Leading at the Crossroads of Change

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Darcie Birkett, Assistant Supt, Business Services, Ottawa Area ISD and President of MSBO

“It’s not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”   W. Edwards Deming

The 2010 MSBO conference is now history! Hopefully you were able to participate in this excellent event, take away some new tools and ideas, re-connect with old friends and make room for new ones, relax, rejuvenate and have a little fun! As I made my way through the conference, attending various sessions and events, I couldn’t help but notice that as the economic and demographic challenges of our state, country, and world escalate…the conversations of MSBO members are changing accordingly.

In education, we are in a war of sorts – we find ourselves on the battlefield almost daily. Our cause is public education – the right of every child in America to a free, quality public education. The point of our struggle can’t be just to survive, but to leave a legacy by building a system that makes such a distinct impact on the lives of the children it touches, and does so with such superior performance, that it would leave an unfillable void if it ceased to exist.

As educational leaders, we must have faith that we will prevail, while resolving to take whatever measures necessary, however painful, for the sake of our cause. So be willing to change tactics, but don’t give up on your core purpose. Embrace new ideas and strategies, listening carefully to younger MSBO members who offer fresh, new (and typically tech-savvy) perspectives. Consider forming non-traditional partnerships with businesses, governmental units or even with other school districts that may have served as competitors in the past. Challenge the status-quo when it benefits the adults employed at the expense of the students we serve. Accept compromise, and when necessary be willing to close operations and programs that you helped build, but never give up on the idea of building a great educational system.

At Tuesday’s pre-conference session for business managers, John Cape of PFM Asset Management spoke about his work in many states assisting failing districts. He said that, “Real changes are coming in public education and because of Michigan’s economic problems – I think you’re going to lead the way.” I agree with Mr. Nadol. We must welcome the inevitability of change, but never give up the opportunity to be a part of creating education’s future.

The stakes are high for public education. As a school leader, whatever your specific area of influence, challenge yourself with this question, “Do I operate with an on-going sense of urgency and acknowledge that I have to be willing to change in order for public education to move forward?” I continue to be impressed by the courage, creativity, commitment and energy demonstrated by you, my fellow MSBO members, as you tackle new challenges and change old paradigms. Your unfaltering determination inspired the theme I selected for my board presidency year with MSBO - Leading at the Crossroads of Change. I hope you’ll take a few moments to view the embedded video (volume up!), and allow yourself to feel good about your personal efforts, as well as those of your colleagues, to uphold our “cause” despite these trying times. Because it really is “all about the kids”, and “together we can” successfully lead at a “crossroads of change”.



Thank You

Change comes every year to MSBO as new board members begin their service term and senior members roll off. To Rob Burgess, who leaves our board this year, your capacity to care is amazing, and your approach is a uniquely kind and heart-felt one. You are a top-notch school business official, and one of the most genuine people I’ve had the good fortune to know.

And to Mike Adamczyk, I wish you well as you begin a new phase of your career, and I thank you for your commitment and willingness to lend your expertise and leadership to MSBO as our immediate past president albeit the logistic challenge! You are one of school business management’s brightest and best, and while your talent will be put to great use for the benefit of Illinois children, it’s a huge loss for Michigan schools as you say goodbye.

To you both, I’ll miss your leadership, your steady guidance, your failed efforts to prevent me from spilling things while on the dais, and, of course, your never-ending humor. I respect you both tremendously as colleagues, and I am blessed to count you as my friends.



View Darcie's Powerpoint presentation and audio. (Save them both to your desktop)