Podcast: Kristi Dominguez & Ellen Dorr: Leading Central Systems Through COVID-19 with Optimism, Hope & Love

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Kristi Dominguez, Executive Director, Teaching & Learning for Bellingham Public Schools and Ellen Dorr, Chief Technology Officer for Renton Public Schools. As Leaders in school systems close to the first US Coronavirus epicenter in Washington State, Kristi and Ellen were jolted into emergency crisis mode with rapid closures of schools and fast-moving pandemic health recommendations.

Particularly, these two school system leaders were tackling immediate, high-level components of access upon school closures: Kristi, charged with coordinating child care for families of first-responders and Ellen, for technology resources for distance learning. As cabinet team members, Kristi and Ellen contributed to large system conversations and their targeted tasks relentlessly pursuing the best options that honored equity and access for students and families.

They talk with our Learning Design Manager, Kelly Niccolls about, in these unprecedented circumstances, what really matters? Nurturing connection, and how they focused their leadership on openings and shifts in their systems that gave them hope while diligently breaking through obstacles.

Key Takeaways:
[1:53] In the midst of a pandemic, what really matters right now?
[4:55] In Kristi’s and Ellen’s central leadership roles, have they talked about the impact around test scores, college readiness, and grade level proficiency amid the coronavirus pandemic?
[7:08] How have Kristi and Ellen seen their team members care for each other during this crisis?
[10:44] What are some ways that Kristi and Ellen are seeing different kinds of connectivity in the community happening? And what are some of the gaps and needs they are currently working on addressing? Additionally, what are some partnerships and collaborations that they would like to see continue, even after the crisis is over?
[16:47] How are their teams continuing to nurture students’ connection to learning amid a crisis where schools are shut down? And how are they working with and communicating with the teachers and parents?
[22:34] Jessica shares an important resource with listeners: GettingSmart.com/GettingThrough.
[23:15] Kelly, Kristi, and Ellen continue their conversation about nurturing students’ connection to learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
[25:42] What are the new possibilities that come from settling into a new normal? And how do we learn from each other? What new openings have been popping up now that never occurred in the previous structures?
[29:17] Have Kristi and Ellen given any thought to what returning to school will look like? How might things be different?
[35:28] Learning and school are not synonymous. Kristi and Ellen highlight some of the key ways this pandemic has illustrated this.
[38:02] How, as district leaders do they plan on ensuring that the momentum they’ve built with the pandemic continues even after it has ended?
[42:43] Kristi and Ellen give their closing thoughts and advice to other district leaders, educators, and parents.

Mentioned in This Episode:
GettingSmart.com/GettingThrough
Bellingham Public Schools
Renton School District

For more, see:


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Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Fabulous conversation that is a breath of fresh air in honesty and courage among all the hype in so many discussions. Thank you for being such a steady voice for us all.

  2. Kristi speaks about connection. This is at the heart of our the story we are living right now. Connecting kids, parents and teachers in meaningful ways. As a teacher of the Bellingham School District, how do we make this a time to genuinely come together and support our families? As a parent of two teenage boys, how do I support their home learning while building student agency.

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