the traditional academic year with an after-Labor Day start. In addition, the board requested that administration develop a plan to more deeply engage our community in a discussion about what kind of academic calendar will most benefit students in the future.

Instead, I worked with the District to manage the online engagement for the Transformational Technology proposal which was approved by the Board on Feb. 12.

Northfield Schools Calendar ConversationI’ve now been hired by the District to manage the online portion of a community discussion about school calendars.

I’ve got the project blogsite up and tonight, the District is hosting the first in a series of three community meetings led by Mary Grace Hanson, Director of Teaching and Learning.

(The other dates are April 2 and April 30. All meetings will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the high school upper cafeteria.)

School Board Member Rob Hardy has been writing about school calendars on his Learning Curve blog.

And here’s a Feb. 27 Northfield Patch video by Supt. Chris Richardson talking about the calendar conversation:

An online engagement project for the Northfield Public Schools: getting feedback on the Transformational Technology proposal

The day after the ‘balanced calendar’ online engagement project for the Northfield Public Schools that I blogged about back in early January got postponed, I put my Wigley and Associates consultant hat back on and had a meeting at the Northfield Public Schools District office with Superintendent Chris Richardson and Matt Hillmann, Director of Human Resources and Technology.

Chris and Matt decided to use my online engagement services instead to get additional public feedback on the Transformational Technology proposal that’s now being considered by the School Board.

It’s happening on a blog that’s part of the District’s WordPress Multiuser platform:

Transformational Technology for Northfield Public Schools, ISD #659

Transformational Technology - Northfield Public Schools

 

Matt has been blogging about the project for nearly a year on Blogger and so we’ve imported all those posts into this new blog.  He presented the final draft of the proposal to the School Board earlier this week and the Board will likely vote on it at one of their February meetings.

Rob HardyRob Hardy has a comprehensive overview of the project with lots of links in a Northfield.org blog post titled Local Issue: iPads in the Schools.

Rob has also a post on his Learning Curve blog (“The Education of a Northfield School Board Member“) titled Transformational Technology Proposal: Paying for iPads.

And like the downtown parking management plan for the City of Northfield that I’m working on, this project with the District won’t happen here on LoGro.  So I’ve turned off comments here. If you’ve got questions about how it’s all going to work, see my blog post: How is the online engagement part of this project going to work?

Next up in the local online engagement department: a project with the Northfield Public Schools

Chris Richardson, Griff Wigley, Matt HillmannYesterday morning, I put on my Wigley and Associates consultant hat and had a meeting at the Northfield Public Schools District office with Superintendent Chris Richardson and Matt Hillmann, Director of Human Resources and Technology.

I told them to get their hair done for the meeting and that we’d also be practicing to use our index fingers for tablet use.  As you can see from the photo, my coaching was more than marginally effective.

Northfield Public SchoolsSo they hired me to help add an online engagement component to the public meetings planned this month for the proposed ‘modified balanced calendar.’   And like the development of a downtown parking management plan for the City of Northfield, this project with the District won’t happen here on LoGro. As soon as we have the blog site for it set up, I will announce it here.

And like I blogged back in December about my contract with the City of Northfield, this contract will change the nature of my blogging here on LoGro about the School District, i.e., my relationships with the District’s leaders take priority over my public opinionating about them or the District.  And I now have a conflict of interest when it comes to opinionating on District-related matters.

If I blog about anything related to the District or its leaders, the tone of my blog post will be along the lines of “Here’s something interesting. What do y’all think?” Essentially, my role will be more of a moderator. The opinionating (praise or criticism) will have to come from all of you.

Northfield School Board hosts a reception honoring Chris Richardson, MN Superintendent of the Year

Supt of the Year invitation IMG_20120224_062300 IMG_20120224_062327
The Northfield School Board held a reception at the Northfield Golf Club last night honoring Chris Richardson for his MASA award as Minnesota’s 2012 Superintendent of the Year. See the Oct. 31, 2011 press release on the Northfield School District’s site for details on the honor.

High School teacher Kevin Dahle was the Master of Ceremonies and spiced things up throughout with his comedian routine, eg, "I’d like to thank the decorations committee for the wonderful country club theme" and "When the reception is over, please follow last in-first out protocol for your departure" and "The cake is sponsored by the MN legislature but you can only eat 60% of it now with the rest available…"  Clever guy, that Kevin.  Even Dave Neuger got into it: "Chris is a wonderful person, hard working, extremely talented, respected by… um… ah…. let’s see… help me out here, Chris, I’m having trouble reading your handwriting."  None of those are exact quotes but close enough.

Unfortunately, I only had my crappy smartphone camera to use for photos and as you’ll see, it doesn’t do well indoors.

School Board Chair Ellen Iverson; teacher Kevin Dahle Master of Ceremonies, comedian, teacher Kevin Dahle IMG_20120223_183456 School Board Vice Chair Kari Nelson

Dave Neuger Matt Hillman, District Director of HR and Technology Jessie Montano, Deputy Commissioner, MN Dept of Education Paul Erickson, President of ATS&R (award sponsor); Chris Richardson, Gary Amoroso, Executive Director, MASAPaul Erickson, President of ATS&R (award sponsor); Chris Richardson, Gary Amoroso, Executive Director, MASA Chris Richardson, Minnesota’s 2012 Superintendent of the Year IMG_20120223_192025

The school district unveils a new website, built with WordPress

About a year ago, Northfield Public Schools superintendent Chris Richardson accepted my offer to meet with him so I could explain why the District’s website sucked big time.  He took copious notes, and his eyes did not seem to glaze over. But I seriously doubted anything would come of it.

Heather Kuchinka and Matt HillmanImagine my delighted surprise when two District staffers, Administrative Support Assistant Heather Kuchinka and Matt Hillman, Director of Human Resources and Technology, signed up for my online WordPress for Noobs course. They then revealed that they were about to unveil a new District website, based on WordPress, constructed by Daniel Edwins, WordPress guru at Neuger Communications Group.

Last week,  gave Heather and Matt gave me a preview and during the meeting, Chris stopped by to toss around some lingo, something to the effect of "We’ve got a boatload of RSS feeds and our permalinks are the prettiest around." You rock, Chris!

Northfield School District websiteToday, the District portion of the revamped site is up, and according to this news item (note that pretty permalink), "In the coming months, we will be rolling out new individual school sites in an effort to mirror the updates made at the district level."

They’ve set up a feedback page with a form on it, but I hate that.  I can’t learn from the feedback from anyone else, nor can I read their reaction to the feedback. So if you’re a fan of public feedback and conversation-as-a-path-to-public engagement, post your feedback in a comment here and I’ll see if I can twist their arms to join us.

School district facing $2.4 million deficit; considering $700k in cuts for next year

Northfield Schools Superintendent Chris Richardson posted this letter on the District’s website yesterday.

Superintendent-Chris-RichardsonWe believe that the combination of lower revenue and inflationary expenditures will result in a $2,400,000 structural deficit (expenditures exceeding revenues) for 2011-12.

Richardson finances letterEven with the purposeful spend down of $1,666,000 of our District fund balance to the minimum recommended by our auditor, our review shows that our revenue will not equal the expenditures that have been forecast for the 2011-12 year. If no other action is taken, we anticipate a deficit of approximately $705,000 at the end of the 2011-12 school year that would further reduce our fund balance below a prudent minimum level.

In order to balance our revenues and expenditures and avoid further reduction of our fund balance below the recommended minimum, we believe we must cut approximately $705,000 from the 2011-12 budget.

For more, see:

Nfld News article: Budget Crunch: Schools face staff cuts

Nfld Patch article: Northfield School District to Draw on Costly Financial History to Deal With Likely Budget Cuts

Nfld Patch article: Northfield School Board Prepares for Cuts in State Aid

Superintendent Chris Richardson: He’s not a real doctor!

Superintendent Chris RichardsonIn a town with a thousand PhD’s, nobody refers to or addresses any of them with ‘Dr.’ or ‘Doctor.’ 

But for some reason, KYMN (example here) and the League of Women Voters of Northfield (example here) use it with the superintendent of schools. The Northfield News used to do it (2008 example here) but appears to have discontinued it.  I was glad to see that Northfield Patch did NOT do this last week in its first district-related story. Not even the school district itself does it, sticking instead to "Superintendent Richardson" in its minutes, though some school board members have a tendency to address him as ‘Doctor’ during the course of a board meeting.

I have nothing against Chris Richardson or the previous Northfield District superintendents, but IMHO, only medical physicians should be addressed as ‘Doctor’ or have the ‘Dr.’ in front of their names. Why treat superintendents as if they’re somehow special?

Our local college presidents (one has a Doctor of Philosophy/PhD, the other a Juris Doctor/JD) don’t get the Doctor/Dr. treatment from KYMN (example here). Not even former school superintendent Charlie Kyte (example here) does. So if they don’t, then neither should Richardson.

How about it, Jeff? How about it, Jessica?

School District response about middle school teacher’s arrest for ear-biting attack: Why the delay?

659-logoIn today’s Pioneer Press: Northfield teacher charged in St. Paul ear-biting attack:

A Northfield, Minn., middle school teacher faces a felony assault charge after prosecutors say she bit off part of a man’s ear during a drunken altercation in a St. Paul greasy spoon early Sunday. Susan Mukuhi Mwarabu, 30, of Rochester, Minn., was charged Monday with third-degree assault — inflicting substantial bodily harm — after the 4 a.m. incident at the Uptowner Cafe at Grand Avenue and Lexington Parkway.

The news is all over the media but nothing’s available online from the District’s web site, neither from Northfield Superintendent Chris Richardson nor from Middle School Principal Jeff Pesta. I’m on the Key Communicator email list. Nothing yet.

The District’s options are limited when it comes to its employees’ behavior when they’re not on-duty.  But it sure would help to have Richardson and Pesta making some statements to let taxpayers and parents know how they’re approaching this problem.

If you were superintendent of schools, what would guide your snow-related school-closing decisions?

school-closings Many local schools/districts cancelled classes two hours early yesterday and have scheduled two-late starts today cancelled classes today (Northfield school-closing info here). 

I noticed some people bitching whining thoughtfully discussing this on Facebook yesterday and today. Some comments:

Continue reading If you were superintendent of schools, what would guide your snow-related school-closing decisions?

Obama’s speech to students: show it live

schoolbadge2I spoke with Northfield Supt. Chris Richardson this morning. He’ll have a statement on the District’s web site around noon, basically stating that the District is leaving it up to the classrooms teachers on whether or not to show President Obama’s speech to students live, recorded, or not at all. I think that’s the best approach, unlike the recommendation from Northfielder Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, to show the speech later. I’m hoping teachers show it live, as events are always more compelling when they’re live. I still remember watching President Kennedy’s inaugural address live as an 8th grader. I suppose others remember President George H.W. Bush’s speech to students in 1991.

Continue reading Obama’s speech to students: show it live

Sibley Elementary School expansion begins; construction permit snafu resolved

Sibley school expansion Site preparation has begun on the Sibley Elementary School expansion. Last week, construction permits were pulled because of a mixup. I didn’t see anything about it in last week’s Friday Memo so I phoned Jim Kessler, Northfield’s Building Official, and emailed Supt. Chris Richardson for details. I’ve not yet heard back from Kessler but Richardson wrote: (continued)

Continue reading Sibley Elementary School expansion begins; construction permit snafu resolved

School-closing decision for a midday snowstorm: ya win some and ya lose some

IMG_2828Northfield Schools opted to NOT dismiss school early yesterday when an intense snowstorm began hitting the area at around 11 am.  Northfield News reporter David Henke posted this comment to the discussion thread on the snow emergency article where some folks were complaining: (continued)

Continue reading School-closing decision for a midday snowstorm: ya win some and ya lose some

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