A conversation with Jody Mimmack, new superintendent at East Grand Schools
July 30, 2013
Since the third grade, when she played school with her sister in the basement, Jody Mimmack said she knew she wanted to work in education. Now the superintendent for East Grand School District, Mimmack has held nearly every job in education apart from school bus driver. She has worked in the school cafeteria, as a teacher, as dean of students, as assistant principal, as principal and as an executive director of instructional support.
Ten years ago, Mimmack made national headlines after taking a hard-line approach to bullying, suspending a student after he made an offensive comment to a peer. She continues to make safe, inclusive schools a priority. Mimmack also looks to improve school communication and community relationships.
With just longer than a month before school starts, Mimmack spoke about her plans and goals for the coming school year.
What's your background working with bullies and creating safe school environments?
“I think the bullying face to face, the ‘you can’t sit with us at lunchtime,’ continues to occur, but it’s so much more now. With the touch of a button, a student can send a mean Snapchat that disappears in 90 seconds. As social media and other ways of communicating accelerate, there’s a wider opportunity for bullying.”
East Grand Schools superintendent
I have lots of experience working with bullies. The high school where I was principal was one of the top 10 schools in the nation for positive behavior intervention and support, that's a school-wide improved school culture and climate initiative
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In Grand Junction, we had a bullying situation where a sixth grader was bullying another student and ended up calling him "gay." We followed protocol and took action. It got international press because some said we were promoting alternative lifestyles, that "gay" is just a schoolyard word that people throw around, and the kid wasn't really serious. But he'd had a long-standing pattern of behavior against the student. We're not going to put up with bullying, whatever form it takes, whether it's name-calling, harassment, mean emails. There's just no place for bullying in schools.
What's the solution for bullying, beyond zero tolerance?
I think before zero tolerance, there has to be a positive school climate and culture, where kids feel like they're safe, where they feel they belong, where they feel they're part of a community.
The school administration and teachers need to help build that community. They can purposefully build in activities and processes so kids feels they're part of the school. Whether it's clubs or organizations, or school teams, classrooms, I think you build community over time that way. You let people know what's school-appropriate and what supportive behaviors are.
Is bullying a problem that's on the rise in general?
With social media, it might not be on the rise, but it has taken different forms. I think the bullying face to face, the "you can't sit with us at lunchtime," continues to occur, but it's so much more now. With the touch of a button, a student can send a mean Snapchat that disappears in 90 seconds. As social media and other ways of communicating accelerate, there's a wider opportunity for bullying.
You just started in Grand County, but do you know if bullying is a problem at East Grand School District?
I haven't seen discipline data that would indicate that it's a problem. On the flip side of that, I see excellent participation numbers in sports, activities and clubs. I've spent quite a bit of time over the last three months transitioning and spending time in the schools. It has an excellent positive feel to me. Our achievement data show that kids are learning and growing. It would be naïve of me to say bullying doesn't exist in our system, but that was not one of the major issues we talked about as I was transitioning in.
High turnover is one of the biggest challenges with East Grand School District. What are some of your specific plans to address turnover?
I think we can help new teachers become acclimated. Even when recruiting new teachers, a lot look at the salary schedule and go, 'Whoa. I can't live on that.' What other amenities will a teacher be afforded if they move to East Grand County? There are a lot. We need to market that this is a great place to live and work. We're working on updated communications, updated marketing around recruiting, and we're continuing to hope that the economy will bounce back so we can restore steps and lanes on the salary schedule. Those are the kinds of the out-of-the-box thinking we're applying right away. We're almost fully staffed right now, but we're always looking for great people.
How do you plan to juggle the district's budget cuts, another challenge past administrators have faced?
It appears to me we've already cut everything extraneous. All that's left are programs and people. We are extremely fortunate in this school district to still have art and music, things other districts have completely cut from their programming. We're going to have to be wise with our money and hope the economy bounces back, and hope that the legislators work hard to fix the funding formula. We'll see what happens with that in November. This is already a pretty lean operation. The good news is that the board has made wise choices, keeping cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.
What goals do you have for the coming school year?
To build trusting relationships first and foremost – to have people get to know me, for me to get to know people. To continue to work through the strategic plan the board built, which is focused on closing achievement gaps. Nancy Karas (retired East Grand superintendent) left an amazing legacy, and I'd like to continue building on the strengths and great programming that's already here.
We have a couple of statewide mandates that we need to work to implement, including Colorado's early literacy READ Act, which is focused on getting every student literate by the time they're in the third grade. So we'll need to do some program changes to support those initiatives.
What are you most looking forward to, working in Grand County as East Grand's superintendent?
Just all the people. It's really a people-first job. I'm looking forward to working with the different communities as the ambassador of East Grand, helping to spread the good news about what we're doing in our schools, and what an amazing place this is for children.
And I love the mountains. I was ready for a change, and this was a great location for me. It's a school district that's a size where I might have some impact on the system, and where I'll really be able to get to know everybody in the community. I'm exited to be here, and I have an open-door policy. Email me, phone me, I'll continue to get out to community meetings. Look for newsletters and an updated communication system sometime mid-fall. We just want to reach out.