April 2019 Board Meeting
The spring melt-out has begun. While winter is an essential component of the seasonal rhythm of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, a little more sunshine and much longer days reliably give us all (from humans to wildlife), a little more breathing room. After a long winter, we certainly welcome easier day to day operations for Wildlife Expeditions in the Parks, Field Education learning across the valley, and transporting Independent School students across the mountains (even if Wyoming isn’t ceding Teton Pass to Idaho). Programmatically, spring captures the breadth and impact of what we do at TSS. With almost eight months under their belts, the competence and confidence of our Graduate students is showing. With our Independent Schools still in session and growing numbers of visiting school groups at both the Kelly and Jackson Campuses, PreK-12 learners of all backgrounds are everywhere. Each spring break we run one of our flagship programs in conjunction with Grand Teton National Park and the GTNP Foundation. Historically Pura Vida provides outdoor learning, recreation, and service projects in Grand Teton National Park for Jackson Latinx youth. This year was not only the highest enrolled Pura Vida (27 local students), it was the first year Wind River Reservation students (12) participated. Look most places in the Tetons this time of year and our mission is alive and well.
Spring brings renewal, growth, and possibility. Inherent in this, our spring Board meeting agenda is future-oriented. This year standard spring agenda items of voting on the next fiscal year budget and voting our new class of Board members will couple with TSS branding and vision conversations. Please see biographies of the five new Board candidates as appendix A. New Board members joining means celebrating Board members concluding their terms. In April we will recognize the important Board service of Jack Livingood (served since 2012), Will MacNaughton (served since 2013), and our current Board Chair, Joohee Muromcew (served since 2012). These three joined the Board while Jack Shea was Executive Director and have led the institution through significant change. During their tenure, we completed the TSS Comprehensive Campaign, opened our Education Innovation department, launched our OneTSS strategic plan, and initiated integration of both our Independent School and Field Education across campuses. TSS is more stable and better poised for the future due to their leadership. Joohee, Jack, and Will — thank you.
Our budget process begins each January Board meeting by setting the terms and priorities for the next fiscal year. In January we established a) fiscal responsibility, b) Independent School integration, c) compensation increase, and d) diversity equity and inclusion (DEI), as our key priorities for FY19–20. The budget we will deliver to the April Board meeting makes hard and responsible financial decisions to ensure we can follow through on our commitments. It invests in our Independent School integration. It prioritizes a compensation increase across TSS. A tangible representation of fiscal responsibility, the FY19–20 budget includes a new Financial Analyst role. Housed in Finance/HR, the structure and skill set of this role will serve all of our departments to shift from using data to look only backward and instead recognize patterns in the past and model into the future.
For students, for staff, for the relevancy of TSS and place-based education, DEI work is essential. We represent this as both a strategic goal and one of our FY19–20 priorities. A section of the TSS DEI statement reads “our commitment to DEI makes teaching and learning more engaging and relevant, teachers and staff more effective and improves the impact and transference of TSS programming.” While we are not making additional financial investments in DEI in this budget, it is important we invest our existing professional development dollars and time (our most valuable resource) into this essential focus area for the organization. Two weeks ago, the New York Times profiled 995 GenZ youth in their own words. Passion, concern and commitment to the future, breadth of color, life experience, and perspective immediately leap off the page. Generation Z includes virtually all of our students under 18, some of our Graduate students, and many of our new staff. We are so proud to have Journeys School alum Mary Muromcew profiled in this New York Times project. Where we are (Wyoming and Eastern Idaho), where we’re coming from (more homogenous communities), and where the world is going (vibrantly diverse) — our work in this realm is urgent and necessary.
Continuing to build our DEI skills is important as we build our core value of inclusivity ensuring all students that come to TSS are successful. These are the same skills that will help cross-campus integration thrive at TSS. Better listening, creating space for non-dominant voices, and building our self-awareness on our own unconscious biases will better bridge our Independent School across two campuses, improve Field Education work across all campuses, and help Educator Development better enter new communities.
At our Board meeting one year ago, our central conversation in the yurt at the Teton Valley Campus was branding and the difficulty telling the united impact and story across 11 sub-brands at TSS. We use the term branding not to mean logos or colors. Language and the TSS story is what is most important to us. We kicked off our work with Campbell and Company in March and their first visit will be April 10–11. Think of this as the capstone of three major investments drawing prospective students into our programs. First, Salesforce creates the internal infrastructure to effectively store and track data and communicate with prospective students, our 15,000 current students annually, and well over 200,000 alum. Second, our new website is the updated platform to share our story and impact with both those new to TSS and those who may only know us through one lens. Third, once completed, branding creates the most powerful language to animate place-based education and the impact of a TSS education.
When we launched the strategic plan and updated our mission at the beginning of 2017, we were just beginning to understand what was possible uniting Teton Science Schools around place-based education. It began with simple statements of “OneTSS” giving direction but not destination. Similarly, being the aspiring “leader in place-based education” sets a course but does not provide definition. Now two years into this strategic plan with unifying six PBE principles, a broader TSS Framework, and significantly improved internal structures, we’ve begun to see what is possible. Before we build another multi-year strategy, we must have a clearly articulated long term vision for the institution uniting the head and the heart of what we do.
With an articulation of our intended outcomes in a TSS Theory of Change working draft, we’ve already begun vision work. Our stated outcomes — personal growth, learner engagement, academic outcomes, community impact, and educator quality — hold students at the core. Our vision can be broader to include the organization and the field of place-based education. Holding these conversations concurrent with branding ensures this work is aligned. A Board holds several key foundational roles — oversight of financial strength (fiduciary), oversight of the Executive Director, achievement of mission. An important next step for the TSS Board is to begin to step out of the day to day and into focusing on the long term opportunities for the organization. Core to this is vision.
The budget we vote on at this Board meeting is the final budget for our OneTSS strategic plan. From the beginning, this plan was intended to be internal facing — we needed to build the foundation and structures for the future. When our current strategic plan ends just over a year from now, we will spend FY20–21 reflecting and planning for our next strategic plan. We are already facing important questions beyond simply filling seats in programs. With this next school year, we are anticipating a waitlist for our Graduate program and 11 of 18 total grades in our independent schools to be full. To what opportunities do we say “no” so that we can invest fully when we say “yes”? How do we best utilize our capacity to further place-based education? How do we best execute our mission? A clearly articulated vision guides how we best used our capacity to achieve our mission in the future. Being the leader in place-based education is beyond developing a relationship with nature. It goes beyond strong academics for empowered young people. As the Board steps into creating a longer-term vision for the institution we strengthen and energize the organization empowering everyone — from Board member to Americorps service member — that we embody and have ownership over our outcomes every day.
As the Board meeting approaches next week, I ask you to think deeply about what it means to be the leader in Place-Based Education. Read more about student learning in PBE whether meeting housing need through tiny homes, exploring the government shutdown through food insecurity, fourth graders exploring native bees, or exploring if Environmental Education is Place-Based Education. I look forward to partnering with each of you to think about where we can go long term to inspire curiosity, engagement, and leadership through transformative place-based education.