AUGUST 26, 2013

By Tammy Lacey, Superintendent

Great Falls Public Schools

Great Falls, Montana


Please note:  This is written as a speech and therefore may not adhere to grammar, punctuation and other usual writing conventions.

Thank you, Mary, for the nice introduction.  It is my honor and my pleasure to be standing before you today as your superintendent of schools.  I have to pinch myself every now and then to make sure that it is true!  Here is what I know for sure…I wouldn’t be here before you today if it wasn’t for some amazing colleagues who worked by my side at Valley View and West Elementary Schools in the 1980’s.  If you worked at those two schools in the 1980’s stand up.   I wouldn’t be here today without my friends and colleagues from Loy Elementary School.  Please stand up!  And I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the support staff in Human Resources and the entire DOB.  Would all DOB, warehouse and annex staff members stand up?  Thank you, one and all. 

There is another group of folks that I need to thank for their commitment to public education.  I thank them for their tireless enthusiasm and passion for the hard work that must get done.  I appreciate their intelligence and expertise and I thank them for their willingness to stand beside me as we take this District to new heights.  Please help me in welcoming the District’s cabinet members:

  • Ruth Uecker—Asst. Supt. for K-6
  • Tom Moore—Asst. Supt. for 7-12
  • Brian Patrick—Director of Business Operations
  • Dale Lambert—Director of Student Services
  • Jeff Patterson—Director of Instructional Technology
  • Mindy Kiser—Director of Human Resources
  • Chris Olszewski—Director of Curriculum and Instruction

They are an amazing team working for Our Kids, Our Community and Our Future! 

Speaking of the future…I want to recognize our brand new employees.  If you are a new employee, teacher or support staff, starting your first school year with the District, please stand up.  On behalf of GFPS, I welcome you to this incredible organization and wish you a long and fulfilling career with us.  You will help define the future of GFPS.

You heard me mention 6 words that have been resonating around the District since March or so…

Our Kids, Our Community, Our Future:  6 simple words that come with so much responsibility. 

Our 10,200 kids, our 60,000 community members, our futures…depend a lot on me and on all of you…Our kids, our community, our futures, depend on US.

The good news is…we have a plan to take on those responsibilities…a plan based on this district’s vision for a preferred future.  A plan steeped in the beliefs that govern our actions.  A plan that will help this district chase the sun to brighter tomorrows. You can follow along on your sheets as you join me in watching a short movie about our vision, our beliefs, our goals and the necessary key results.

District leaders have identified action items to help us reach these goals like attendance initiatives, superintendent advisory panels and security updates.  I know you have ideas too.  Think big.  Share those ideas.  If each of us does what we do a little bit better, I have no doubt that we will meet those goals. 

I promise that I will do everything in my power to make these goals and dreams come true.  When someone makes a promise like I just made, those who are counting on that promise have to trust that person.  They have to know where that person is coming from and they have to know that they can depend on that person.

If you are going to trust me, I think you need to know some things about me.  I think you need to know what I believe, what I expect of myself because of those beliefs and what I expect of you. I’m going to spend the rest of my time talking about those things…my beliefs and my expectations.

Belief #1:

Here’s the first belief of mine I want to talk about:  If you don’t love yourself, no one else will.

Here’s what I mean by that… I believe that to love yourself is to be understanding with yourself, to be patient with yourself, to be forgiving and kind towards yourself, and to take care of yourself.  When you do that, you also treat others the same way.  That’s all a part of respect…respecting yourself, respecting others

This belief is why I have been a staunch supporter of our employee wellness program and the employee assistance program both run out of our CARE Office. I believe that you must take care of yourself so you can take care of others.  Because we are in the business of caring for others…caring for the students in our workplaces, caring for the quality of education they receive, I expect you to care for yourself.  I expect you to do the things that are necessary for you…whatever those things might be…for you to be mentally and physically healthy.

We have an agency in the house today that supports the health needs of our entire community and that’s the Cascade County Health Department.  Would the Board members from that agency who are here today stand up and be recognized?  Thank you for helping us take care of ourselves.

But there is another part of this belief and it has to do with loyalty.  If we take a bigger look at the word “yourself” away from just the individual and we look at the bigger identity of ourselves in the terms of our community this belief stands out for me there too.  What if I substitute the word Great Falls?…If you don’t love Great Falls, no one else will…

I believe that the success of our school district is dependent upon the success of Great Falls and vice versa.  I know we all want Great Falls to be a vibrant, economically diverse, and thriving community.  I want it so we can have increasing enrollment…I want more kids in our schools benefiting from the incredible educational opportunities we offer.  Some of you want it so you have great places to eat out and good shopping.  But if you don’t love GF, no one else will.  Sometimes we can be a little negative about GF…there’s nothing to do here, our shopping stinks, there’s a casino on every corner, we can’t even land a chain restaurant…you’ve all heard it and maybe you have even said it.  I get a little miffed when I hear someone dissing our town.  We can do better and we are. Luckily we have a group of people here today that work on a daily basis for this very thing.  We have a group of professionals from the Great Falls Development Authority that love Great Falls and are telling lots of other people about it.  Please stand up GFDA staff and Board Members and give a wave and GFPS lets give them a hand for the work they do on behalf of our community.

We have so much to be proud of here in Great Falls.  Jerry Jendusa, CEO of a company here in Great Falls that employs 100 employees, chose to locate here because of the people.  I know that the people of Great Falls have a strong work ethic; and I know that GF has an educational system, PK to post high school, that puts skilled workers into the employment pipeline.  I would like to acknowledge our partners from higher education that are here today…the University of Great Falls and Great Falls College. 

We indeed have so much to be proud of.

GFPS staff, I know that you demonstrate your love for Great Falls through the work that you do in your jobs but I also know that you do a myriad of volunteer work in our community as well.  I thank you for that and I challenge you to find even more ways to love Great Falls and to tell others about what’s good here and to work with others to improve what’s not so good.

Now let’s take this belief and substitute the word GFPS… If you don’t love GFPS, no one else will…

If the very people that come to work every day can’t be proud of their workplace, can’t be forgiving towards it, can’t be patient with it, can’t believe in continuous improvement, who else will?  It is imperative that each of us helps the District be the best it can be and that means that we must direct our criticisms internally to those who can address them and send good news externally.  We sometimes are our own worst enemy. 

An example of sending negative messages externally might be when an employee tells his neighbor that there is so much waste in the District. The neighbor now thinks that there is SO MUCH waste in the district…waste everywhere…in fact, the neighbor might even get a little mad about that because he sure doesn’t want his tax dollars paying for waste.

Another example of spreading negativity externally…a few weeks ago letters went out inviting you to this convocation.  Some Facebook posts about that letter were brought to my attention saying how these people hated getting the welcome back letter, saying they were dreading coming back to school, saying how they wished summer would never end…while I understand that summer is fun…these kind of comments in public to hundreds of people contradict what I know is true…you love teaching, you love working in education…these comments confuse people. 

There’s a saying in the ranch world…”you ride for the brand”.  It is a simple concept:  when you hire on with an outfit, you make sure that the rancher is successful so you can keep riding the range.  I expect us all to ride for the brand. 

With that being said, I don’t expect blind loyalty.  We can always get better.  Maybe there is waste, for example.  I expect you to be a part of the solution…tell someone who can help you fix it…I’m pretty sure your neighbor can’t.  Now I’ve been told that you can’t tell anything to management or you will be retaliated against.  I will not tolerate retaliation.  Do the right thing, speak up, don’t be unnecessarily fearful…ride for the brand.

Belief #2:  I can’t do it alone. You can’t do it alone.  But we can do it together.

This is true no matter what “it” is.  There are so many clichés around this concept: It takes a village to raise a child…there is no “I” in team…many hands make light work…but the profoundness of this statement is not cliché.  Vince Lombardi said it best, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” 

Important words there…individual commitment.  As individuals in this room, we have so many talents, so many gifts…but commitment says are you willing to use those gifts and moreover…are you willing to use those gifts and talents to work with others to make the vision come true?  To reach our goals?

Why can’t we each do it alone?  As you know, the needs of our students today are so complex that it is humanly impossible for individuals to have all the answers to those needs.  It can’t be done.  I believe, however, that collectively, we can figure it out.  That collectively, we can discover, invent and deploy whatever it takes. 

We are so lucky that in our community we have many folks that want to support our work.  We have our Security Resource Officers that work in our schools to make our goal come true…healthy, safe and secure schools.  The Tribune highlighted their importance in an article just this last Saturday.  Stand up Detectives Garner, Reeves, Stimac and Taylor and Chief Bowen and give a wave.  GFPS let’s give them and the Great Falls Police Department a hand of gratitude for partnering with us.

We have agencies like the United Way that believe that education is a pillar of our community so they set these community-wide goals:

  • Students will enter kindergarten prepared to succeed
  • Third graders will read at proficiency
  • Chronic absenteeism is reduced
  • Graduation rates increase and drop-out rates decrease

and they are doing good work around each of these to make them happen.  United Way can’t do it alone.  But we can do it together.  Thank you United Way.  Please stand up and GFPS thank them with your applause.

We have our local legislators who are willing to listen and act.  This past session, they supported additional funding for public schools along with legislation dealing with truancy, child abuse, career & technical education funding, and many more.  They also rejected the use of public funds for private education.  Let’s thank our local legislators for their support of children and of public education. 

We can do it together…we have the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation that is fundraising to enhance high quality teaching and learning for the children of GFPS.  They want to give every child, in every school, the opportunity to excel.  They believe they can make our school and our community stronger than ever…thank you GFPS Foundation Board members along with Dave Crum. Please stand up and be recognized for being in this together with us. 

We also have representatives here from Starbase…an elementary program to deliver science, technology, engineering and math education to our students…a collaborative effort with the Department of Defense.   Please give a waive.

Working together…This belief demands that as your superintendent I seek out every person, every agency, every club, every entity that wants to be part of this incredible endeavor we call education.  It demands that I ask for help when we need it; it demands that I collaborate with all of you…it demands that I listen with an open mind and open heart to my critics because they are trying to teach me something.  It demands that we work together.

And all of you?  It demands that you ask for help when you need it.  That you honor the time when you join together in professional communities to seek out solutions.  That you commit to this group effort we call Great Falls Public Schools because I know what Vince Lombardi knew…individual commitment to a group effort…is the only thing that can get us to where we need to go.

Belief #3Dance with the one that “brung” you

Some of you may remember former GFPS superintendent, Jerry Weast.  I took some graduate courses from him and he drilled two sayings into us:

  • Know when to hold em, when to fold em, when to walk away and when to run, and
  • This one…Dance with the one that “brung” you.

It’s actually an old Texas expression that, while not grammatically correct, contains a lot of wisdom. It simply means you need to look after whoever helped you get to where you are.  Please forgive me, English teachers, as I will be grammatically incorrect in referencing this belief.

There are hundreds of examples of companies or entities that didn’t believe this.  They forgot that their businesses had to evolve with their user bases; they counted on their name, not the product, to continue to deliver successful results. A name will not guarantee marketplace domination forever.  Many of these businesses became irrelevant and lost value.

We have to be careful to not fall into that same trap…believing, that just because we are an institution that has been around since 1888; that just because our existence is guaranteed by the Montana Constitution; that just because people are supposed to support education…that we can discount those who “brung” us.  You might be asking…who is she talking about?  Who helped us get here?  Who “brung” us?  Well it’s the public.

We are a public institution.  GFPS is a public entity.  Therefore, as the saying goes, we need to be “dancing” with community members, business owners, taxpayers, voters, parents, senior citizens…the public.  The best way we can do that is by being accountable to them by providing a high quality product:  students who graduate college, career and citizenship ready.

The second way is to be good stewards of the funding they provide us:  being efficient and being good caretakers of their assets.  We must always remember that the buildings we work in, the supplies we use, the equipment that makes our job easier…are all public assets and must be treated as such.

We had some community folks help us this last year with local public funding and those were the members of the Budget Committee.  Would those community members here today that served on the budget committee please stand up and be recognized for your support?

Indeed we are a public institution.  We must also always remember that the public’s right to know almost always outweighs the individual’s right to privacy.  In today’s world, the public demands and is entitled to information.  Please remember that your personal conduct could come under very public scrutiny.  As public employees we are held to a high standard.

We have some other public employees in the house today…our colleagues from the City of Great Falls.  Would you please stand and be recognized?  Living together in a community requires attention to the collective good.  A community requires public workers to provide services and amenities to the populous.  Our city government does just that. I would like to thank the City employees and our elected city officials.  Please stand up.   I look forward to creating opportunities where the District works with city government for the mutual gain of GF citizens.

There are other ways we can dance with those that “brung” us.  We can remember to thank tax payers.  I would venture to guess that almost everyone in this room pays property taxes in one way or another through outright ownership or through the rent you pay.  I thank you for your tax dollars.  I promise to do everything in my power to ensure that each and every dollar is spent on providing educational opportunity for student success.

Would business owners and members of the Chamber of Commerce please stand and give a wave?  Thank you for your tax dollars as they support a comprehensive educational system that I hope makes you proud.

We can also dance with those who “brung” us by remembering that every store, boutique, restaurant and place of business in Great Falls pays local property taxes that make up 27% of the District’s funding.  Stores in Spokane, Billings, Missoula, don’t pay local property taxes.  I try to remember this as I shop local.  I ask you to consider the same when you spend your hard earned money.  Every dollar we spend right here in GF turns over 7 times in the local economy.  Thinking local is a part of the dance.

Going back to belief #2…working together with those who “brung” us will ensure that our institution is relevant, supported and high quality for years to come.

Belief #4:  Work Hard. Play Hard.

Let’s start with the “work hard” part of this belief.  I believe in a full day’s work, doing it well and having the satisfaction of knowing that I gave it my best. I’m not afraid of getting up early and staying up late if that is what it takes to get the job done.  I don’t count the number of hours I work in a day or week.  Some might say that I am a bit of a workaholic.  I disagree.  I call it passion.  I love my work. I love doing my work.  I love working for you.  I believe that I am well compensated and I also believe that I must earn that compensation.  I believe that I owe hard work to those who “brung” me and even more importantly to those who are counting on me:  GFPS students and all of you.

I also believe that in order to be my best at work, I need to take care of myself…get enough sleep, eat the right things, exercise when I can, spend enough time with those I love and those who love me.  I owe it to those who count on me to do these things.  It’s not always easy…it’s a never ending search for balance.  And sometimes I get a little out of balance…out of whack.  I can be worried about one of my daughters, or there is a family situation that is perplexing, or can be just plain tired.  For me, I choose to leave those things at the door when I walk into the DOB or into one of the schools.  That’s the cool thing about the human brain…we can choose how we deal with things.  I make my own weather…I can decide if that weather is going to be cloudy or sunny.  I always prefer sunny…that makes my time at work count.

I expect you do whatever it takes for you to ensure that your time at work counts too.  I believe that every staff member must cherish every moment of learning time we have with children.  I believe that we must protect learning time from distractions and interruptions.  This belief is true not only for classroom teachers… most of whom have heard me say over and over again that if you waste 1 minute of time every day of the year, by the end of the year, 180 minutes or 3 hours has been wasted, but also for everyone else who works in our schools, …please cherish every minute we have with students…please protect it so students can be engaged today…so they can be successful for life tomorrow.

I also expect you to check your weather when you come to work each day.  We know that students thrive when they are surrounded by adults who care about them…who they can have a positive relationship with.  Who wants to have a relationship with some distracted, grouchy employee just going through the motions? Remember, you can choose your own weather…

How about that sunny weather?  This takes us to the second part of this belief…play hard.  Some of us have been subjected to the FISH Philosophy made famous by those crazy fish mongers in Seattle.  They adhere to 4 principles that help foster a great life at work:

  • Make Their Day
  • Choose Your Attitude
  • Be There and
  • PLAY!

Before I talk about the last one, Play, I want to touch on just one other FISH principle and that is Be There.  Someone said, 80% of success is showing up.  I looked it up and found out that it was Woody Allen.  I think what he is saying is that by being there, by being present in mind and body, success is more likely than not.  I believe that in order for this district to be successful, the people we have hired…you…that were selected because of the job skills you possess…must be present.  Last year, we had almost 11,000 teacher absences with almost half of those being due to sick leave.  When you add in all the other sick leave absences from all other employees, I become concerned that students are missing out.  That is why I continue to advocate for your health and well-being.  The students need you to BE THERE. 

But when you are there, it needs to be a good place to be, which brings me to their last principle:  PLAY

I believe that we must make time for fun within our work.  We need to be able to laugh at ourselves and with others.  Laughter and humor are infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and togetherness. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use.

It also increases the likelihood that you will have a positive attitude towards others.  As you may have noticed, we all have strengths and weaknesses.  We can let annoying personality traits of others drive us crazy or we can choose to let them go and to concentrate on their strengths. It is always best to dwell on strengths.  I encourage you to tease out and focus on what is good and right about your students and colleagues. 

But what about when we disagree?  I also believe that we can disagree without being disagreeable.  Civil discourse is expected without fear of retaliation or the ending of professional relationships.  Different viewpoints make us better.  Take a moment to listen.  Those who have different viewpoints from us are trying to teach us something.  It’s about respecting yourself and others.

Civil discourse happens every time we sit at the negotiating table with our unions.  We talk things out…solve problems, resolve differences.  Thank you to our union leaders in this effort.  We have some union agents in the house today, please stand up and be recognized.

Playing hard is also about celebrating.  We became educators because of our passion for the outcome:  students who graduate college, career and citizenship ready.  We don’t go into education because of accolades or attention.  But I believe that we must get better at tooting our own horns. 

We have some wonderful people with us today that are members of the media…please stand or waive…they want to share our successes with the world.  But they have to know about them.  We owe it to our community to share our successes. 

Remember…if you don’t love yourself, who will?  So please share your happenings with me…share your successes…share your challenges.  I might not be able to be physically present at each event, but I will make sure we get the word out via our webpage, Newsbits, Facebook, press releases, etc.   Our stories are really the community’s stories as well.

In working for GFPS, you have rights and with rights come responsibilities.  I trust that you will fulfill those responsibilities to the best of your abilities.  I will not micromanage your work…you know how to do your work.  I will trust you.  The parents who send their students to our schools trust you.  Our community trusts you.  And the future is entrusted to you.  I hope I have gained your trust today by sharing my beliefs.  I hope you will trust me so we can join together to make our goals come true.  I hope I have set the tone for where we are headed and I hope you have an incredible 2013-2014 school year.  Take care, be safe and stay well!