School Boards in Action: 5 Questions with Jacquelyn Johansen, Menifee Union SD

Jacquelyn Johansen, trustee, Menifee Union School District

What does your district have planned for the 2022–23 school year to foster learning recovery and educational advancements?

The Menifee Union School District carries a deep urgency for learning recovery. We have added instructional minutes to the day, brought back summer school programs, begun scaling our Expanded Learning Opportunities Program and, most notably, continued in the implementation of our Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) plan. As a member of the governance team, I have witnessed the beautiful orchestration of skillful leadership, data and research, and strategic practices, whether they be instructional or administrative, and this is the essence of our MTSS plan. Through substantial input from educators across the district, we were able to identify 18 high-leverage practices that are sure to have a positive impact on the academic, behavioral and social-emotional success of students. As a researcher, one of our district’s practices that truly energizes me is the ongoing observation and data collection. District staff consistently review data provided by rigorous assessments, whether formative or summative, and couple that with “Learning Walks.” These Learning Walks are critical opportunities for our staff to observe practices, not people. Staff then quickly move from information gathering to capacity building. Additionally, we have a comprehensive school counseling program, based on the ASCA National Model, that works in tandem with the MTSS plan to support students’ development. During my visits to schools and at our governing board meetings, I have had the opportunity to see the MTSS plan come to life. School principals regularly present the progress that is taking place at their site and I cannot help but feel optimistic about the future of students at MUSD. This is why I ran to be on the governing board four years ago, and it is why I remain committed to the education of students in Menifee.

Please describe the current morale in your district. What is the board doing to improve or maintain it?

Maintaining morale has been a challenging task across the state. However, we have seen promising results from various activities, especially as it pertains to employee well-being and engagement. When we launched the 2022–23 school year, the governing board and superintendent provided a united message to all staff, declaring that we are moving from surviving to thriving! Staff was invited to step into thriving by discovering (or revisiting) their “why” — their purpose for working in education. This reminder of professional purpose and passion had such a positive impact on staff morale. It was as if we all took a collective deep breath and were reminded that we are all part of a greater effort, in which students are at the center. Secondly, staff turn their efforts to maximizing employee engagement. A critical component of engagement is providing professional development that is timely and effective and that instills a sense of self-confidence. Recently, we hosted a districtwide professional learning day in which an overwhelming majority of staff expressed that the sessions were relevant to their professional needs. Lastly, we have set in motion various internal and external communications strategies that help to highlight the individuals that make up our organization. Each week we highlight a new employee through “The MUSD MVP Newsletter.” This helps to maintain a sense of connectedness in this fast-growing district. We also feature staff on our social media channels to celebrate diverse cultures and heritages. We truly do have amazing individuals that are leading our students. I am looking forward to our culminating event, the annual Evening of Excellence, in which we get to celebrate some of our finest, peer-nominated staff.

What are some ways the district is sharing positive news and/or support with families and the community?

We shout it from the mountaintops! Our site principals do an excellent job of being in constant communication with families, frequently sending out newsletters and posting content on their social media channels, and sharing all of the wonderful happenings at their sites. Our Superintendent, Dr. Jennifer Root, hosts monthly gatherings called “Thriving In MUSD” whereby she speaks with special guests (local leaders and in-house experts) about critical topics impacting students today to provide answers and resources to parents who are eager to see their children thriving in MUSD. She has tackled some challenging topics, such as school safety and mental health, and we have received positive feedback from parents. In a rather unexpected way, these gatherings have also provided a stage for staff to see their impact on families, and it helps staff understand their role not just in the district, but in the community as well. As such, they are no longer just employees, but community leaders. Additionally, our Family Engagement Team is in full force, learning about and tending to the needs of our families. They regularly connect families to local resources, host educational workshops and even visit student homes to learn how to best support their attendance. Finally, as a district, we made an investment in the formation of a Communications and Community Engagement Department. Under the direction of the superintendent, the director of Communications has been tasked with amplifying all of the celebrations taking place throughout MUSD as well as faithfully delivering public information. We have seen a notable increase in positive coverage from local, influential media sources. We still have much room for growth, but we are thrilled about this investment and are confident that we are heading in the right direction.

What is one thing you’d most like to accomplish during your time as a trustee and why?

Academic excellence was at the core of why I ran to be a trustee. As a mom of five and a high school and college educator, I am very familiar with just how critical a strong academic foundation is for leading a fulfilled life and becoming a productive and collaborative citizen. During my time on the dais, I really want to see accelerated learning to the point where all of our students are performing at or above grade level. It is a daunting challenge and I believe our MTSS plan is positioning us to accomplish this. However, academic excellence is about more than just good grades and high test scores. It’s about providing our students with an exceptional educational experience that includes first, best instruction in core subjects, as well as opportunities for enrichment in areas like science, technology, engineering, the arts and foreign languages. More importantly, I would like to see this academic excellence take place through the restoration of human connection and community. Our staff has spent numerous hours developing and implementing social-emotional learning strategies and lessons. This year, as a pinnacle in the work of social-emotional learning, we will conclude the design of our Student Success Profile, a set of six core dispositions that we hope to instill in our students. Those dispositions are: 1) adaptability, 2) responsibility, 3) empathy, 4) integrity, 5) collaboration and 6) perseverance. A student who demonstrates these dispositions knows how to understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, understand and appreciate the experience of others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. I truly believe that instilling these in our youth will promote their academic excellence.

What fictional character do you most relate to and why?

I can definitely relate to Samwise Gamgee from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Even though Sam plays a critical role in destroying the ring, I think his most impressive ability is holding fierce optimism in the face of fiery opposition. Sam is a sidekick that demonstrates loyalty, bravery, selflessness and resourcefulness. Sam’s devotion to Frodo (the main character) never fades, even when their journey becomes difficult, and he is always ready to offer words of encouragement and support. In Tolkien’s tales, Sam even provides practical assistance, like cooking! That is the type of leader I aspire to be. With much positivity and a can-do attitude, I aim to play an encouraging and helpful role in the lives of those around me. Even if that means supporting people with the most basic of needs, I am here to serve our community.