Update From President, Jason S. Wood, Ph.D. – Dec 19, 2020

Dear College Family,

The end of each year is always a time of joy for me…we remember to be grateful, we have a chance to give to others, and we are renewed with the opportunity to set goals.  This year in particular has provided challenges which have caused many to grieve for the suffering and loss of loved ones.  Lots of people are experiencing intense mental and emotional stressors.  The horrific events of the world seem to reverberate incessantly and are debilitating in their prolonged presence.  Despite all of this…at Southwest Tech we choose to be at our best, collectively, for each other and for our students.  Consider this abbreviated list of herculean efforts to serve and care for people:

  1. Emergency grants to students and employees
  2. Calling campaign to check in with every single person
  3. Care packages to faculty and staff with gifts from local businesses
  4. Adjustments to our preferences for how things are done in order to accommodate others showing empathy
  5. More random acts of kindness by more people, to more people, and with more people

My eyes tear up thinking of the scores of other examples of Southwest Tech faculty and staff demonstrating courage and showing compassion for each other and our students.  Not a day goes by that I don’t spend a moment of reverent silence hoping each of you is comforted and strengthened sufficient to carry your burdens.  Those moments are often followed with clarity in thought on ways we can move forward.  Through my personal process of counting my blessings in late November, planning meaningful gifts for loved ones and strangers this month, and setting goals for my own growth for the new year…one of the phrases that sums up my belief about our college family is that “I. Believe. That. We. Will. Win.” 

Whether you prefer this version of the cheer or this rendition of the song, the message is the same: we will find ways to succeed in our mission.  Please know that we are stronger for our diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives.  If we respect each other enough to unify in our love for our shared purpose of helping students learn, then our students will improve their lives through better careers.

To that end, here is an brief update from my perspective:

  1. COVID-19:
    1. Re-Open Plan:  We will continue to slowly re-open the college.  Spring semester will start similar to the fall semester ending.  We hope to publish a road map for incremental and strategic re-opening of campus prior to the first day of classes.  Here is what the Covid-19 Ops Team is working on addressing, with a few adjustments to the dates and outcomes likely, as they plan:
      1. Assume 60% vaccine acceptance rate – whether we require it or not, but it’ll be interesting when we have access to the vaccine
      2. Ask faculty/staff to prioritize which courses/services/co-curricular they would bring back first, second, third, or not at all/done in a different/better way. (Monitor online vs in-person capacity – baseline pre-covid, fall start/end rate, spring start/end rate, and measures for 2/1, 3/1/, 4/1, summer, and fall) goal is to be 85% back to normal/new normal by January 2022.
      3. Conduct an assessment of campus capacity given needs for social distancing, cleaning, and any other protocol implications.
      4. Determine indicators for moving forward, holding steady, or stepping back: college positives, community spread indicators, hospital capacity, etc. – value local data 90% and national trends 10%.
      5. Establish plan to bring people/services/classes back on campus for Feb 1, March 1, April 1, summer term, and fall term.  Dates to be modified pending faculty/staff feedback on the best times for student learning considerations balanced with capacity to safely do so.
    2. Vaccine:  We are anxiously watching the implementation of vaccinations across the country including potential employment related considerations locally.  You may be interested in listening to this podcast to learn more about the legal perspectives associated with vaccination policies.  The Board of Directors did have a very preliminary conversation on the topic and respectfully debated and expressed a wide range of viewpoints.  We will seek more information to answer their questions.  It appears we could be in line for the higher education vaccine availability next May or June but I could be wrong and much is likely to change between now and then.  At any rate, we are actively learning about our options which will include reaching out to faculty and staff to understand your perspectives. Currently, I favor a vaccination policy that would rely on education about the vaccine, outlining the benefits, developing a robust safety and distribution protocol, and encouraging informed consent participation/non-participation in order to reach any goal set by federal or state health entities.
  2. In-Service
    1. “When we do In-Service right it is the gift that keeps on giving.”  Trademark pending. 😊  We do have a “present” for each benefitted employee which includes hands-on activities to be completed together during In-Service and a simply thank you for your continued efforts on Project RiSE of the Enterprise Resource Planning implementation.  You will receive a package in the mail shortly after the new year with more information.  Detailed instructions will be provided at In-Service. 
  3. Board Meeting Update
    1. Employee Compensation:  Krista Weber, Chief Human Resources Officer, presented a proposal to increase base wages for all benefited employees by 0.81% effective with the January 8, 2021, payroll. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for this past year was 1.81% and all benefited employees received an increase in their base wages of 1.0% on July 1, 2020 along with a $500 one-time stipend. Increasing the base wages of benefited employees aligns with the College’s compensation philosophy and is the top priority. 
      1. Decision:  The Board of Directors approved the base wage increases for all benefited employees by 0.81% effective with the January 8, 2021, payroll.
    2. Enrollment Report: The FTE comparison (emailed to staff), dated 12/14/20, indicates a decline of over 6% for our current year.  I know a great deal of effort is being made to improve our situation.  At this point, however, the results are becoming more than simply concerning.  The Board provided me with feedback including the expectation that I develop a plan to meet the enrollment goals assumed in our annual budget or a mechanism to meet the financial gap created by the decline.  Because we have been cautious and conservative in many of our decisions (i.e. a few positions remained unfilled), we do have a small safety net remaining.  We do have confidence our recruitment/retention efforts will ultimately yield better results.  We will plan for multiple scenarios and provide more information as we move forward.
  4. State Financial Perspective: We are actively monitoring the state financial forecasts to determine our local options.  Please note three sources of information recently released.
    1. On November 20, 2020, the “Agency Budget Requests and Revenue Estimates” were published by the Department of Administration.
    2. An overview of the Wisconsin State Agency financial requests was emailed to all staff.  The Wisconsin Technical College System requests begin on page 201 and mirrors the information I shared earlier this summer.  This document outlines each request including the dollar amount and a brief rationale.
    3. If the other two documents were not entertaining, this next publication does provide a compelling analysis of the current political and financial realities of the state.  The Wisconsin Policy Forum is a state-wide, non-partisan, independent policy research organization.  It strives to produce relevant and high-quality public policy research that helps generate informed and fact-based public policy decision-making.  They recently authored, “ State’s Budget Challenges Come Into Focus” which indicates we are in for complex and difficult decisions which will be subject to a particularly rigorous, and probably rancorous, political process.  We do “rigorous” at Southwest Tech, not “rancorous”, which is part of why we thrive no matter the threat.
    4. To reference our Speed of Trust and the Orange Frog Happiness Advantage…We will exemplify our personal integrity, collective compassion, and genuine respect for others when we face the state financial situation (aka herons, the deluge, and/or the thrall).  I remain confident we will be able to create local solutions aligned with our priorities and values.  Please know we will provide opportunities for discussion and input through our new Listening Sessions, as well as other venues, to create dialogs, explore options, and consider multiple perspectives.
  5. Exec Leadership Structure, Chief Student Services Officer search/re-org, and Succession Planning
    1. As has been shared multiple times, we are considering the format and makeup of our 3 existing teams  which will be consolidated into two groups in January.  Thank you to those who have provided insights.  We strive to “Achieve College Excellence with Integrity Through Learning and Service” and look at this opportunity to re-align strengths, provide growth opportunities, and better align purposes/functions to improve the results we are achieving.
    2. I anticipate announcing a new Chief Student Services Officer by 12/23.  The screening committee interviewed four internal candidates who all did an exceptional job.  A separate screening committee held initial inquiries with 14 people who are interested, and all did well in the interviews, in additional responsibilities that will result from an internal CSSO hire.  We will most likely resume this process with more in-depth discussions with the identified people after the new year…we simply ran out of time to complete everything before the break.
    3. Much of my confidence in our college comes from the amazing people who work here.  Future coaching sessions will be designed to learn more about people’s strengths, interests, and opportunities for growth.  As we start a new year we will renew our commitment to completing the Acting President policy, complete the process for developing succession plans for the chief officers, and expand efforts to create growth opportunities for more people.  If you are interested in expanding your responsibilities, either in depth or breadth of your impact, please participate in the internal professional development trainings and Learning Academy courses.
  6. Budget Priorities – Shark Tank Style
    1. In an effort to create an engaging environment, encourage diverse perspectives, and be more inclusive in the feedback process…we held a Shark Tank event to consider proposals for investments to primarily increase FTE through recruitment and/or retention while also seeking to improve the success of our Special Populations.  I was exceptionally pleased with the value of this event and it far surpassed my expectations…both reminders of the improved quality which is a benefit of being inclusive and emphasizing equity.  A summary of the four proposals selected for further development and vetting can be found in the Shark Tank PDF.  We will determine next steps in early January.
    2. Special thanks to:
      1. Derek Dachelet: Key lead of the event and game show host who put in a great deal of time to make the day successful.
      1. The Sharks (Jody Millen, Caleb White, Paul Bell, Karen Campbell, Katie Glass, and Erin Kerkhoff) for asking questions, providing feedback, and voting on each proposal.
      1. The MANY, MANY faculty and staff who participated in one of the nine proposal teams.  With a short turn around and receiving feedback on your proposal in a public venue…I appreciate the courage, creativity, and passion for wanting to help our students be more successful.
  7. Shout out to…
    1. Nicole Nelson from Natalie Long for being the “fairy godmother of our college”.  Thank you, Nicole, for sharing such a powerful, heartfelt, and well-deserved kudos for Nicole.
    2. Scott Kennedy from Lori Needham for providing his students with an opportunity to serve people in need who live in the community.  Lori, thank you for your exemplary sincerity in recognizing a respected colleague.
    3. Kris Schoville from Brynn Junk for being “a joy” to work with and doing so much to support Brynn as an adjunct instructor.  Brynn, we are grateful you are part of the college, for your efforts to help students learn, and for taking the time to thank Kris.

If you made it this far in the email, you have demonstrated perseverance!  2020 has required new levels of grit and resilience.  McClusky’s Theory of Margin provides a timely theoretical framework for understanding our ability to have the necessary strength to accomplish our goals.  If you have a moment and are so included, I would appreciate hearing how the Theory of Margin does or does not apply to you.

I sincerely believe our integrity, hard work, and happiness will go a long way to finding true success especially if we are simply nice to others.  I care about each of you very much.  Please know that peace, good health, and comfort to you and yours are the pure desires of my heart.



Posted in COVID-19, Update