The Change Agent

Dr. Scott Muri

Superintendent of Ector Independent School District

The Objective

Finding Success with Strategic Planning

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Show Notes

Guest Dr. Scott Muri, Superintendent of Ector County Independent School District (ECISD), joins the conversation this week to detail the unique strategic planning processes utilized by his district. How can schools plan and manage projects to ensure they are not only successful day-to-day while simultaneously innovating and building toward a better future for both students and staff? Listen in to hear effective elements you can implement in your district today.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Season 2 : Episode 5

Title: District Spotlight: Success With Strategic Planning

Subtitle: Examining Ector County ISD’s unique processes for effective planning and project management.

VoiceOver (00:02):

Welcome to the ChangeAgents in K12 podcast. Join our host, Dr. Chris Balow chief academic officer at Schoolmint, as we dive into thought provoking in-depth conversations with top educational leaders. Our goal? The advancement of education and improved outcomes for all students. Listen in, be inspired, and ask yourself, are you ready to be a change agent?

Dr. Chris Balow (00:28):

Welcome to the podcast ChangeAgents in K12, where we speak to some of the most insightful and action oriented educational leaders across the country. And I am super excited to have with us, Dr. Scott Muri, who is the superintendent of Ector county, ISD in Texas, Dr. Muri most recently served as a superintendent of spring branch independent school district in Houston, a position he held for four years. During that time, academic achievement gaps narrowed in 5 of 5 areas and overall student achievement rose. He also saw the redesign of the compensation system and recruiting efforts to more effectively recruit and retain employees prior to spring branch. He serves as the deputy superintendent for academics at Fulton county schools in Atlanta, a large district of nearly a hundred thousand students in a hundred campuses before joining Fulton, Dr. Muri spent five years at another large district Charlotte Mecklenberg schools in Charlotte, North Carolina, his roles included area superintendent, zone superintendent, chief information officer overseeing research and evaluation along with technology infrastructure and instructional technology innovation. Dr. Muri's educational experience includes time as an elementary school teacher, middle school, math teacher and science teacher, instructional tech specialist, and high school work as a Dean, assistant principal, and principal. Dr. Muri, you have done it all and welcome to ChangeAgents in K12.

Dr. Scott Muri (02:07):

Hey, thanks, Chris. And I am super excited to be here. I appreciate the opportunity. Haven't done it all, but yeah, I've been busy just in fact, listening to that. Uh, yeah, no wonder I sleep well at night. There's a busy life so far.

Dr. Chris Balow (02:21):

So yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Oh, we're honored to have you and yeah. All those experiences in, in those, uh, diverse districts across the country, I think, uh, positions you well to, to bring great things to, to Ector county ISD. And so we're, we're excited to hear about that. So we'll start off tell us a, a little bit about your school district.

Dr. Scott Muri (02:43):

Yep. So Ector county ISD most people probably don't know where that is. We are located in the state of Texas. Uh, but if I did give you one characteristic about the district that would, uh, help people understand we are the home of Friday night lights. And so if anybody has ever seen the movie or watched the television series series or read the book, uh, Permian high school is the high school that's featured. And it talks all about, you know, the, the, a, the awe of high school football on Friday nights in state of Texas. And so, uh, Permian high school is one of the high schools in Ecter county, ISD and, uh, so we're pretty proud of that. And, and certainly we celebrate, uh, that tradition. In fact, we had 20,000 people at our football game Friday night, two weeks ago.

Dr. Chris Balow (03:27):

Oh my goodness.

Dr. Scott Muri (03:27):

Not a lot of folks can claim that they have 20,000 folks attending a high school football game, but that, that is true in, in our community. We are, as I said, located in west Texas, the city of Odessa is at the heart of our community. We are a countywide school district. So serve all of the children in this area, approximately 32,000 kids. Uh, 56% of our students are economically disadvantaged. Uh, we're a majority minority district with 78% of our students, uh, are Hispanic, um, 15% white, uh, 4% African American, and then, uh, 3%, some other, um, ethnic groups blended in there. Um, we're a, pre-K through 12th grade district as well. So we've invested heavily in pre-K and, and served the needs of three and four year olds, as well as kids all the way up to 18, 19 and 20. So we're a, we're a busy place. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow (04:17):

It sounds like it very, very super interesting. So, um, what do you think makes an education in Ector county ISD unique or, you know, of great value to students and families.

Dr. Scott Muri (04:30):

We're located in, in the, what we call the Permian basin region of United States. So in New Mexico, Texas, uh, the Permian basin is the largest oil producing, uh, in the entire world. So more oil is produced in this area, uh, than anywhere else, uh, currently in, in, in the world. And so that means from a workforce perspective, uh, we have to prepare kids to, to really work and lead in, in that environment. And so we, we have some unique experiences that kids have the ability to access because of that unusual, uh, workforce opportunity. Uh, in addition, I, I would lift up our arts program. We have a, we've invested quite a bit of, of energy over the last several years in ensuring that our kids have, uh, cultural arts experiences and have a pretty rich, uh, artistic opportunity through elementary, middle school and high school. And that's a bit unusual. I remember moving here and that's one of the things that folks brag on, Hey, we have an amazing arts program. So we, yeah. Many districts claim that. Um, but, but as I got to know, uh, you know, the opportunities that kids have, they pretty immense kids can take harp in our school district. We offer harp at the middle school and high school mariachi is a big opportunity, elementary, middle, and high school. And then of course, uh, high school marching bands, you know, are, are active as well. And in fact, one of them is headed to state competition this weekend. So we're, uh, some unique opportunities for kids in E C I S D.

Dr. Chris Balow (05:56):

Yeah, that's fantastic. And my former school district that I retired from our music program was, was, was really amazing. And, you know, national state awards and, you know, all of that serves to really have kids be passionate about their school and be engaged and the relationships. Um, I, I don't, I, I think some people maybe, um, underestimate the importance of that.

Dr. Scott Muri (06:10):

Oh, absolutely. Extracurricular co-curricular, whether it's the arts, you know, athletics, or other clubs and sports, um, that kids participate in all of those help kids connect deeply and richly to their school. And certain from a relationship perspective, develop, uh, very healthy relationships with those coaches and teachers that kind of guide and, and shift those kids in their pathway.

Dr. Chris Balow (06:43):

Yeah. Yeah. It's incredible. Um, yeah, you, you, you mentioned, you know, the Permian basin and, and kind of that whole world. And so my, my guess is that you have, I mean, you stay in touch with the business community and to really understand what their needs are, um, for, for students once they leave your school district.

Dr. Scott Muri (07:06):

We do. And, and not only our, our local business community, but our state and national business communities as well. We, we talk about that. We prepare kids for their future. Um, and, and we make sure that wherever a child wants to live and whatever it is they wanna do, they've got to be ready. And so listening closely to our local business community, um, a as well as what's happening in the state of Texas and in our nation, ensuring that our kids are prepared for those opportunities is important, but yes, healthy relationships, uh, with our business community, our local chamber of commerce, et cetera, are, uh, those relationships are pretty critical to our own success.

Dr. Chris Balow (07:43):

Yeah. Awesome. Well, what brings you and I together is I was at the Texas, uh, school administrator association conference in September. And I, I presented myself on, um, on, uh, models for attracting and retaining students and dealing with student attrition. But, um, I went to your presentation with you and some of your team from Hector county talking about your strategic planning processes, which, and I've been involved in strategic planning. This is my 40th year in education, one form or fashion. And sometimes it, it went well, sometimes it didn't. And, and, uh, it, it just, I learned so much from you. So, um, tell us a little bit about how you develop your, your strategic plan and what's different and unique about your processes.

Dr. Scott Muri (08:37):

Yeah, so we started, uh, really, as I came in to this district of about two and a half years ago, and in, in my opinion, a strategic plan is, is a real driver for a system when done right. And well, mm-hmm, sometimes they, they're a pretty document that sits on a shelf and you revisit it every five years, but I, I see the strategic plan as a very action oriented body of work that is alive and, and is a good guide for where our school district is heading and, and what we should be doing. We started our process by listening to our community. Uh, we engaged over 200 individuals on a, on a believe or not a committee. Uh, I probably wouldn't advise 200 people on a committee in, in many situations, but in this case, it was important to make sure that we had, uh, the stakeholders, uh, really at the table, engaging in deep conversations and kids, uh, parents, staff members, but also community members, um, business leaders, uh, people from our medical community, et cetera, all kinds of people, uh, at the table, uh, talking about the system we under, we first delved into, you know, who are we and what are the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for us? Where are we struggling? Uh, where are we being successful? So we wanted to make sure that that group understood our, our present state current state, if you will, the good, the bad and the ugly, and then..

Dr. Chris Balow (09:50):

The old SWAT analysis. I see.

Dr. Scott Muri (09:52):

Absolutely. Absolutely. And, and, and there was some, uh, shocking aha moments. And I think it's good for everybody to have those, wow, I didn't know, or that's amazing, or that's of deep concern, you know, whatever it may be just being really transparent with where the system is. And then also where our opportunities may happen to be. And then we started, uh, paying attention to some design work. I'm a big believer in design, the design thinking process. And, and so walking through those steps with the crowd helped us kind of navigate, uh, that, that large committee into a, an ultimate destination. Uh, but we, we, through that analysis of challenges and opportunities kind of identified, identified big areas of work and, and attention for us, the first one was all about our foundation. We've got to have a solid foundation. What are those elements that need to be in place from a school system perspective that, um, that we can build on top of much like you build a house, gotta have a solid foundation, right? And we as a school system, believe that that foundation is critically important. So identified some quality or some, um, actions that, that some investments that we needed to make in our foundation, then we moved to, um, talent. One of the greatest challenges that we face as a school system is, is in the talent area. It is attracting enough individuals retaining them, um, building them, uh, cultivating them, nurturing them, um, compensating them. And so just a whole lot of work around talent. And then our third area was about our kids and the type of learning experiences that they needed to have. And we're transitioning really away from that stand and deliver modality of teaching and learning into one that is much more blended. So a whole lot of work around the learning experiences of our kids and what we want those to be, um, as we move forward for the next five years. So those were the three big bodies of work that that committee identified. And then underneath that work, we identified a set of tactics in each of those three areas that, that really turned into projects that we are now executing and implementing within our own system.

Dr. Chris Balow (12:02):

Yeah, super interesting. Um, for, for our listeners, tell us, you know, briefly this notion of design thinking process that, that, that you mentioned.

Dr. Scott Muri (12:13):

Yeah. So lift up a couple of elements, um, a again starts with that understanding of the problem. And so it's that, that analysis that, that one must do to, to understand, but then you move into that ideation phase and that's sometimes the phase at which we gloss over, but ideating really allows the group to create and vision those, those potential solutions that would've address, uh, some problems and ideation is a process. So we have an idea, we think about it, we, we perhaps implement it, we test it, we improve it. And, and so that's kind of a, that ideating is an ongoing process, but that helped us and really continues to help us think about the tactics that we're using to solve our problems if you will, in, in, in E C I S D. And so we, you move from that ideation phase into really an implementation phase, taking those ideas and effectively executing those ideas. And then, um, and sometimes those ideas, the execution goes real well, and the idea produces fruit sometimes not, not every great idea. It ultimately is a great idea, right? And, uh, so you need to revisit those. And so it's just continuing to go through that process. It, it is very cyclical in nature and it is important, uh, that we don't see that as linear, but that, um, that that process must be cyclical. As we reach a place, we realize an idea isn't working, we must revisit it and, and constantly lead to improvement.

Dr. Chris Balow (13:38):

And I'm sure you're collecting data all along the way. And, and that kind of drives your, your, uh, your program analysis and then deciding which way to go. Um, yeah, that's fantastic. And I, I, I've seen a lot of places where the, um, the, of the tactics or the strategies they're really big, like we're gonna do something in every school, in the district, do you, and, and you, you need to do some of that, but do you, do you also engage in maybe these small laboratories, uh, of innovation where maybe at a individual school, they're gonna try something, test it, see what happens. Um, so you have lots of different ideas coming in, and, and along with that, um, are, are your teachers part of the, the process of, of, of innovation and, uh, ideation as you described?

Dr. Scott Muri (14:31):

So I'll, I'll talk about the ambidextrous organization as we were developing our strategic plan. One of the strategies that, that we wanted to effectively guess execute was making sure that our organization is ambidextrous. Um, we do today's work really well. And so there are things that in public education, we must execute on, uh, really well to provide a quality academic experience for our kids. Mm-hmm . Um, and then you have that innovation side, which makes us ambidextrous and a, an organization that is moving forward does both really well. You do today's work really well, and you innovate and create new opportunities. And then to your point, once those, uh, ideas, once those innovations are proven to be effective, then they become a part of today's work. And in an ambidextrous organization, you are innovating and you are doing today's work really well. And you're innovation. You have a process that leads that innovation into the today work when it's proven to be effective. So to your point, yes, we have educators and leaders, our administrators, they're a part of that innovation work, uh, opportunity cultural I'll lift up is an example. So we, part of our, uh, uh, one, one of our areas of investment is talent. And as we think about how can we invest deeply in talent and increased the talent, we explored a concept called opportunity culture. It's developed by, um, an organization in North Carolina called public impact. Uh, in, in, in a sense opportunity culture has defined some new roles for the traditional teacher. So you take a, a, a teacher and you move that teacher from just a typical classroom teacher into a leadership role. They teach half time and they spend the other half of their day coaching their peers. So I'm a fifth grade teacher. I teach fifth graders in the morning and in the afternoon I coach the other fifth grade teachers in how to be effective. Um, that helps me because I am taking what I know and sharing it with with others. So I'm kind of refining my skills. It helps the fifth grade team become much better because, you know, I'm, I'm, I was identified as a great teacher and I'm sharing my wisdom if you will, and coaching my peers. Um, it also ensures that our students have access to, uh, to more effective teachers. So more of our kids in that fifth grade team have access to, uh, better teachers. And so that is one of the ideas that we piloted. We commissioned a research study or a group of researchers from Texas tech university to spend one year, uh, looking at that pilot program that we instituted in 10 schools, uh, the research findings were overwhelming.

Dr. Scott Muri (17:09):

In fact, the, one of the researchers had been conducting research for 30 years and is kind comment was, you know, in my 30 years of research, I've never found research project in which I can't tell you anything that's wrong with it.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:22):


Dr. Scott Muri (17:23):

Yeah. And, and then when you looked at the academic data, it was significant. And so we've, we've now taken that innovation and it is becoming a part of the work that we do every day in our system. So it moved from to, uh, every everyday work. And we, again, kind of leveraging that ambidextrous opportunity as an organization. And so kind of one example of innovation moving into the today's work really based upon good research.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:49):

Fantastic. I love the term ambidextrous. I'm gonna steal that from you.

Dr. Scott Muri (17:51):

Uh, steal it from Harvard university. So their, the business journal really talks about, I think an article about 10 years ago in the Harvard business journal talked about becoming ambidextrous company. Yeah. And really focused on the business world and companies that are, are moving forward, are those companies that ambidextrous. And I was like, well, school, we, we have to do that too in education. So we, we modeled ourself along that same body of work.

Dr. Chris Balow (18:15):

Yeah. You know, I'm in the business world now, and we have to be forward thinking to understand what the market's gonna need and you know, what our products and services need to be like to, to, to make a difference and schools the same way you have to look ahead to the future. What are our kids gonna need?

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Dr. Chris Balow (19:58):

I've done a lot of research around teacher attrition. Um, in fact, I'm presenting a national webinar today on that. And, and, you know, you've, you've really hit, you know, what you talked about, um, instructional coaching, you know, that is, uh, you know, research evidence is very strong that that will impact, uh, your, your teacher retention. And cause it helps them, you know, in terms of self-efficacy and their skills and, and, and on top of that, it helps kids. I mean, it, it's just, uh, fantastic. And I would love to see the, the findings of that Texas tech study they did. That would be really interesting.

Dr. Scott Muri (20:34):

Sure. So on the website we posted it. So we, we wanna make that available to others as well. And so they've published it, we posted it, um, for others to see, and that research will continue again is important. Uh, kind of back to the strategic planning concept. It is important from a strategic plan perspective that the innovations that are embedded in a strategic plan are studied and monitored. And from a data perspective, you've got to make sure, uh, that those innovations are producing positive results, uh, for the intended for the target audience students, teachers, whomever may be. And so that's critical, but yes. Happy to share.

Dr. Chris Balow (21:07):

That. Yeah. Fantastic. One of the things about your strategic planning process that I, I really found fascinating was your process for managing the plan. Um, and because what I've observed is, you know, we create this, this document, it might be 10 pages, it might be all hundred pages. And, um, as you said, it can just sit there on the shelf and there's so many to-dos, and, and it's hard to know who's responsible for what and, and so forth how, and you have a really great way to, to, uh, systematize that.

Dr. Scott Muri (21:41):

No, I appreciate that. And that is, that has helped us statistically in the United States, 70 of our good ideas in, in the business world, uh, fail to we, we failed to execute on those good ideas and in education I'll bet that percentage is actually larger than 70 as educators were filled with good ideas, but it's the execution that many times we, we trip and fall. So we did a couple of things. One is, uh, after we develop our, uh, or really is a part of the strategic plan development, we, we created a set of measures. We call them our indicators of success, 14 leading indicators that we monitor every day to make sure that the work we're doing is having a positive impact upon the organization. Um, and, and really that combination of tactics and strategies combined with data kind of helped organize that plan. But the execution of it, how do we ensure that those numbers, if you will, are moving that our data are trending in the right direction. And that's where we instituted what we call the project management oversight process. And so it is really a committee. We call it the project management oversight committee. It's a group of right now, 11 people, uh, six of the members are cabinet members, kind of senior leaders in the organization. And then five of the members are, uh, kind of embedded in the organization, call them middle management, uh, lower management level. But, but leaders in the organization that are really great thinkers, um, they may be on their way to becoming a senior level leader, but they, they contribute greatly to the organization. And so those 11 people come together, um, once, once every two weeks. And we listen to, um, a, uh, presentation, actually we do two or three at a meeting from our project owners. And so each of our strategic plan tactics, uh, has a project charter. So we have, we've identified them clearly as a project. And I'll, since I've already talked about opportunity culture I'll kind of use that as an example. Yeah. So in our district opportunity, culture has a, has an owner. Uh, we have a cabinet member that is the executive sponsor kind of oversees it, but the project itself has one person that wakes up every day thinking about it, you know, okay. I own opportunity culture. And so this person, um, we, again, project charter laid out the goals, the objectives, the strategies, et cetera, how they're gonna implement it. And on a regular basis, that person comes in presents before this group of 11. Uh, they, and it's a 30 minute presentation, 15 minutes worth of sharing an update on the project. And then 15 minutes of the group kind of providing what we call pressure and support, but we're asking questions, uh, probing into the project. And we wanna make sure that the project owner feels the pressure to perform.

Dr. Chris Balow (24:21):

That's fascinating, fascinating.

Dr. Scott Muri (24:23):

Yep. We also wanna balance that though with support. And so if the project is struggling, this group wants to know that so that we, as the decision makers can, can provide the supports that that is needed to be successful because at the end of the day, all of the projects in the strategic plan must be effective in order for the organization to move forward. And so that process, it really helps us manage every single tactic in the strategic plan. And that committee sees those tactics on a rotating basis. We grade them kind of red, yellow, and green, uh, green projects are moving along trending well, yellow projects, Hey, little bit of caution. We, we might need to see this project more often and red we're off the rails and we've got to do something dry drastically to, to fix that. But that process really helps us effectively manage our strategic plan to ensure that, uh, at the end of the day in five years, when the strategic plan time is up, that we've completed successfully. Um, every single project.

Dr. Chris Balow (25:22):

You know, to me, it just brings a strategic plan to life. It's a, a living, breathing organ organism, um, as opposed to that three ring binder on a shelf and every day people are reflecting on it. I, I just, I dunno what, what your feelings are, but I, that that's gotta be unique in, in the K12 world.

Dr. Scott Muri (25:44):

I, I think so. Uh, I, in my, I, when I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, um, and working in, in that, um, organization, we actually, uh, in partnership with the bank of America. So again, the business world, yeah. They, they use a very similar strategy of project management oversight. And we met with them as a team to understand their project and kind of, of tailored, um, our own process, following their model again, in, in, in education, this is just something we don't do very well, no filled with great ideas and we just don't execute. Um, and, um, and so this really holds us accountable. It holds the, the project manager accountable, the executive sponsor accountable. Those 11 people are, are really feel, uh, the, the weight of accountability, but we're able to move forward because of that process. And, and I can tell you literally, down to the project, how, how we're doing, how things are going,

Dr. Chris Balow (26:41):

That that's fantastic. Um, as you described, obviously a lot of time is allocated to, to this project management oversight process. Um, do you find that manageable for, for yourself? I, I know superintendents are crazy busy and, and the rest of your cabinet.

Dr. Scott Muri (27:01):

Yeah. We, um, it it's, it is time consuming, but it's the right way to spend our time. And, and we, we're very tight with this process. And so the committee meets once every two weeks, we either have two or three projects that we look at. The presentation is 30 minutes. It is not 31 minutes or 32 minutes. It is 30 minutes. That committee is managed by a 12th person. So the 11 members of the committee, um, are on the committee, but we have another person that runs the process and, uh, they don't participate in the dialogue. They make sure that, that we stay on point. Um, and so when, when it is over, it is over and we're all off to, to other bodies of work. So it's a to tightly managed process that kind of keeps us in check. In addition, we communicate a lot too from a strategic plan perspective. So the work of that committee actually goes to our board of trustees. Once every three months, we provide our board and our public with an update on the work of, of, of our strategic plan. We show them the measures, our indicators of success. We revisit those once every three months publicly. Uh, and then we provide an update to our board on the status of our projects, again, red, yellow, green, how things are going, et cetera. So we communicate a lot, uh, with the work of the strategic plan. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow (28:15):

Fantastic. Um, yeah, I mean, I love what you said where it, it is time consuming, but it's the right place to spend your time. It makes perfect sense to me. Um, so you must have a, a, now you're all this data that you're reflecting on almost on a daily basis. Did, did you develop your own system for, um, collecting, managing, analyzing, reporting that data?

Dr. Scott Muri (28:41):

So the, the 14 indicators of success, we developed those, um, measures ourself. We, we kind of looked at, uh, really across the system and what measures are important to us. What are the right measures if we monitor these and these particular measures are improving, uh, they will help us ultimately, uh, meet the three goals that the board of trustees has established for us. So we have three district goals established by our board. Uh, we've got to hit those in 20, 24. Um, we can't wait until 20, 24 to find out if we get there. So these 14 indicators of success, uh, are the ones that we developed internally based upon things that we were either already measuring or, uh, maybe gaps, Hey, we don't have a measure for this thing. We, we need something. An example of that, one of our measures is we call it school connected. Um, and so it's the percentage of kids that are telling us that they feel connected to their school from a relationship perspective. Got it. I feel like I have a trusting adult on campus. I feel safe on my campus. I feel challenged at a rigorous level. We didn't have a tool to help us gather that data. And so we partnered with Panorama and we now conduct a survey at the beginning of the school year and at the end of our, the school year on for our children. And so that survey data, we, again, in working with Panorama, but we've developed one, one number, if you will taken all the metrics yeah. And compile that into one number. And so we worked with the experts from Panorama to, to help, uh, tease out, which of those sub indicators would give us a measure that we, that is valid and reliable and kind of tell the story that we wanna tell yeah. Um, from a students. And so that is one, an example of, of a measure. So we introduce Panorama, we now use that survey to capture data, um, and then our schools unpack it and, and, you know, get really down to the kid level. How are our kids feeling and thinking? So.

Dr. Chris Balow (30:33):

Awesome. Awesome. That that's super exciting. Um, kind of back to the project, uh, management, uh, oversight. So we, there's a project manager and that person's thinking about it, the moment they wake up in the morning. And so do they then, um, assign tasks to people out in the schools, and obviously they must have some authority to, to assign these things.

Dr. Scott Muri (30:57):

They do. And so each of the projects, first of all, has an executive sponsor and the executive sponsors our, uh, consent of the cabinet members. And so we are our, our chief financial officer is an example. She is the executive sponsor for any projects that kind of fall into the financial area. And so our cabinet members are the sponsors of projects that fall within their division. And then the project owner themselves are the individual is typically within that division. That truly are the owners of the work. They in turn have a committee of people. And so they've gathered a, a, a, a cross section of individuals that serve on a committee, uh, along with that project owner that help do the work. Um, and sometimes the work may involve other central office individuals. It may involve school, administrators teach, et cetera, but that committee of individuals is really who the project owner works with to make sure that the work happens and some of the projects are, are significant in scope. And so there are a lot of people that come together, uh, to make the project happen while other projects are, are smaller in scale uh, and have fewer people. But yes, it's, uh, it's kind of a, a, a, a tight, a tightly managed, um, opportunity. One of my favorite quotes is a business quote and it's from Edwards Deming. And, and it is your organization is perfectly designed to achieve the results that you're achieving. And when you think about that quote, and you think about our organization, if we want to achieve great results for kids than our design, the way we do our work, um, must, uh, be, uh, that, that we have, that we're organized to attain that goal. When we look at our data, when we looked at it two and a half years ago, we, we weren't too pleased with some of the data that we were looking at. And so we knew that our design had to be very different the way we do our work, the way that we are organized, um, is vastly different from how we were organized a year and a half ago. And the project management oversight is one example of that. If we want our strategic plan to be alive, then we have to effectively manage it and so PMO is a part of that process for us.

Dr. Chris Balow (33:01):

Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. And so with PMO, you've got data that may come in from surveys from panoramic, cetera. What do you use to track all of the projects, uh, as like a Google spreadsheet and kind of track and where, where do you, um, turn them on red, yellow, green. And, and so there must be some sort of, uh, online way to do that.

Dr. Scott Muri (33:24):

There is, we use a tool called Smartsheets. Um, Smartsheets is a project management tool, ah, allows our project owners, uh, to, uh, to kind of manage their project. If you will, they can assign tasks. Uh, they keep up with the bits and pieces of their project, but again, Smartsheets is the tool that we use. We found it to be very, uh, fairly easy to use and very effective. It allows, um, each of us at the senior level to even look into the projects and understand their progress. The tool designed for project managers.

Dr. Chris Balow (33:58):

Got it. Got it. Love it. Well, we're almost out of time and, um, I've been asking this of a lot of superintendents. Um, what are principles telling you is their biggest challenge these days, you know, and we've got COVID if we kind of put that off to the side, what are some of the, your principles saying is their biggest challenge?

Dr. Scott Muri (34:18):

Yeah, so I, I think from a, as we think about COVID is really recovery right now. Um, we, we have students and staff members with some with, uh, that are demonstrating the effects of trauma. Yeah. So dealing with the mental health issues of students and staff, I, I think we knew that that was coming, but it's been much more significant than I think that any of us ever imagined. Um, just some of the behaviors of students that, that principals and teachers are seeing, and then again, our own staff. And so that's a, a challenge for principals, I think, uh, from an, um, the, uh, the fact that our kids academically are different, has been a challenge. Uh, you know, teachers, I'm a great teacher. I've been teaching fifth grade, you know, my whole career this year, my graders are just very different and, and I'm stressed because I'm not feeling as successful or effective as a teacher this year because my children aren't growing as much as they normally do. And, and so principals are talking about just dealing with the teacher stress, because again, teachers want what's best for their kids. And many of our teachers are really struggling right now because their students are in a very different place academically. Sure. Um, the acceleration of our kids, you know, kind of balancing what we have always done, if you will, with what we know we must do, uh, to accelerate the growth of our kids. That, that that's a challenge. Um, but I think from a, from a more, an optimistic side, it, it is learning from the pandemic. Um, there are some really, uh, cool aspects of teaching and learning that the pandemic has helped us accelerate. And so our principles right now, as their wheels are turning it, how can we continue to leverage this really, uh, powerful bit of learning? I think about blended learning. So we, we were very virtual during the pandemic right now. We're very face to face. Blended learning is really the best of both. So how do we make sure that we do blended learning face to face and virtual in the most effective way? Because we see that is a great methodology, a good strategy, uh, for our kids. And so principals are talking, um, about that. How can we more effectively leverage the virtual environment for our own professional learning? Uh, some, when is it, when is face to face appropriate and when is virtual appropriate for adult learning? I think we're, uh, struggling with that because we know we want to be at, at a much better play in the future. So it's kind of fun to watch, um, all of us really, and, uh, idea if you will, on what we learned during the pandemic and then how to continue to apply some of that really good learning to help us change and improve in a positive manner.

Dr. Chris Balow (36:53):

Yeah, that's fantastic. And I interviewed, uh, Todd Whitaker. I don't know if you heard of Todd, um, for the podcast a while back. And his concern was that people wouldn't leverage what they've learned during this virtual world and, and use all the good things and that we just kind of stepped back into the old ways of doing things. So you articulated that so, so eloquently. I appreciate that. Well, Dr. Muri, our time is up for today. Um, but before I let you go, you have to play our game, the fast five that I do with all of my guests. And so I ask you five questions. Um, on a personal level, but nothing too crazy. And you have to respond, you know, fairly quickly. Don't ponder this too long. Alrighty. Number one, if you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Dr. Scott Muri (37:45):

On a, on an island, uh, in the south Pacific.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:50):

Oh yeah. I could do that.

Dr. Scott Muri (37:52):

The water. Love the beach. Love the ocean. That'd be a lot of fun.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:54):

It would. What's your favorite zoo animal?

Dr. Scott Muri (37:59):

Uh, the elephants. I enjoy watching the elephants.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:01):

The Elephants. What is your favorite holiday?

Dr. Scott Muri (38:05):

Mm, gotta go with Christmas.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:07):

Christmas. What is your favorite family recipe?

Dr. Scott Muri (38:13):

Uh, homemade pizza.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:16):

Okay. All right. If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to?

Dr. Scott Muri (38:25):

19 84.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:25):

  1. Okay. Now why would, why would 84?

Dr. Scott Muri (38:29):

I, uh, that's the year I graduated from high school and started college and I loved high school and loved college so that you would give me a taste of both.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:35):

Yeah. That those were, those were good times. I, I, I would agree. Um, Dr. Scott Muri, I wanna thank you for spending time with us today on ChangeAgents in K12. I, I'm very convinced that so many people across the country are gonna learn from, from your expertise and experiences. So thanks again so much.

Dr. Scott Muri (38:56):

Appreciate it, Chris. Thank you.

VoiceOver (38:59):

Thank you for listening to the ChangeAgents in K12 podcast brought to you by SchoolMint. Find us on all major podcast platforms and make sure to subscribe, so you never miss a show. See you next time.