Orienting Resources and Priorities

Chris Agnew
5 min readSep 25, 2020


Before I get to some updates, this week I am reminded of Friday, May 29th, following the murder of George Floyd. A theme of justice (or lack thereof) ran through the last week. The country lost a champion for equality in our country on September 18th in Justice Ginsburg. She did so much for the legal system of our country to realize the statement “equal protection under the law” for all people and particularly for women. Days later, the system failed Breonna Taylor, a young black woman asleep in her home. In place-based education we often say “all places matter or no places matter”. Similarly Black Lives Matter, Black women’s lives matter. The legal decision in Breonna Taylor’s case continues to highlight that not all people or places matter and the systemic racism pervasive in this world.

Part of navigating the uncertainty of this time is regular re-evaluation of conditions, operations, and how they match to our priorities. As you all know, our four goals in navigating COVID-19 are guiding our priorities as conditions change. I want to share some updates related to operations and staffing due to COVID mitigation and then one update to our quarterly Board meeting flow.


In mid-March, along with all in-person learning and work, we suspended high volume residential programming for one month. Due to travel, the overnight component, and the complexity of running these programs, we bumped the suspension of these programs out several times. We are extending the suspension of high volume residential programming to June 18th, 2021 (resuming at a smaller targeted volume) and September 1st, 2021 (to resume at historical capacities). We recognize this will create/extend need for programming for our school partners through this academic year (more on this below). These dates were set based on the anticipated length of time we will likely need to continue operating in COVID mitigation coupled with the end of our 20–21 academic year (which gives us greater flexibility with physical space/infrastructure). We anticipate communicating this to partner organizations by November 1st.

Due to the complexity of operations and COVID mitigation restrictions, we will not run Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) winter programming in Yellowstone National Park this winter. A team is still modeling the viability of running a targeted OSV program over the two-week holiday period. We will run wheel-based wildlife tours this winter. In analyzing our COVID mitigation practices and both our pricing structure and historical volumes, unless our daily bookings increased by over 75%, the program would lose money while significantly increasing the complexity of TSS winter operations. By not doing OSV, we can focus limited resources on existing programming and needs.


With the extended suspension of high volume residential programming, we must continue to allocate resources towards our core functions. We already have online learning needs across the organization and pushing our residential date out to June/September 2021 will only create greater need and opportunity for TSS online learning (specifically for school partners). We are shifting a position within Field Education to a Director of TSS Online Learning within the Education Innovation department. The Education Team has been building and working to finalize the job description for this new role. This position will be posted and hired.

Colby Mitchell will be shifting from Field Education to Sales and Marketing (reporting to Sandy Chio) to take the already budgeted position of Partner Sales Director. Congratulations Colby! Colby will fill a known gap we’ve had in partner recruitment/retention in a B2B (business to business) sales role.

These moves in tandem are budget neutral to TSS and direct our time and resources towards the more essential needs now and in the coming 12 months.

The takeaway

With the reduced opportunity to engage students and schools onsite at TSS, we are reorienting resources to build our capacity and programming in the virtual space. This will maintain place-based learning opportunities in a COVID context, create more accessible TSS learning opportunities in the future (even post COVID), and add resilience to TSS overall.

Board meeting flow changes

The TSS Board decided to make changes to the quarterly Board meeting flow and attendance expectations. TSS Board meetings take place over 2+ days quarterly. These changes result in no governance changes and therefore no bylaw revisions.

As we’ve done, prior to Board meetings a Board report with relevant updates will be sent to all Board, Emeritus, Ex-Officio, Committee members, and all staff. Board meetings will begin (Monday) with a session of all Board members and Executive Team members. This meeting frames the following days. The majority of all Committee meetings happen on the first complete day of the Board meeting (Tuesday) with the staff liaison (Executive Team member) for each Committee. The Board meeting culminates in a session on day two (Wednesday) with the Board and the Executive Director and then just the Board (Executive session). Depending on the agenda, this session may have targeted invitations to staff based on topic/expertise. These meetings will begin with a brief report out from each Committee Chair to the entire Board from the Committee meeting over the previous day and a half.

The Board made the decision for several reasons. First, less in-person report outs and more engaged work at the Committee level — based on Committee expertise and topic. Second, more Committee recommendations to the Board (on topics that need a Board vote) rather than this work happening at the full Board level. Third, a desire for long term topics and depth over breadth (fewer agenda items) for the final Board session. Lastly, the complete Board has more direct conversations and more open-ended thinking because they have the time and space to meet as an intact group and build their team. This structure aligns with many other non-profits including Bowdoin College, University of Wyoming, NOLS, Naturebridge, and many others.

If you are curious, a non-profit Board has three core jobs:

  1. Provide financial oversite over the organization (“integrity of TSS”). This is often referred to as being “the fiduciary”.
  2. Supervise the Executive Director/CEO/President (hire/fire).
  3. Ensure alignment and success with the organizational mission now and in the future. This is a strategic and forward-looking role guiding the institution on what to pay attention to, what it means, and what to do about it from a high altitude.

Noted areas for a Board not to engage include:

  1. Daily operations
  2. Staffing oversight (beyond the Executive Director)
  3. Areas of self-interest (“is my child succeeding at your organization?”)

The next TSS Board meeting is October 12–14. Prior to those dates, all staff can expect to receive the fall 2020 Board report with updates on the beginning of the academic year, how we are tracking towards enrollment and financial goals, and priorities in where we are headed. As always, I encourage you all to read the document.