Always Be Cool (ABC) Podcast - Bobby Kerr & Darren Copeland of SummitLendingUSA.com

#155 Dr. Grenita Lathan, Superintendent of Schools for Missouri's Largest School District - Springfield, Missouri;

August 09, 2023 Bobby Kerr & Darren Copeland Season 2 Episode 155
Always Be Cool (ABC) Podcast - Bobby Kerr & Darren Copeland of SummitLendingUSA.com
#155 Dr. Grenita Lathan, Superintendent of Schools for Missouri's Largest School District - Springfield, Missouri;
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Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Grenita Lathan, Superintendent of Schools; Springfield, MO

  • Dr. Grenita Lathan views her role as chief advocate for Springfield Public Schools, its students and employees. She takes that responsibility seriously and keeps her focus on efforts to positively impact the 24,500 students and 3,500 employees who learn and work at SPS
  • First off, the superintendency seems to 1be one of the most rapidly changing roles in public education. In your opinion, what is the primary function of a superintendent of a large public school district today?
  • Whether it's through School Improvement Plans, or working alongside stakeholders, legislators, etc - How important is it for you to have accessible and accurate data when making decisions about your district’s future?
  • Have you noticed a correlation between parent engagement and student outcomes in your district?
  • Preparing students for the “digital age” has been an evergreen term/phrase for the better part of 25 years now.  
    • In 2023 what exactly does this look like anymore - “Preparing students for the digital age?”
  • In my previous years as a public school teacher, I observed that large-scale technology rollouts can be disastrous in the absence of effective planning and implementation. Do you have any recommendations for other superintendents who are considering a district-wide tech initiative?
  • The face of education is constantly changing. What is one recent trend that you think will have a major influence on school districts in the years to come?
  • Is there one particular innovation or achievement that you are especially proud of in your time with Springfield?
  • Generic and broad question - How do schools improve? 
    • Easy to say “test scores” or more resources or better teachers, etc
    • So Utopian
  • From where we stand, the superintendent (like many “CEO” roles in organizations or companies) is a pretty thankless position.  How do you balance keeping the peace, motivating people, doing what’s best for kiddos, providing resources to educators, etc without it all crumbling down on your emotionally?
  • I always found it interesting how far down the road school leadership groups are working on the Vision, Mission, and roadmap for where the district is going for the next 5-10 years.  Talk to us about how much preparation goes into getting a district to be a top-tier district. 
  • When a district needs/wants resources in order to improve facilities, etc how do bonds and levees work?

During the 2022-2023 school year, Dr. Lathan’s work will focus around three key goals:

  • Review and revise the strategic plan

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[Bobby & Darren]:

All right, everybody, it's the Always Be Cool podcast, hanging out with your hosts, Bobby Kerr, Darren Copeland. What's up, everyone? We are very privileged today to be with the superintendent of schools in Springfield, Missouri, Dr. Lathan. Go ahead and take it away. All right, man, here we go. Superintendent of Missouri's largest school district located there in Springfield, Missouri. They have more than 24000 students. They have more than 50 schools and 3500 employees, which is just amazing. Uh, she first learned about serving from her church and girl scouts back in the day, she has degrees from Southern Illinois, North Carolina, North Carolina, A and T, A and T. And plus she has so many awards listed in her bio that we can go get into that later on, uh, just an outstanding, great person, Dr. Lathan, welcome to the show. How are you?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Thank you all for having me today.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yeah, yeah, pleasure. Our pleasure. Well, Darren and I were talking before the show. Well, first of all, on the show, we, we have a lot of, um, big time corporate CEOs, we have a lot of professional athletes. And so this is, I think our, you're our first guest to ever be on the show who's been an educational leader. And so we've had a lot of former teachers who have done other things in other realms, you know, athletes, et cetera, but to have someone right now who's fully immersed. in such a large school district and has such an important role. This is a really, really cool thing for us. And number one, thank you for joining us because I'm a former public school teacher. Yeah. Darren's mom taught for 30 plus years. Liz, Darren's wife, taught for almost 15 years. My sister is a doctor of education. So we are very, very passionate about making sure that the next generation is getting the education that they need. So that takes us right into the first bullet point that we wanted to talk about. the way that you view your role. I thought this was really, really interesting. You said that you view your role as chief advocate for Springfield Public Schools and of course all of its stakeholders, students and employees. So maybe just start there and talk a little bit about that approach being a chief advocate for all of the stakeholders.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Number one, it's an honor to be able to serve and to lead our district. And I consider myself a chief advocate. And I'll give you an example of that. This past Saturday, we hosted our Back to School with Dash event at the Expo Center, where we had community partners, members of teen SPS, just our parents and our students, we provided them with backpacks, hygiene products, groceries, immunizations. We had, we hosted a job fair. They had an opportunity to sign up for transportation, participate in the funds zone, and we gave away prizes. But we did everything we needed to prepare them for the first day of school, which by the way is August the 22nd. And so

[Bobby & Darren]:

Crazy.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

when I say advocate, I'm advocating not only for students' well-being overall as it relates to academics, but also their social needs, their enrichment needs, their extracurricular needs, anything a child needs to be successful in school that will help them later in life. That is my job and that is my role.

[Bobby & Darren]:

That's amazing. So how many people just approximately came out for that event? Cause that sounds like you had the whole gambit to get everyone ramped up and ready to go for that first day of

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

We

[Bobby & Darren]:

school.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

had about 5,000 participants this year,

[Bobby & Darren]:

Wow.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

and I can say it was an outstanding event. Members of our community just showed up and helped provide the resources that our families needed.

[Bobby & Darren]:

What's so special about that is I would imagine that 5,000 people come out, right? Probably even a lot of community members that don't necessarily have children within the school district. And it really is a collaborative effort within a school district to make it run so well. I have a question for you. Knowing that probably a lot of those people, like I said, were not necessarily parents of current students, but what's in your guesstimation or your profession? professional opinion, what's the correlation between like parent engagement, student outcomes in your district, doing great programs like this back to school event where you're providing resources to kids that are necessary in order to set them up for success. So what's that correlation really like in 2023?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I mean that correlation if you have parents engaged in their child's education, you're going to see the results of that academically, how it plays out in school, not only as it relates to academic achievement, how a child behaves in school,

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

understanding that connection of there's accountability at home as well as accountability at school. And then also let's talk about the people that do not have children in our school district.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

We still need to be connected to them. I'm excited that we have a new strategic plan that our school board approved this past December where one of the priorities is around a collaborative culture, engaging everyone in the greater Springfield community. That includes people that do not have children in our school district. So it's important that we not only make that connection with students and their families, but also every community member. And that's one of my goals for the upcoming school year. I have various goals that the school board evaluates me around, but then I also have my own personal professional goals. And number one, it is to be more involved with people that do not have children in the community, especially senior citizens. Because at the end of the day,

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

when we put a measure on the ballot, we're asking all citizens in the community to support us. And so I wanna make sure people know that I'm accessible, not only at election time, but times beyond. when we need someone to say yes on the ballot.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Well, I think that's such a great point, Dr. Lathan, because I remember growing up and I remember my grandparents and you know how older people, well, we all complain about taxes, right? But I remember specifically my grandparents saying, you know, we no longer have kids in school and you know, we have these taxes. So I think that's a brilliant idea to still keep those folks engaged and make them feel like it's a part of it. Because, you know, you have so many people that go through the different seasons of life that maybe they had some get kids, grandkids. go through the schools and then they're out. And then they don't have that connection anymore to the school district, right?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Exactly.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yeah,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

And it's important

[Bobby & Darren]:

I cut

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

because you know, our future leaders in the community, we're educating them right now. And so I want our community members to know, here's a person that's going to take care of you at the doctor's office. Here's the person that's going to wait on you at a restaurant that's going to build you a new home. So you know, there are all types of people that we need to connect with in our community, but they need to know what we're doing here in Springfield Public Schools.

[Bobby & Darren]:

I think it's really great that you're trying. That's one of your personal goals. You said that you

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Yes.

[Bobby & Darren]:

wanted to be had the community more involved or you more involved with the community and I always found it interesting. So when I, when I taught public school, um, I taught four or five years. And middle school and, um, I came from the business world prior to, so at being an entrepreneur prior to being a public school teacher, went back on my masters to teach, and so I had this different lens through which I viewed education, um, And so I always viewed a superintendent like a CEO of the district. And you have the school board who is the, the chairman of their chair, women, right of the board. Uh, then you have your teachers, they're the, they're the managers, the leaders of the company. And you have the students that I always viewed as the consumer. They're the ones that are taking in what is essentially being produced for the community and the stakeholders. But I love that word stakeholders because it is truly encompassing not the kids in the school, the teachers, the administrators, but you're talking about those people that are part of your personal goals to actually get them involved within the community and the school district because it is a cohesive unit. And if everyone's not reacting in accordance with one another, then sometimes we don't know who's wagging who and it can get a little more confusing. So I really, I must applaud you for making that one of your personal goals.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Thank you. Thank you.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yeah. Do you, I'm sorry, Darren. No, go ahead. Do you... We love this because as business people,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I'm sorry.

[Bobby & Darren]:

right, we have very specific questions, but it translates a lot. So we're big on goals ourselves. And so all of our team members, we do goals and goal strategy sessions and our personal goals. So when you mentioned that, do you as a educational leader have a mentor or a coach or maybe somebody from your past that you reflect upon and use as a sounding board almost?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I do. I have a number of former superintendents that have continued to coach me. I actually have a mentor that is a retired Missouri superintendent that led a district similar to Springfield Public Schools. And so we're moving into our second year. Actually, I had a former superintendent my first year here in Missouri. I'm now starting my third year And so she's actually going to continue to be my executive coach for a second year And it's great to be

[Bobby & Darren]:

Hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

able to bounce ideas off of her and like I said She gets it because she has lived it and she understands but it's important to have mentors and coaches In our lives and people should know that on any job that you have you should have that type of relationship

[Bobby & Darren]:

Man, you're speaking this right, right to our heart, Dr. Lathan,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Yeah.

[Bobby & Darren]:

because we always say, Hey, you know, whether it's sports or business or education, you know, everyone needs a mentor, right? Everyone needs a coach. I mean, we always joke around, you know, being from Kansas City, we're huge cheese fans, you know, even Patrick Mahomes has a quarterbacks coach, right? You always need someone that might see some things that might be in your blind spot that you didn't really think of or anything like that. So that's really cool that you have that. And also I think what was important that I was going to get into is, you know, with someone in your role, which is a phenomenal role. Also, I think sometimes forget that at the end of the day, you're a human, right? You just didn't wake up overnight and you're a superintendent, you know, no one sees, you know, we call it the iceberg, you know, the success is the tip of the iceberg out of the water and then below, no one sees all the hard work and you know, the multiple degrees you have and all those hours of studying that you did. So. Let's take a step back as, as you were growing up, was there a certain point in your life, Dr. Lathan, that you were like, Hey, you know what? I want to get into education. I eventually want to get to that superintendent spot because I know, you know, I love how you talked about, you know, you got some of your background from the, the church and the Girl Scouts. And I'm sure you slated as selling some Girl Scout cookies back in the day. But, uh, was there a certain point growing up that you were like, you know what, this is exactly what I want to do.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. And then in my high school memory book, I wrote that I would continue, it says, what do you see yourself in 10 years? I wanted to become a principal. I really initially had no desires to become a school superintendent. I'll be very honest with you. I experienced success as a superintendent, I mean, as a principal. And my superintendent, when he was leaving our district to go to another school district, he says, you know, I truly see you as a future superintendent. I want you to consider taking this central office position and I wanna help you get prepared to become a superintendent. So it was a mentor that saw, hey, you can go beyond being a building

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

level principal. I do see that you have that skillset. And so that's how it morphed into me becoming a superintendent. But I always wanted to be a teacher and a

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

principal. And I still consider myself a teacher in everything I do. I try to remember what it felt like to be in the classroom, also what

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

it felt like to be a building principal. when we make decisions here at the central office. And sometimes

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

we forget and we have to be reminded. And that's another reason about love about building relationships. I want my staff members to know that they can approach me, they can share the things that are working in our district, but they also can provide me feedback of things that we need to improve on.

[Bobby & Darren]:

You know, that's one thing that is really good about education is kind of this stair step approach that in order to really be an assistant principal, you, I mean, I don't know that I've ever met an assistant principal that wasn't a classroom teacher or a principal who wasn't an assistant principal or a super who wasn't, you know, a building administrator. And so I love that education does have that stair step approach. And I'll say It seems at least to me from the outside and the inside perspective that maybe as public school superintendent is one of the most rapidly changing roles within education. So in your opinion, kind of what is that primary role of a superintendent, especially of a large school district of one of the largest in the entire country.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I mean, it's back to what you said earlier. It is to function as a CEO. I'm the CEO of our educational school district or educational company. If you want to call it Springfield Public Schools

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yeah.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

is our company. The difference is we work with children, young adults every day. And so our product and outcome, like you said, it equates to student achievement. How well are our students performing at the end of a school year when they complete that school year? So when they... entering August and then when they leave us in May, have we been able to grow that child academically? Have we provided them with the skill sets that they need? So part of my responsibility is working in collaboration with my team to ensure that we have the right, we manage the finances that the public has entrusted us with, that we select the right curriculum and the resources that our principals and our teachers need, and then that we also have a well-rounded educational experience for them that includes sports, it includes extracurricular opportunities. Sometimes it includes tutorial supports. It includes field trips. So ensuring that we have the necessary, I can say finances, but also partners that can help us where we have maybe some gaps and we need maybe speakers or we need internship opportunities for our students. So it's connecting our community partners with the resources in our district and connecting our district personnel with those resources.

[Bobby & Darren]:

You mentioned something there about. Data I believe you said something about I wrote down data and maybe it was about just being. Here's my question. How important is it for you to have accessible and accurate data when you are making major decisions about the district we're talking about student improvement right and so a lot of times that equates to test scores. That's why I wrote that down. So maybe talk about, since that is a big piece of one of your three goals this year, and obviously every year, just talk about how much data lives and breathes every single day within a school leader.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Thank you. I mean, it's extremely important. One of the, this is, we're starting our second year. So last year implemented a universal screener. A universal screener, we administered that three times a year. It's called a beginning of the year assessment, middle of the year assessment, and the end of the year assessment. And so, think about it like this from an athletics. This is, sounds like you all interview a

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

lot of athletes. So. when the chiefs show up for whatever that sports camp is, as you can tell, I'm not an athletic person, but they have

[Bobby & Darren]:

Sorry,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

an

[Bobby & Darren]:

training

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

open camp,

[Bobby & Darren]:

camp.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

right, going on right

[Bobby & Darren]:

Training

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

now. So

[Bobby & Darren]:

camp,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

pre-season,

[Bobby & Darren]:

yep.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

getting ready for pre-season. So in the pre-season, they have taken everyone's weight, they're conditioning, they're doing those things. So beginning of the year is our pre-season. When children enter the school, we give them an assessment. Then middle of the year, so we're trying to get ready. We're not ready for the Super Bowl yet. We're not ready for the regional playoffs or whatever you call it. So

[Bobby & Darren]:

Got

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

in November

[Bobby & Darren]:

it.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

and December, we give them a middle of year assessment. So when they arrived in August to November slash December, did we grow them? Did they meet the academic goal that we established for that particular child? And then we go back and administer next April and May, we administer that assessment again. If they've been able to grow throughout the course of that school year and they've grown based on the goals that we set for them, then we call that a Super Bowl win, that we were able. But if we did

[Bobby & Darren]:

if we do.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

not win the Super Bowl, let's say we did not grow a child that school year, then we have to make some necessary adjustments. And we actually do that throughout the course of the school year with the assessment. And so the teacher kind of has a plan of action of, okay, these

[Bobby & Darren]:

Okay,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

particular

[Bobby & Darren]:

this

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

students

[Bobby & Darren]:

will take the

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

need

[Bobby & Darren]:

students'

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

to work

[Bobby & Darren]:

team

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

on

[Bobby & Darren]:

to

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

this,

[Bobby & Darren]:

work on

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Bobby

[Bobby & Darren]:

this,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

needs

[Bobby & Darren]:

Bobbie

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

this,

[Bobby & Darren]:

needs this,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Darren needs

[Bobby & Darren]:

they

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

this.

[Bobby & Darren]:

underneath this,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

And then they work

[Bobby & Darren]:

and then

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

on

[Bobby & Darren]:

they

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

that

[Bobby & Darren]:

work

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

plan

[Bobby & Darren]:

on that

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

throughout

[Bobby & Darren]:

plan

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

the school

[Bobby & Darren]:

throughout

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

year

[Bobby & Darren]:

the school

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

to address

[Bobby & Darren]:

year to address

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

it. If by

[Bobby & Darren]:

it. This

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

chance

[Bobby & Darren]:

is by

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

at the

[Bobby & Darren]:

chance

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

end of the

[Bobby & Darren]:

the

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

school

[Bobby & Darren]:

end

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

year,

[Bobby & Darren]:

of school year. Students

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

students still need

[Bobby & Darren]:

still

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

additional

[Bobby & Darren]:

need initial

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

supports,

[Bobby & Darren]:

support.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

we recommend

[Bobby & Darren]:

We recommended

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

that they participate

[Bobby & Darren]:

they participate

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

in our explore

[Bobby & Darren]:

in our

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

program.

[Bobby & Darren]:

school program.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

We also

[Bobby & Darren]:

We

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

recommend

[Bobby & Darren]:

also

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

that

[Bobby & Darren]:

recommended

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

they participate

[Bobby & Darren]:

they participate

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

in tutorials.

[Bobby & Darren]:

in tutorials.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

So we

[Bobby & Darren]:

So

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

use

[Bobby & Darren]:

we've

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

data

[Bobby & Darren]:

used data

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

ongoing

[Bobby & Darren]:

all

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

throughout

[Bobby & Darren]:

along

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

the

[Bobby & Darren]:

throughout

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

course of

[Bobby & Darren]:

the

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

a school

[Bobby & Darren]:

course of

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

year

[Bobby & Darren]:

the school

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

to

[Bobby & Darren]:

year

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

make

[Bobby & Darren]:

to

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

instructional

[Bobby & Darren]:

make that instruction.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

decisions. That's also what drives our budget is how well are our students doing academically? What do we need as it relates to when we ask

[Bobby & Darren]:

So

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

the

[Bobby & Darren]:

we

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

board

[Bobby & Darren]:

asked the

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

to

[Bobby & Darren]:

board

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

approve

[Bobby & Darren]:

to

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

our

[Bobby & Darren]:

approve

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

budget

[Bobby & Darren]:

our

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

every

[Bobby & Darren]:

budget

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

June

[Bobby & Darren]:

every June

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

for the upcoming

[Bobby & Darren]:

for the upcoming

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

year

[Bobby & Darren]:

year.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

is how much

[Bobby & Darren]:

How much

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

money do we

[Bobby & Darren]:

money

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

need to

[Bobby & Darren]:

do

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

put

[Bobby & Darren]:

we

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

in

[Bobby & Darren]:

need

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

XYZ?

[Bobby & Darren]:

for the x-y?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

How many additional

[Bobby & Darren]:

How many additional

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

supports,

[Bobby & Darren]:

supports?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

whether it's

[Bobby & Darren]:

Whether

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

personnel

[Bobby & Darren]:

it is personnel

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

supports,

[Bobby & Darren]:

support,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

it's curriculum

[Bobby & Darren]:

needs to be

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

materials?

[Bobby & Darren]:

written on materials. One

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

One of the things

[Bobby & Darren]:

of the

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

we

[Bobby & Darren]:

things

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

use

[Bobby & Darren]:

we

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

some

[Bobby & Darren]:

need

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

of our

[Bobby & Darren]:

some

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

ESSER

[Bobby & Darren]:

of our

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

federal

[Bobby & Darren]:

AESA federal

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

dollars with

[Bobby & Darren]:

dollars

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

was a

[Bobby & Darren]:

to

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

before

[Bobby & Darren]:

implement

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

and after school

[Bobby & Darren]:

at

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

care.

[Bobby & Darren]:

the school here

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

to ensure

[Bobby & Darren]:

to ensure

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

not only that

[Bobby & Darren]:

now

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

our staff

[Bobby & Darren]:

that our

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

members,

[Bobby & Darren]:

staff

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

if

[Bobby & Darren]:

members

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

that needed

[Bobby & Darren]:

are then

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

care

[Bobby & Darren]:

even

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

for

[Bobby & Darren]:

here

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

their

[Bobby & Darren]:

before

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

own children,

[Bobby & Darren]:

their own children.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

but our students

[Bobby & Darren]:

But our students

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

who

[Bobby & Darren]:

who are

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

qualify

[Bobby & Darren]:

not here

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

for free and reduced lunch, that their parents had an

[Bobby & Darren]:

parents

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

opportunity

[Bobby & Darren]:

have an opportunity

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

and a place for

[Bobby & Darren]:

in a

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

them

[Bobby & Darren]:

place

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

to be

[Bobby & Darren]:

where

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

before

[Bobby & Darren]:

they've been

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

or

[Bobby & Darren]:

before

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

after school.

[Bobby & Darren]:

at the school.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

So that's

[Bobby & Darren]:

That's

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

how

[Bobby & Darren]:

how

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

we

[Bobby & Darren]:

we

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

make

[Bobby & Darren]:

make

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

those decisions.

[Bobby & Darren]:

those decisions.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

You've

[Bobby & Darren]:

We've

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

probably heard

[Bobby & Darren]:

probably

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

a lot

[Bobby & Darren]:

heard

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

about

[Bobby & Darren]:

a lot

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

as it relates

[Bobby & Darren]:

about it.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

to COVID discipline and students experiencing maybe even some mental health issues. We use some additional dollars for that. So we have a partnership that supports behavior technicians. We have a partnership with another partner that supports social workers in our school. So we're constantly looking at data, whether it's attendance data. We have a big campaign coming up for the upcoming school year-round attendance, making sure that students are in school every day. We look at discipline data. We look at, like I said, our achievement data. And then we design our budget based on what the data is showing us.

[Bobby & Darren]:

very cool I'm just sitting here dr. Lathan you know We keep talking about, you know, treating this like a business, you know, spring being the CEO of Springfield schools. And as far as like just decision-making, like you have all these schools, you have all these employees, like how does that decision-making do you have like a system or a flow because, you know, I know how it is in some of our businesses. And, you know, we have, you know, a much smaller number of employees. I can't imagine having 3,500. Employees because you know, That number, not everyone's seeing eye to eye all the time, right?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Right, that's true. One of the things I also utilize is a Gather With Grenada. So that's a tool and it's virtual where any staff member, there are times listed throughout the day, various

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

times of course across the school year that they can jump on, on a Zoom call and I start with an update on the district and then there's no agenda. They can ask me questions, they can share with me what's working, they can put things on my radar. and they give me ideas and things to think about. We also use another platform called Thought Exchange, and it is a survey tool that we push out to not only our staff members, we send it out to parents, community members, and high school students at various times to get their feedback. And so we try to utilize that feedback to then inform the decisions. Sometimes we can hit it and we can do exactly what people are asking us to do or providing us feedback. And other times I have to make decisions and say, no, this is not in the best interest of our district right now. or will not fit in our plan, and we have to do something else. But I always like to give feedback that

[Bobby & Darren]:

Hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

why we didn't make a change. And I'll give you one example. I'm not sure how much time we have, but I wanna give you

[Bobby & Darren]:

No,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

one example.

[Bobby & Darren]:

yeah, we're good. No, you're

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Last

[Bobby & Darren]:

good.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

school year, we held what we call SPS University. SPS University is basically a workshop session for parents and community members where they can come into the district, they receive an overview from me, and then they're able to attend various classes. So last year, and it's worked in previous districts I've been in, we held an SPS university on the same night in September across the entire district. So all 52 of our campuses were open that night. Well, it

[Bobby & Darren]:

Wow.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

was a nightmare. It was a nightmare because if I'm a parent that has multiple children, I could

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

only go possibly to one and I might've made the second school because we did do some staggered times. And so the feedback

[Bobby & Darren]:

Be

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

was

[Bobby & Darren]:

that

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

overwhelmingly

[Bobby & Darren]:

what all the police can do, don't do

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

from

[Bobby & Darren]:

it again.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

parents

[Bobby & Darren]:

This year, SCA,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

and staff members. Don't do it again. Don't do it again. Please don't do that. So this year, SPS University

[Bobby & Darren]:

SCA

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

will be held between August 21st and September 14th. So schools can choose when they're going to host the event. They'll publicize that to their families. Now what we're going to do, we also do district-wide events where it is still one night at one location that will be in November, November 16th for the fall and then in March for the spring. But that was one way that we utilized feedback. to make a decision because we, at the end of the first week of school, I always send out a survey. What went well this week, give us some suggestions for improvement. And then we actually try to respond back. And then I'll record a video saying, thank you for your feedback. Here are the things I'm able to address. Here are the things that we're gonna have to wait a little bit longer on. One of them, another one was, they do not like starting school on a Monday. I don't know what it is about Springfield, Missouri or Missouri.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yeah,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

A

[Bobby & Darren]:

right.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

lot of our districts don't start on Monday and they're like, can you please not start school on Monday? So we're starting on a Tuesday this year. So it's things like that, but trying to listen and make decisions. Sometimes I've also offered mental health days for our staff members. When I'm out visiting campuses, they've said, you know how overwhelmed they are, tired. So my first year we did it in October. This past year we did it in May. At the end of the school year, we had a mental health day. So those are just different things based on feedback that I received from employees. and staff

[Bobby & Darren]:

I love,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

members.

[Bobby & Darren]:

I love that idea, especially the mental health day, but you know, you're right, people are not so excited about Mondays all the time anyway.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I'm

[Bobby & Darren]:

So

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

sorry.

[Bobby & Darren]:

I can see that's kind of like a double whammy, right? Yeah. Well, I

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

It is, it is.

[Bobby & Darren]:

like a

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

All

[Bobby & Darren]:

lot of

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I've

[Bobby & Darren]:

the things.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

ever done is start school on a Monday, but they were like, no, no. I'm like, okay, let's fix it.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yeah, I think around here it's usually a Tuesday or Wednesday. In the years that I taught, it was always

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Yeah.

[Bobby & Darren]:

kind of midweek, which, which was nice because you could have kind of your in-service almost and like

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Yes.

[Bobby & Darren]:

get your classroom ready and so a teacher doesn't feel like they're getting smacked in the mouth from day one on a Monday,

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Right.

[Bobby & Darren]:

you know? So a lot of the things you mentioned there, Dr. Lathan about, it was really just about transparency. I mean, you're creating these opportunities to be transparent with your stakeholders, to have conversations, open up the window, to have. opportunity, you know, to say, Hey, I visited this district or I hear what's going on here or I've seen this go on. So kudos to you for making that happen. Yeah. You've also mentioned a couple of times now attendance. You've said the words attendance three

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Yes.

[Bobby & Darren]:

or four times. And this one is always really interesting to me as a former educator. I don't think the general population understands how closely related attendance is to the amount of resources that a school district is able to obtain from a state. So maybe just spend a couple of minutes to educate the people on how important and crucial it is to make sure that students' butts are in seats.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

You're right, funding is tied to students attendance, not enrollment in our district. So we are very pleased and proud to be the largest school district in the state. But at the end of the day, it's about the students that are attending school and being in school on a daily basis. But aside from the financial benefits from state perspective that we receive, but it's important that children are in school so that they can receive a quality education.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

And when students are absent, we have to find a way to catch them up and then they're behind their peers. So, We really want to push students being in school on time every day. And we're saying attendance equals their future.

[Bobby & Darren]:

I like that. So just out of curiosity, um, cause that seems like a math, a massive underdoing. Is that just an electronic process in terms of taking role and turning that into the state? I mean, how does, how does that from on the backend, how does that look to make sure that you're getting the right data to the state to make sure you guys are getting the funds that you're supposed to get?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

You're right, everything is reported electronically. So teachers input attendance at the school level,

[Bobby & Darren]:

Every hour.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

the office staff make sure that everything is accurate and then we have to upload information periodically to the state. So it's important that the people really, the person that's entering that information, making sure they enter that correctly. If a student comes in late, making sure that we've corrected it, change absence to tardy, but it is extremely important that we are accurately recording our attendance.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm hmm. Very cool. Well, you mentioned the obviously the most important pieces to ensure that students are getting the quality education so they're not falling behind or that they're keeping up with their peers. So preparing students in this quote unquote digital age, right? We've been hearing the quote unquote digital age for 25 years now, and it's kind of been an evergreen term of sorts. So in 2023, what exactly does the digital age and preparing students for the digital age look like in today's classroom or today's super district like Springfield, Missouri.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Well, number one, we have a class and a course that we assign to students that actually, if you think about digital citizenship,

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

so they have an opportunity. We actually hired this year through our budgeting process to instructional technologists that will work with classroom teachers on the proper usage and how to effectively utilize technology in the classroom, but making sure that there's a balance so that we're not over utilizing,

[Bobby & Darren]:

them.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

students are not having extended screen time. So there is a delicate balance. And like I said, we have two employees devoted to that for the upcoming school year because we wanna ensure that students know how to use technology, but they also know how to use it safely, but we

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yes.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

don't wanna overuse. And think about it from a standpoint when we were all in school, that busy worker worksheets, it is now, you know, sometimes it's turned into a device and we don't want busy work to just be through a device. So,

[Bobby & Darren]:

Right. Yeah, I mean, we've all been part of it. And a lot of teachers have been part of lots of different districts, but you have these big massive technology rollouts that, you know, it's almost like they assume it's an easy button. And because we're, you know, 10 years ago, it was like, Oh, let's get iPads in every classroom, or let's get Chrome books in every classroom. But just because you have the tool, that doesn't necessarily mean that the person is equipped to utilize the tool. And

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

That's

[Bobby & Darren]:

so

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

exactly

[Bobby & Darren]:

I

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

it.

[Bobby & Darren]:

find that that's really, really great that you and the district are saying, okay, technology is just one facet of this. We've got to make sure that they're being effective and responsible digital citizens. Like they can actually use it when they roll out. So Dr. Lathan, is there any goals that you have that you can share with, with people to listen on this program over the next three or five years? Is there one or two goals that you're really, you know, champion or, and trying to work towards over the next few years?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

improving academic outcomes for every student that we serve. So all of our students ensuring, like I said, that they're growing academically each year, but those students that are behind grade levels that we're able to catch them up. But at the end of the day, we're here and it all falls and centers around student achievement. So that's the ultimate goal,

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

just making sure that we have the right resources in place, we have effective teachers and principals, and then that as a superintendent and along with my team, We tear down those barriers that are preventing them from successfully meeting the needs of our students.

[Bobby & Darren]:

That's good. Darren, actually, this is a perfect segue into that. So with Darren's question about long term goals and what it's really going to take to make sure that Springfield stays ahead of the curve. I always found it interesting as an educator of how far down the road school leaders were actually looking at improvement plans. And I mean, we're talking five, 10 years sometimes down the road. And I think a lot of stakeholders have this. you know, micro lens where it's looking at this school year, right? And even, even a lot of educators who aren't necessarily part of improvement groups or committees, but maybe talk a little bit about school improvement plans and the process that goes into work on those or change those creating visions and mission statements and core values for school districts. I mean, a lot of these things, as we always say, these are synonymous across any industry. And so that's what I loved about. education in particular is because you could take a lot of business things and put it into a school. But talk a little bit about those things and really how it is not some quick fix. And there's a lot of things going on behind the scenes.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Thank you for asking me that question. We have a five-year strategic plan. Like I said, our board approved it in December of 2022 and that we're working off of that five-year strategic plan. And so in that five-year strategic plan, we have objectives that we want to meet or master over the next five years. And centered around that, of course, is our budget to ensure that financially we can take care of all the needs that we have addressed in that particular, in the strategic plan. And so we are planning five years out. And so we kind of, you think about it, then we backwards plan from the end of the five years of, here are the things we wanna work on in year one, in year two, year three, year four, and year five. And we are continuously revising that. So some things that maybe we're saying, oh, this is year four, but based on data, we might move that up to year two or year three, but we're doing that over a five year period. And that's not only myself, but other school districts across the country, they do the same time. Same things, most people are doing three to five years. We voted on a five year plan. Some of the goals will get accomplished in the first year. And eventually we might need to add to those particular objectives that we've listed.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Well, I love the fact Dr. Lathan that you guys have goals. Cause we're really big on that in the businesses that we have, you know, meeting with individuals and what their plans are, but like looking three or five years out is such a, a phenomenal idea. Because as you know, Things you have to adjust over time, right? You know, you might have to make things a little bit sooner. You might have to push some things out a little bit, but just having a plan and then adjusting it is phenomenal because you know, I remember growing up and I could always tell. I could always tell when my mom that taught fifth grade, I always knew if she had a good principal that year or a bad principal by how she was when she got home. Right? It's true. Cause right. Cause you heard about it all the time, but you know, it seems, it seems like not always even in business of schools. I don't know if everyone really has an exact plan, but it really seems like you guys haven't dialed in down in Springfield, which is really cool to see.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

We do our board set the vision for that five year strategic plan and now I call it just working the plan.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yep. It's good to stick to the plan. That's why you spend so much time writing it. So

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

That's

[Bobby & Darren]:

you think you

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

right.

[Bobby & Darren]:

can stick

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

That's

[Bobby & Darren]:

to

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

right.

[Bobby & Darren]:

it. Right. And, and, and we know you're a super busy lady, but just a real quick sports question for you. So, you know, growing up, Bobby went to blue Springs. I went to trim in high school up here, blues, blue spring South. Sorry. Um, do you ever get a chance to, uh, attend any of the sporting activities down there in Springfield?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

The Springfield Cardinals, I was able last year, no, two years ago, it's been two years now. I guess I'm starting my third year that

[Bobby & Darren]:

Yeah.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I was able to attend one of those events. And then of course football game at MSU and basketball

[Bobby & Darren]:

Hmm

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

at MSU. So that's been the nature of I think my sporting opportunities.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Well, you have just a few things on your plate. Yeah, a few things. So Dr. Lathan, obviously, every single year, the face of education is constantly changing. We've talked about technology. We've talked about just funding. So what's one recent trend in your studies and what you've come across, maybe in other districts, or maybe it's something that Springfield's leading the charge with that that's going to have a major influence on school districts to come in the years ahead?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

You know, one of the things that was most impressive to me about Springfield Public Schools is the support that we have on our campuses. For example, all of our schools having a school counselor, all of our schools having a school librarian or at least a staff member to support and our students having access to our libraries and being able to work on their reading skills beyond the classroom and those additional supports. our various partnerships with various partners for, like I said, before school and after school care. You know, a couple of our campuses, actually the Boys and Girls Club is actually housed in our facilities.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

So that's powerful in the sense of being able to do that. What you'll continue to see from Springfield Public Schools is that we will continue to partner with some great organizations that will meet the needs of our students. And as you think about the change, I wouldn't say the changing of education is continue to focus on what we need to do to make sure that every child is successful. I want to continue to put the message out there that receiving a public school education is still a great way to become a great citizen in this country and to be able to live the dream that a particular child or parent has for themselves. So I wanna just spread that message that public school is still where it is, or where it's at, I guess,

[Bobby & Darren]:

I like

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

it's

[Bobby & Darren]:

it.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

the same term.

[Bobby & Darren]:

Right. I like it. Right. We got a couple of public school grads sitting here before you today. So yes, we turned out okay. We did all right. According to some.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I'm sorry.

[Bobby & Darren]:

We did all right. That's great. Well, and also we want to we want to be mindful of your time and just thank you so much for hanging with us. Is there anything in particular that you would like to share that maybe we haven't covered so far? Any

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

I

[Bobby & Darren]:

anything

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

just want to share

[Bobby & Darren]:

exciting?

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

and I want to make sure your listeners know that Springfield Public Schools and the greater Springfield community, it's a great place to work and a great place to live. Because like I said, you wouldn't believe the collaborative culture that truly exists in Springfield, Missouri. And so I need people to come down and so you all come down from Kansas City and see

[Bobby & Darren]:

Mm-hmm.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

it for yourself. And if anyone's looking for a job, feel free to check out our website, www.sps.org. Thank you for having me today.

[Bobby & Darren]:

That's awesome. Thank you so much, Dr. Lathan. Yep. We really appreciate it. This has been the always be cool podcast hanging out with your hosts, Bobby Kerr, Darren Copeland and Dr. Grenita Nathan, uh, Lathan, excuse me, down in Springfield, Missouri. Make sure to check out the school district online at SPS.org. You can check out or email the team at communications at SPS mail.org or find them on Facebook and LinkedIn at official SPS Dr. Lathan. Thank you so, so much for joining us. Thank you.

[Dr. Grenita Lathan]:

Thank you.

[Bobby & Darren]:

All right.