The Change Agent

Dr. Deirdre Pilch

Superintendent of Greeley-Evans School District 6 in Greeley, Colorado.

The Objective

Bringing passion and determination to the challenging role of Superintendent.

Show Notes

In this District Spotlight guest Dr. Deirdre Pilch, Superintendent of Greeley-Evans School District 6, describes difficulties, triumphs, and best practices for both her district and the role of superintendent in general, with some valuable advice for up and coming school leaders.

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.

Episode 24
Title: District Spotlight: Greeley-Evans School District 6
Subtitle: Bringing passion and determination to the challenging role of Superintendent.

VoiceOver: 

ChangeAgents in K-12 motivating transformation in education is presented by SchoolMint. Featuring in-depth conversations with top educational leaders, we are committed to the advancement of education through research exchange, idea sharing and enlightening discussions. Are you prepared to be a change agent?

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Welcome everyone to the podcast ChangeAgents in K-12 . I'm very excited today to have Dr. Deirdre Pilch who is the superintendent of Greeley-Evans school district number six in Greeley, Colorado. Let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Pilch. She has been serving as superintendent of Greeley Evans school district number six since 2015, with over 30 years of experience in public education. Dr. Pilch has served in many roles, including a teacher assistant principal, principal curriculum director, assistant superintendent, deputy superintendent in three States, Wyoming, Missouri, and Colorado. Wow. She has done so many different things, but during her tenure at district six, Dr. Pilch has led the adoption of a new strategic plan. She introduced a shared decision-making model of leadership, which has led to unprecedented problem solving within the Greeley educational association. She's helped lead successful campaigns to secure additional tax revenues for the district. And she's devoted to ensuring every student graduates high school on time with the skills they need to have a great life. Um, she's really focused on increasing those graduation rates and college entrance rates. And Dr. Pilch has her doctorate in educational policy and leadership from the university of Kansas, all right a K U grad. Excellent. And Dr. Pilch is also very active in her community and serves as a director on multiple community boards. So I'm really excited to have Dr. Dierdre Pilch with us today.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me. It's really a pleasure to be here and , and to get to share a little bit about the , the great work that's going on here in the Greeley-Evans school district in Colorado .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah. Excellent. We're really , um , very interested to hear about that. So let's start off kind of the basics to tell folks about your district and some characteristics.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Happy to do that. So we, we are a district of about 23,000 students in Northern Colorado. Uh, we , um, we, we're kind of suburban and urban both, and we have some agricultural , uh , influence in our community as well. So , uh, it's very diverse community. It's a lot of fun to work here. Uh, we do have about 65% of our students who live in poverty. And so a lot of our work is around making sure that our students are graduating well-prepared for college and or for career , um, so that we can begin to turn the poverty around here in our community. Uh, we also are a refugee resettlement community. So we do have , um, some refugee population here that we, you know, really has challenged our work around English language learners. And we've learned so much and have done really big work in the last five years around student achievement in relation to those students who are learning English as a second, or maybe a third or fourth language here in our community. Um , you know, I have about 3000 total employees and folks supporting our students here , uh, or the second largest employer in our County. And , um, you know, it's just, it's just an honor to serve here and, and to do the important work that we're doing. I'm in my sixth year as superintendent. And , uh, you know, we've really been able to move the needle on some things , uh , during that time. And much of that is because of a very supportive community and remarkable, dedicated board of education, and then just outstanding staff members here that we have here in district six.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Well, excellent. Thanks for that, that description. And it definitely sounds like you have some interesting challenges , um, to work with in the district and you're, you're really addressing those needs. Now. It's interesting. I talked to so many superintendents and frankly for our listeners being a superintendent is, is really a tough job. There's just so many demands. And I'm curious, you know, you had all these different roles in education and now you're a superintendent. So, and , and as I said, it's challenging. So what do you like about being a superintendent?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Um, you know what, I, this it's interesting you asked this because someone asked me this , um, last week , uh, said, why, why do you like this job said to me, your job looks like a terrible job. Why do you like it? And I said, I, not only like it, I love it. Um, and, and what I love about it is the ability to, to strategize a vision for an organization, and then to work with folks to bring that vision and that work to fruition to , to really change the lives of kids. Um, so, you know, as I've worked my way , uh , through education, when I was a teacher, you know, it was right there in the classroom making a difference for the kids who sat in front of me every day. And , and as I moved into administration, what I realized is that , um, the teachers are the ones who do the work and the other support staff in the buildings. They're, they're the frontline . And they need strong administrators who believe in them and support them and can set a vision for them. And I get to do that here. And I get to do that. Um, you know, use a lot of consensus building and collaboration , uh, the things that, you know, I really like people, I think, I think that if you are naturally an extrovert and you naturally like people , um, that this job can come more naturally for you. Um, and I think that's been a good fit for me is just liking people and liking to work with people to solve really complex problems and to make, to make the world a better place because we're impacting education. And because of that , uh, you know, we, we have an opportunity to change, to change the lives of , of hundreds, of thousands of kids. And , um, I don't take that responsibility lightly and I feel privileged to get to do it.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Wow. That , that is really inspirational. Dr. Pilch, that, that, that description and my, one of my takeaways is that you really, really practice shared leadership and teamwork. And that gives you a lot of , uh , joy in your work to work in teams to , to come up with great solutions.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

So, you know, one of the things that , um, I was able to do when I came into the district and superintendents get to do this, you get to build your team. And so , uh , you know, I worked with one of my well, a couple of my mentors to really develop a vision of what I saw that we could do here in district six in terms of just what I wanted to be as a leader. And then I looked at , um, so what are the, what are the positions, the work that I'm going to need around me to be able , um, to, to realize the vision of, of what I hoped to do as superintendent. Um, and then I, you know, then I evaluated the team that I, that I had when I got here and some of those folks have stayed and, and we've moved some of those folks on. And, and , um , I have the ability to create some new positions and to , and we, frankly, my first year we eliminated , um, uh , golly, over 20 positions in the district and 13 of those were in the district office. So I did a lot of restructuring and , um, eliminated a lot of middle, really middle, middle level management kinds of jobs. And instead hired fewer, very high quality , um, high, skilled , um, executives to do the work that we have to do here in district six. So it's been, it's been a blast , um, to do that and to watch people grow and develop , um, and, and to grow in, into the job and , and do work that they, they didn't imagine that they could do until they were given the opportunity to, to grow in that way.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Awesome. Well, you know, one of my jobs as host of this podcast is to extract these bits of really great best practices that others can learn from. And, you know, you, you have, have really outlined some of those things. And one of the things that struck me was that you reached out to people to mentor you, even though you're now the top boss in this district, you're still working with others to learn and grow and get better. And so even people at the very top echelon, they need mentorship and coaching along the way.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

No question about it. And , um, and you know, what I have found is that my have changed, and then there's been a few who have stayed with me throughout my career. Um, but you know, I think a really, really good mentor is that person who's going, you know, going to really tell you the truth about yourself and , um , really help you as a leader and, and speak to you frankly, about your leadership. And so I've really valued that , um, and it's important, I think for all of us to have mentors who will do that for us and, and people who we trust that are not people we supervise , uh, you know, we can, we can, of course rely on the people who serve on what I call my superintendent's cabinet, a lot of reliance on them for advice and insight and opinion. But at the end of the day, I am still their supervisor. I'm still their boss. And so, you know, they're probably always holding back just a little bit. Um, but that , um , my mentors have, have been people who've had been my boss at times, but also who would , um, who I had worked alongside , uh , doing work in education. And so I've been really fortunate to have wonderful mentors and , um, it couldn't do this work without mentors. And, and at times it's our own boards of education directors who, who can even be our coaches and mentors. Um, you know, boards of education are , are lay people, but they come at this work , um , as leaders in their own, right. They may, I've had board members who are retired educators who are entrepreneurs, who own their own businesses. My board president , uh, is , uh, a local pastor. Uh, so , uh, you know, having board members who are willing also to mentor and coach , um, has been really important.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, absolutely. And so many superintendents tell me that it's pretty lonely position. And then to have somebody who's sort of outside your, your sphere of influence to , to talk through things is so valuable.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yeah. There's no question. It can be , um, a lonely position. And , um, and at times , um , a little isolating, I, you know, where you feel really isolated and, and the tremendous sense of responsibility. I think that we feel as a superintendent, it's like when I was a high school principal, I mean, at the end of the day, everything that happens in that high school at the end of the day, people were looking at that high school principal. And that's how it is when you're , um , a superintendent at the end of the day, you are the face of the school district and people are looking to us , um , to lead then that can be really , um, isolating and lonely and, and a little daunting at times. And so , uh , it's been important to have colleagues too , not just mentors, but colleagues, you know, especially during this pandemic, there've been , um, uh , there's three different groups of superintendents that I get to be a part of , uh, as we problem solve through this pandemic and the response to the pandemic , and , and that has been invaluable to me.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah. That makes sense. Let's switch gears a little bit. So I mentioned this a little bit during your introduction, but you'll tell us a couple of the things that you're most proud of so far in your, your , uh , five-plus years. Uh , Greeley Evans.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yeah. Thank you. Well , uh, so I'm , I, I'm going to start with what doesn't sound like. It's something student focused, but at the end of the day, if we hadn't fixed this problem, we wouldn't be able to do what we need to do for students. But , um, I am most proud of one of the things I'm most proud of is , um, how we repaired our relationship with our teachers association and, and how we came together to solve problems in, in the district in a collaborative and consensus shared decision-making model , uh , that has been , uh, that , that has been work that has completely reshaped this school district because as we were able to do that work , uh, so district administrators, board of education and our education association leaders, as we all came together and solved some very complex, longstanding, deep rooted wounds , um, in this community, as we, as we began to heal that and to solve those problems , um, I think that leaders in our system and teachers in our system realized that there was another way to solve problems other than fighting , um , or whoever talks allowed us in the longest wins. And so we, we use a shared decision making model. Here, we train all of our , uh , all of our leaders in the district in this model. And, and every site has a team that is trained in this model. Um, and as a result, we've been able to do more for students because we, you know, once the adults get all their, their junk out of the way and get all their problems solved, then you can really do the , the most important work of the school district, which is building systems and putting pieces into place to ensure student achievement. And, and we've been able to do that. And I'm really proud of it as a result. You know, we , um, we do not have schools that are on what is called turnaround. When I first got to the district, we had several schools on the state's turnaround , um, rating. You don't want to be there. You don't want to have the most schools , um, on the turnaround rating. You don't want to be that school district in the state. And we were that school district. And so we've been able to turn that. Um, and what that means is that students are learning and it means that teachers can take pride in the work they're doing here in the district. Families can trust us. Um, and, and trust that what we're , the product we're providing for their children is the right product for their children to , to become what they only hope and dream they will be.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

So let me reiterate. So when you came on board, you had the most turnaround schools in the state, or you were the number one.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Oh, I'm sure. Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Or close to. But now you have none.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

We have none, yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah that's something to be proud of. And I want to interject, you know, to our listeners that this notion of, of repairing relationships with teacher unions and associations and administration is no easy task. I , I was in education well over 30 years and have been involved in those kinds of environments and it can, it can really go back tens of years, decades of problems, and to solve that and to get everyone together that that's amazing.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

I will tell you it was amazing and it was scary. Um, and I was scared. Uh, I I'll, I'll be Frank. I , uh, but , uh , but I watched, I got here and in the first few months I realized we were not going to , we were not going to move forward unless we started doing something, do this work in a very different way. We were nearly at impasse. We didn't have a contract yet for the next school year. And it was, you know, after July one when I started. And , um, we also were being sued by our association. They had a lawsuit filed against us. And , um, you know, at first I sat back and watch the negotiation team and to , and at the advice of my board president , uh , he rec, he said, you know, let them work through this. And then you you'll bring in your, your shared decision making process next year. Um , but as I watched this in the first several weeks on the job, I realized , uh , you know, that there were, there were things we had agreement on and that I there . So we had, we had some common ground. So if you have some common ground, you can build on that common ground to, to really , uh, develop a broader base of common ground to get work done. And that's, you know, that's what we did. And , um, the association came, came into the room and , um, did their part to make that happen. Also, it certainly was not just, just me and my team.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Gosh, that's , that's just so impressive. And I encourage some of my listeners to contact you to get some advice, because I know lots of folks are , are dealing with that. Um, well , uh, give us a little sense of some of the special programs that exist in , in your district . Some of the unique things you're , you're doing , uh , in terms of programs.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Thank you, Chris. I'm, I'm happy to do that. So let me , I'm going to start with the big kids first, and then we'll talk about the little kids, how that sounds. So I'm really proud of the career pathways work we're doing, and the, we have , um, uh, some , uh , career apprenticeships going. We were the first district in the state of Colorado to be authorized by the department of labor , um, in Colorado to , to have , um, an apprenticeship with a manufacturer here in , um , the local area. And so, you know, I'm, I am just super proud of our career pathways. We , we have a local community college aims community college and , uh , and a university right here in our backyard, the university of Northern Colorado. So we've been able to partner with both of them as we've built out these career pathways and, you know, really , um, made significant meaning out of what students are doing in , in their secondary education in particular , um, in terms of career and college readiness. It's very exciting,

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Fantastic. And, you know, I've done a lot of research and that whole area of really providing authentic educational opportunities for kids where they're engaged in things that they're passionate about that really maybe touch on vocations. And have you noticed, or maybe you've even measured, have you seen improvements in student engagement and even attendance?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yeah, no question. And, and in terms of graduation, so I'll, you know, I'll just highlight one program where it is evident every single day. We have an alternative high school here called Jefferson high school. Um, and they have a construction , um, pathway in their high school. They, they were able, we were able to partner with habitat for humanity, and every single day we have students on job sites with contractors, building homes. Um, and we've, we have students who have come out of that program and started their own construction business. And these are kids that, you know, might've been on a path to be a dropout. So it's , uh , it's amazing. And that program has received international recognition as it , as well as it should. Um , but you know, even even bigger than that, or , or beyond that, or the numbers of kids who are in, you know, we've got tremendous programs around agriculture and horticulture and, and STEM programs where students are in , you know, they're inventing robots and , um, to do things that we, we never imagined students could, could manage and, and deliver it. So it's , um, I think that's been really, really powerful. And so this work is now beginning to dip down in, into the elementary level around career exploration. We'll be, we'll be opening a new school , um, here in , uh , the fall of 22. So in a year and a half, that will be a , uh , pre-engineering Academy. Um, pre-K through eighth grade. And so it will have an engineering focus where we're actually , um, our intent is to increase the numbers of , um, women and students of color who actually go into the fields , uh, the fields of engineering or our related fields.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Wow. That's so exciting. So exciting. Uh, definitely , uh , gives me goosebumps hearing some of the impacts on. kids lives Wow. Um, let's shift gears just a little bit. Um, an area that I've been doing some research around is around teacher retention and , uh, you know, nationally about 50% of teachers leave the field within the first five years. I'm curious in your district and maybe in your region, what are you seeing?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yeah, so I mean, as you know, everywhere, but Colorado absolutely has a teacher shortage. Um, we do, we do have a , a more favorable retention rate than the state rate. Um, we do , um, however , uh , we see far too many teachers leave, leave the business. Uh, this is actually, this has been a big focus area in our strategic plan, and we've just been revising that plan. We just finished the five years of it. The next plan is called innovation 2030. So we're looking at the next 10 years. So the really big work in this plan is around that retention of teachers and other staff , um, who , um, look and look and see more like our students. So teachers of color and staff members of color. Um, so that's the really, really big work , um, in this next wave. And then, you know, it's also, you know, what we're learning is we got to talk to teachers about what it is they need. So a couple of years ago, we began doing exit interviews on all of our staff who were leaving , um, and , and surveys on our staff who leave. So we know why they left. So we can begin to build, you know, build systems and support. So we don't lose staff.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

What did you find out from those surveys?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Um , so couple, you know, what we , what we learned is it really is within the first 30 to 90 days that those teachers have made a decision about whether or not they're going to stay in the district. So what we've learned. Yeah. So what we learned is we have to take really good care of them, support them, love them up, respond to them , um, in those very first few weeks of, of them having been hired so that we get them dialed in. So some of the things we shifted and , and it seems really simple, crisp , and a lot of really good principals already do this, but, but what we needed to do with system-wide say here is how, as soon as we make that first contact for an interview, even so they've applied for the job, what do we do to let them know where they are in that application process? And then once we've interviewed them, what do we, you know, we have to continue to keep them engaged, even if the answer is no, at that point, that might be a candidate. That's going to come back to us again, later if we have treated them well, even if we didn't select them. And so it's really about taking good care of our people from, from the time they submit that application until throughout their career. And so, and then it's, you know, once we get them on campus, it's just really taking good care of them. And then over that, I should have mentioned over the summer , um, you know, there can be this vacuum and this gap of information and the employee isn't hearing anything from the school, from the district. And so what we learned through that , through talking with our employees was that they need to hear from us. They need to know that, that we're still excited to have them coming and we're, we're ready for them and waiting for them. Um, and then the other thing that, that we have done is really looked at the research around millennials. And so one of the things we know with millennials , uh, the research tells us, and so our younger, newer employees, they want a lot of feedback. And, you know, I know when I started in education 33 years ago, I was okay, just getting my evaluation. Um, but, but I , um , I'm, I'm experiencing this right now in my own cabinet. I hired a position and , uh, the young man is , uh , Oh, maybe 31, maybe , um , in an executive level position. And he, he really needs to know how he's doing every time I do a check-in with him, he's asking me now, I just want to make sure am I giving you what you need or you, you know, and so I , I know our new employees need a lot of feedback. And so we've worked in systems to make that happen , um, at the building level. And then we added a mentor program. We had had one and we eliminated it because it wasn't very effective. And then two years ago, we reinstated a very , um, robust and meaningful , um, mentor program for all of our new teachers. And I think, you know, you gotta have, you can't just let it happen organically. We have to have systematic ways to take care of our, our new staff this year has been particularly challenging with, you know, being , um, hybrid some of the time or being remote some of the time it can make teachers feel very isolated. So we we've had to build some systems in where, you know, we're making sure that other members and at that teacher's grade level or their department or an administrator is checking in with those new staff.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah. Fantastic. Um, yeah, a couple things that struck me as , you know, the, in an environment where there's a teacher shortage, you have to really consider potential teachers as customers and keep them engaged and treat them well .

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yeah. And I should have mentioned the career pathways. We, so we have been developing a career pathway around education and then teach it . Yeah. And then also , um, we're working, you know, and it, we, it , it got a good launch. And then , um, the position changed at the university we were working at with, but we really, what we, we need to have is a robust system where we can take our own paraprofessionals and other , uh , kind of teachers , aides, teachers assistants who want to be educators and get them into education programs while they're working for us. So they can move right into education, you know , right. Into teaching positions.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah. That sounds like a great idea. Um, let's explore a little bit this mentorship program. How is that similar? I, I hear a lot about coaching in schools. Would this be similar or different?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Well , it's different than that. We also have coaches also, we do, we also have instructional coaches also, and they absolutely do work with the new teachers. And , um, uh , so the difference is the mentor is somebody who should be having daily contact with that teacher. And, and especially that first semester of the school year and really making sure they ha you know, they have what they need , um, and, and that they feel supported and they have somebody to bounce ideas off of. Um, the instructional coach might only be in their classroom, you know, once or twice a week , um, giving feedback. And so it's, it's different. Um, that mentor is as much about a relationship and about how to do the job as it is now, where w w where do I warm up my lunch? Where's the microwave, you know, is it okay for me to park in that parking lot? Um, I never did get a key to that cabinet. How do I get that key? So, you know, those are the things that can, those kinds of everyday operational things can really frustrate new staff. Um, if they don't have somebody, they feel like they can go to and get their little, you know, their little problems become really big problems.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, absolutely. And so really, you're , you have both of those systems operating mentorship and, and coaching. Absolutely. Some of the things I've read about teacher retention is that the need for support coaching really provides that. And, and that, that was an interesting insight for me around millennials that they're asking for , uh , supportive feedback to improve their, their skills and so forth.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yes, absolutely. That's actually Gallup research Gallup is who did that research.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, that's, that's fantastic. I, I know when I started back in the business back in around 1980, that most teachers close their door and it was their fife dom and that was it. Whatever happened happened. Um, that that's fantastic. Um, one of the things I've been talking to a lot of superintendents about is, is declining enrollments that that's, you know , uh , and , and also it's been exacerbated by COVID. Um, I was reading an article about Chicago public schools. They've lost 50,000 kids. They don't know where they are and that affects funding. And so what do you see happening in your district and region in that regard?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Uh , thanks for that, Chris. That's a great, that's a great question. So , um, you know, Colorado mostly has increasing enrollment. People want to live in Colorado, and we are , uh, you know, we're a thriving state. Um, although there are districts in our state that have declining enrollments or stable enrollments , um, we are also an open enrollment state. So that's an important factor as you're looking at declining enrollment that we have to be offering a product , um, that our communities want, or they'll just, they can go to another community and go to school. Um, and they will. So , uh, we are, we have been increasing in enrollment and the time that I have been here , um, part of that is our community is growing , uh , are a community that is still sort of affordable for families. Um , a lot of places in Colorado are just not affordable for young families. Um , just starting out. We are. Um, and so we have been growing this year, however, with the pandemic, we are, we are several hundred students down and a few hundred of them are just in the wind. Uh, you know, we, we do not know where they are and we hear that the parents, you know, packed up the RV and they just, the family went. Um, so I think all , you know, I, in the other groups of superintendents I am in all of us are concerned about enrollment. We're concerned about where the children are. We're concerned about the numbers of children that families have indicated they're homeschooling and Colorado really doesn't have, we have no oversight over homeschooling in Colorado. The family just simply has to notify us they're homeschooling. And that is it . And so , um, you know, we're worried about , I'm worried and I'm worried about the learning loss that some children who've not been in school this year will have , um, when they do come back, we also know that , uh, many of our families kept their, what would have been kindergartners home. So they're, you know, they're old enough to come to kindergarten, but they're not yet required to come to kindergarten. And so they just didn't send them this year because they , the environment was so uncertain that they're waiting a year.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Sure, sure. So , um, in an open enrollment environment, that that's interesting, so , uh, students can move to different districts. So do you see a net gain in , in, in your district of students coming?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

I , um, I have more students who actually leave my district than come. I I'm going to be Frank about that. And I don't think that's unusual in a district that is high poverty. Um, so I have, I have , um, more students leaving my district, going to a neighboring district that is a very wealthy district. Um , then I do have coming back in. However, having said that I do have , um, many families who open enroll here in our district , um, because they live closer to our district and their home district , um, because they have, they went to school here and they want to bring their kids to school here. Um, many of my own employees bring open, enroll their children into the district. Um, we also have charter schools, so, you know , I have a pretty significant charter school population as well. So it is very competitive here, Chris. And I think, you know, the , you prior to my getting here, the career pathways , um, had begun to be built and with focus programs at each of our three large comprehensive high schools in order to draw , um, high school students back in and keep high school students here. And so , uh, we, you know, we've done an excellent job of that. And the career pathways program has only enhanced that further. And having said this about the open enrollment problem , um, all but one or two of my 34 buildings are over capacity. So we are, we have, we have a lot of portable classrooms. We did just pass a , a large substantial , uh , bond issue a year ago, a year and a half ago about, and , um , we will be building some new buildings , um , our building new buildings as a result of that. Um, that bond issue was well overdue because we've been a growing district and we haven't, we hadn't built any new buildings for enrollment for almost 20 years.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Sure, sure. Yeah. It's an interesting problem. My former district, one of them that I worked with 20% of their students go to other options. And you think of a school district losing 20% of their students and the associated revenue. I mean, that puts a huge strain on , on the system.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Absolutely. Well, I'm with the open enrollment , um, just within our district , um, over 40% of our families open enroll to another school within our district other than their homeschool.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Sure, sure. And that that's , uh , I read a national study where about 30% of kids are in a school other than they're that geographic school that's near where they live , um, with all these options. So you mentioned the competitive nature. That's so interesting. So it's really a marketplace, wouldn't you say?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Oh, absolutely. It's a marketplace. And, and that's a big part of, of the superintendency today is making sure that we have a product that serves our customer and keeps our customer with us . And that is, that's a reality and we didn't go into , we, you know, we didn't, I didn't take a marketing class in college or on my doctorate, but it is a big part of it. Um, which then comes back to the relationships, you know, the relationships are just so important.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It seems on the surface unseemly to think about kids as customers in a marketplace, but , but it's the reality that it is parents are shopping. And I think our younger parents, they're , they're not adverse to looking at all the different options.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Absolutely. And they're , um, you know, there are just, you know , I think when we were kids , uh, you know, our , our parents just, you just went to the school where you lived, you know, you just did. And there might've been a little, one little private school in town that, you know, a few families went to , um, relatively , uh, but today I think families feel this, this pressure to really at the time, from the time that that baby is being expected to do , to identify , um, you know, the , the best option for their children for, for, for education. And , um, you know, that's been really challenging and fun work for us here in district six is to really shift the image of the district as much as we can to keep our families with us and , and to bring families back, which I will tell you, we've done a great job of that. I'm really proud of the work of our staff in doing that.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Fantastic. And it really is about marketing your district and telling your story. And when you have some really cool stories to tell. Absolutely. And , um, my guess is it'll be a destination at some point. Um, well , we're getting a little bit short on time, but I wanted to ask with all your experience, I , I always want to touch with superintendents. What advice might you have or actionable steps might you share with a new superintendent or , or, or a principal?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Well, you know, Chris, there's a piece when I am working with say superintendent candidates , um, or talking to a group of administrators , um, and I've been asked to come in and be a panelist to talk about a principal moving into the superintendency or, or assistant superintendents moving into superintendency. I think the most important thing Chris is to know yourself. You have to really know what you believe and who you are as an educator. And, and you need to know how that plays out day to day, and then you find the right fit. Uh, so much of this is about fit , fit with the community , uh, fit with the values of the board of education and the vision of the board of education. And , um, tell the truth, you know, when you're interviewing for the job, tell the truth about what you've done and how you've done it and what you will do. And , um, so that it to do that, you got to really know yourself, you got to know your own strengths than your own growth areas, and you need to know what kind of people you need around you to be successful. And, and , um, we, you know, we, I will tell you, successful superintendents are highly skilled, highly intelligent, highly articulate people. They are. There's, you know, I, I'm in awe of my colleagues , um , here in Colorado and around the nation I get to work with and you have to , you still have to have a team around you and a board of education that is a good match for you. And , and I would say, if it, if there is not a good fit with your board of education in your community, it's not somewhere you want to be. It just, you know, it just isn't, and this job is too hard to be fighting your community and your board of education. And that's where I feel so fortunate that , um, and I'm, I'm down to my last two board members next November, the last two board members who hired me, we'll go off the board. And so I , I, you know, my I've been very fortunate that that, although my board has almost all entirely turned over , um, that the , the beliefs they have around what should happen for children and education are still a very, you know, there are a perfect match for my leadership. And at the point in which that, that isn't the case, then this job is too hard , um , to stay in it. I mean, that , that you , you just have to have that, that match. And again, that match comes knowing who you are and what you believe in how you do what you do, and what does that get you out of bed every single day to go and do this work, and then this , this community, the right community to do it in. And, you know, I often have folks who are aspiring to the superintendency at talk about, you know, just kind of applying for every job. And, and I, you know, I , that's not the answer. It's really about picking the community. And, and I picked this community. Um, I came from a very affluent community. I was in Boulder Valley as a deputy. And , um, and my heart is for kids who need more. And that's why I picked this community. I watched this district , uh, for a few years and said that is going to come open. That's where I want to be superintendent. And so , um, you know, it's, it's about, it's about fit and knowing yourself and knowing your mission, and people will say, knowing your why , you know, it's knowing your, why, why do you do what you do? And then where do you go? Where do you go to find the work to let you do that? So that work is joyful and rewarding instead of, you know, hard to get up and go do

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Well. That is just a great advice for folks and Greeley Evans is so fortunate to have you Dr. Pilch. Um, our time is just about up. So what I'd like to do is , uh , do our little game called this or that, that we ran with all of our guests. And it's very simple. I say two things, and you just tell us which one you prefer, and you can tell us , uh, you'll add color detail if you want. Let's start off with the simple one dog or cat.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Oh, dog.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You're a dog person.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yeah I have a little tiny dog, like take everywhere that I'm allowed to.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay, awesome. Okay. Cardio or weights.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Cardio.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Cardio.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yeah. I got to burn it up.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. Well, you do seem energetic. So you're definitely putting in some steps every day. Um, Facebook or Twitter?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Twitter.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Twitter , all right . While walking, do you like to listen to podcasts? Like we're doing here today or music?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Music.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Music. All right . Are you an iOS or an Android person?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

iOS.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

iOS. Okay. Do you like big parties or small gatherings?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Small gatherings .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. That's been almost universal with our, with our superintendents . So I , I find that interesting,

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

But we go to large parties all the time. Chris, we have to, you have to, but it's really the small gatherings where you, you really get to know people and build those important relationships and partnerships.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, absolutely. So, given where you live mountains or ocean?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Ocean.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You're an ocean person.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

I am, but I love the mountains.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

If Colorado had an ocean there'd be too many people there.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

That's right. I love the mountains, but if I'm picking a mountain or ocean it's ocean .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. Sounds good. Uh , car or truck?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Hmm . Well, I'm kind of an SUV, so I guess more truck.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

More truck. Okay. Sounds good. Uh, let's see here. Um, coffee or tea?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Tea.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Tea. All right. How about a hamburger or a taco?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Taco.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Taco. All right . Uh, let's see. TV or book?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Book. I don't know. I like them both. I like them both. I like them both.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You know , you have to choose.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Yeah.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You're the boss. You're the boss. Okay. Um , do you prefer horror movies or a comedy movie?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Comedy.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Comedy. Okay. Sounds good. And our last question is toilet paper over or under?

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Over.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. Very good. You got that right. Well, Dr. Deirdre , Pilch I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you've shared with us today on this podcast, it's been informative. It's been inspiring. Um, it's just been a pleasure and thank you.

Dr. Dierdre Pilch: 

Thank you, Chris. It's really been a joy to be with you and to reflect a little bit on the work we're doing here. And , um, uh , you know, it's, it's a bright spot to visit with you. Thank you so much.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Appreciate that. Take care .

VoiceOver: 

Thank you for listening to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast brought to you by SchoolMint. Find us on all major podcast platforms and make sure to subscribe, so you never miss a show. Have a story to share? We want to hear it. Record a three to five minute audio pitch detailing your experience in working to become a change agent and why educators need to hear from you. Send your audio files to podcast@school.com . Join the conversation and help us advance towards the bright years ahead. See you next time.

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Season 1

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Listen Now District Spotlight: Greeley-Evans School District Six 24 District Spotlight: Greeley-Evans School District Six Dr. Pilch discusses challenges and triumphs facing districts and superintendents with valuable advice for future school leaders. Listen Now District Spotlight: Santa Ana Unified School District 25 District Spotlight: Santa Ana Unified School District Using “strategic foresight” in order to plan for, innovate, and meet the challenges of our new educational environment, such as declining enrollment and social/emotional well-being... Listen Now Instruction That Closes Gaps 26 Instruction That Closes Gaps Eileen Murphy, Founder and CEO of ThinkCERCA, joins the podcast to discuss the relationship between literacy and Social-Emotional Learning. 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