Building teacher career pathways in Big Spring ISD

The traditional model of one teacher to one classroom is being reconsidered in districts trying to leverage the impact of effective teachers and create more career opportunity.
 
Traditionally, the only way a teacher could advance his or her career was to leave the classroom and move into an administrative role. And those who got tapped to move into administrative roles were typically the most talented teachers. Big Spring ISD is redesigning teacher jobs to extend the reach of talented teachers to more students for more pay.

Creating new roles for Big Spring ISD teachers

Two new instructional job descriptions will be implemented in Big Spring this fall: Multi-Classroom Leaders and Reach Associates. Multi-Classroom Leaders (MCLs) are teachers with a history of excellence in student achievement and the capacity to lead other adults. The MCL will still teach students directly, but is assigned a teaching load that enables him or her to perform team leadership functions as well.
 
The Reach Associates are highly skilled paraprofessionals that will assist a team of teachers under the guidance of the MCL. A Reach Associate assists the team with digital learning and other forms of supplemental instruction, independently monitoring and supervising students to stay on task, and communicating with the team on student progress and development.
 
 The West Texas district has more than 4,000 students enrolled on seven campuses. The new job roles will be piloted at three elementary priority schools this fall.
 
Chris Wigington has been superintendent at Big Spring for two years. He believes that good coaches also make great leaders and this philosophy can help teachers in the classroom. The district has a very young teaching staff and Wigington felt that adding the MCL role would help them develop.
 
Heidi Wagner is the school improvement director at Big Spring who will be leading the initiative. Wagner feels that this model is also a way for them to deal with the teacher shortage. Big Spring has hired a lot of teachers from alternative certification programs who are still learning. As Wagner explains, “We have to think out of the box about how to use our best teachers.”

Seeking help from Opportunity Culture Texas

The model for these new instructional roles came from an initiative called Opportunity Culture developed by Public Impact, a nonprofit group based in North Carolina. Through a grant from TEA’s Division of School Improvement and Support, Education Service Center 20 has partnered with Public Impact and Education First to guide and support districts in redesigning teaching roles and training staff for those new roles.

Opportunity Culture models

In only its second year, Opportunity Culture has reached more than 30 schools with higher paying career opportunities for over 150 teachers in North Carolina, Tennessee, New York, Indiana, and now in Texas. Opportunity Culture is the trademark name of Public Impact’s initiative to create new career opportunities for excellent teachers that extend their reach to more students. There are more than 20 school models that use job redesign and technology to put excellent teachers in charge of every student’s learning, while catalyzing teamwork and professional development. An important requirement is that the model must be financially sustainable within the school’s regular budget.
 
There are multiple models to choose from for redesigning teaching jobs but all of the Opportunity Culture models must adhere to these core principles:
 
1. Reach more students with excellent teachers and their teams
2. Pay teachers more for extending their reach
3. Fund pay within regular budgets
4. Provide protected in-school time for team collaboration and development
5. Match authority and accountability to each person’s responsibilities
 
Adapted from OpportunityCulture.org; ©Public Impact.

 
The grant-funded collaborative, Opportunity Culture Texas, was started two years ago. Mark Baxter, TEA director of school improvement and support, explained their goal: “We are trying to build statewide capacity for school improvement. We know that what needs to be happening at these campuses is better support and more coaching for teachers. We think Opportunity Culture can expand that capacity within existing resources.” 

Selecting Multi-Classroom Leaders

Big Spring will start out with six MCLs for three campuses. Principals decide what grade level and content areas the MCLs will be assigned. Campus design teams looked at their performance data to determine their areas of need and MCLs were selected to match those needs.
 
To avoid any perception of bias, district leaders asked staff members from ESC 20 for help with the screening and selection process. There were ten applicants for the six positions, eight from inside the district and two from outside. Names were removed from the applications which were sent to ESC 20. Opportunity Culture provided the competency criteria that MCLs would need and ESC 20 conducted structured interviews for two hours with each candidate that probed for evidence of growth and leadership ability.
 
The district ended up hiring internal candidates for all six positions. Wagner shared that all of the MCL candidates were strong and all candidates passed the screening interview and provided quantitative data on student growth. Wagner commented, “All six that were chosen are natural born teachers. Their experience ranged from three to 20 years. The strongest teachers are not necessarily those with the most experience.”

Developing a sustainable funding plan 

Each multi-classroom leader will be paid $10,000 more than regular teachers. The higher salaries will be funded through attrition and larger classes with more paraprofessionals to help the teachers. The average classroom size will increase from 22 to 30 students. District leaders recognized this as a challenge, but the decision—as Wagner frames it—came down to, “Would you rather have 30 kids in front of one excellent teacher or 22 in front of a mediocre teacher?”  District leaders see this as a way to invest and develop even more excellent teachers.
 
The paraprofessionals, or Reach Associates, will be trained for supervising independent work. Each MCL was part of the interview process for the associates who were recruited to apply from among the district’s best instructional aides. Reach Associates will be paid $3,000 more and the district has committed to honoring their time to support the MCLs in the classroom. The MCL will model lessons for other team teachers while the Reach Associates will monitor other student learning activity.
 
The only additional cost is a first-year implementation budget of $80,000 for recruiting and the staff training to be provided by Public Impact. The start-up cost was funded through a grant from Public Impact.

Making time for teams

The model for teacher leaders must provide time for teaching teams to meet and collaborate during the school week. As Wigington explains, “Teaching is a team sport; we can no longer afford to have closed doors; teachers will have to learn it together.” In Big Spring, each campus figured out their own schedules to provide three hours of meeting time per week for grade-level teams. Team meeting time is precious, so focus and efficiency during that time will be key. Opportunity Culture is providing models and training to help MCLs structure team meeting time for maximum benefit.  

Learning from other models in other places

In Charlotte, North Carolina, part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, other Opportunity Culture models have been in place for two years. Project LIFT (Project Leadership and Investment for Transformation) is a multifaceted reform effort to turn around nine of Charlotte’s highest poverty schools.
 
Design teams in four of those schools created 19 positions and four new teacher roles. Each school created their own combination of role models to best fit their needs:
  1. Multi-Classroom Leader, as in Big Spring.
  2. Blended Learning Teacher: Engages students in online work to master basic skills so the teacher can focus more on personalized, higher-order learning.
  3. Expanded Impact Teacher: Plans and delivers personalized, enriched instruction for multiple classes while students rotate with a paraprofessional who covers the basics and supervises skills practice.
  4. Elementary Specialized Teacher: Teaches only one or two subjects in which he or she has demonstrated excellence with support from other team teachers and paraprofessionals.
Each of these new teaching roles pays more: anywhere from $4,600 for an elementary specialized teacher up to $23,000 more for a multi-classroom leader of a large team.

Build it and they will come 

Members of the design teams in Charlotte reported that teachers responded especially well to three facets of an Opportunity Culture:
  • The opportunity for leadership without leaving the classroom
  • Significantly more pay for more responsibility
  • The creation of a culture in schools that elevates the teaching profession
Charlotte started recruiting early and aggressively to find excellent teachers to fill these new positions. They drew a flood of applicants (708) from 24 states for the 19 job openings. Twelve percent of the applicants came from Project LIFT schools, 45 percent from within the district, 55 percent from outside the district, and 23 percent from outside North Carolina. The applicants were very high caliber and chose which of the new roles they were applying for.

Building opportunity for teacher leaders

Not every teacher wants to spend 30 years alone in front of the same classroom. Creating meaningful leadership roles for our most talented teachers can help to address multiple pressures facing our public schools: Shortages of qualified teachers, stress on campus administrators, the need to improve teaching and learning in schools, and the need to retain our best teachers. As Wigington states, “What is best for kids sometimes requires doing unconventional things; we can’t always do things the same way and expect to move forward.”

An update on Texas’ pilot teacher and principal evaluation models

As this school year kicks off, more than 250 Texas school districts will pilot test the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS), the Texas Principal Evaluation and Support System (T-PESS), or both. T-TESS will replace the current model, the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS).
 
Tim Regal, the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) director of educator evaluation and support, and Lauralee Pankonien, senior coordinator for educator quality at Region XIII, briefed TASB, TASPA, TASBO, and TASA staff on the progress of the pilot in late August.
 
Sixty-five districts participated in the 2014‒15 pilot of the new teacher or principal evaluation system (or both). This year, 252 school districts are pilot testing one or both systems. In 2016‒17, the official roll-out year for the system, almost all (1,036) Texas school districts have indicated their intent to use them, according to district responses to ESC surveys.

Changing the appraisal culture

The new teacher evaluation system is intended to be collaborative and calls for more interaction between evaluators and teachers. Regal and Pankonien stressed that T-TESS focuses on developing educators at all levels and encourages educators to self-assess and reflect on their practice on a regular basis. “[Teachers] are part of this process,” Pankonien said.  “It’s not a one-directional thing.”
 
At the heart of T-TESS is a research-based rubric that attempts to capture the skills teachers use in their practice across all performance levels. The initial test of the rubric has shown that districts that closely adhere to it find that their teacher ratings are more standardized and objective than under PDAS.
 
Evaluators have noted that the rubric ratings are evidence based with more focus on students. The rubric defines what a each level of the teaching practice looks like.
 
Evaluators go through three days of teacher observation training using video clips to learn to analyze and categorize teacher performance levels according to the rubric. Teachers go through an abbreviated version of that training so they can see for themselves how the rubric works.
 
Appraisals are intended to be part of a process of continuous improvement. In addition to an optional preconference, evaluators will conduct an observation, and hold a post-observation conference and end-of-year conference with the teacher. At that end-of-year conference, teachers work with the evaluator to set goals for the next year and discuss the professional development they need. Summative ratings come after that final conference.

Measuring student learning

In 2017‒18, districts will incorporate student growth measures into their evaluations that may include student learning objectives, value-added measures on standardized tests, portfolios, and district pre- and post-tests. Student growth data, like observation feedback, is intended to help teachers and evaluators make more informed professional development decisions.
 
The student growth measures used will be a district decision and will account for 20 percent of a teacher’s overall rating.

The principal process

There is no simple way to observe a principal to determine whether he or she is doing a good job, so observations are not part of T-PESS. Principals meet with their evaluators and discuss how things have gone and compare their results with the principal rubric, capturing the effective practices of high-performers.
 
One thing that is built into the new model principal appraisal process is that the teacher appraisal results on a principal’s campus have to reflect the reality on that campus. That also means that teachers who’ve always been rated as “exceeds expectations” might have to recalibrate their expectations under the new system. “We took what used to be ‘exceeds expectations’ and moved it to the middle,” Pankonien said. Helping experienced teachers to understand that being ranked “proficient” in the new system doesn’t mean their performance has declined will be one challenge that evaluators face.

Putting in the time

“This will take more time,” Pankonien said. “It’s not going to go as quickly as PDAS. The preconference can take up to an hour.” For principals in small districts, the additional time commitment might be a tough sell, but the process gets easier and quicker with experience.

Benitez will continue TASPA’s tradition of training, support

Rose Benitez, TASPA’s new executive director, comes to the job well-prepared, with a doctorate in educational administration and a career in public education including 14 years as an HR administrator. She has seen the growth in TASPA’s professional development offerings and membership firsthand and her goal is to continue the trend.
 

Benitez
In her first two months on the job, she intends to spend time assessing what TASPA is doing and “…not disrupt anything already in place!”
 
“My predecessor, Melva Cárdenas, did an excellent job of leaving things well-organized so the planning process has been very smooth and everything is ready to go. These are big footsteps to fill but I’m glad that she paved the way that can only lead to better things…the path is there,” Benitez said.
 
She will continue to provide stakeholder input for school HR administrators as needed and share information on potential new laws and regulations that could impact HR operations with members.

Her thoughts on Texas Education HR Day

One of Cárdenas’ key achievements was the establishment of Texas Education HR Day. This year’s date for school leaders and the public to recognize the work of school HR department workers is Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015.
 
Benitez said that setting a day aside to show appreciation is important because “…HR administrators and staff touch everything that happens in a school district with regard to employees from the time they’re hired to the time they leave, from well-being to risk management to benefits to salaries to work environment. I would hope that superintendents and boards take the opportunity to acknowledge the work of their HR administrators and staff during the recognition portion of a board meeting.”
 
HR departments also usually have some sort of internal celebration that day to show appreciation for the work of the staff. “HR takes the day to be thankful for the work of staff. It’s all those employment specialists who make the first impression on people when they come in to apply. Plus the benefits specialists. All those working in support roles,” Benitez said.

Spring might bring new training

TASPA’s professional development options will continue as planned, with Benitez taking time during the fall to evaluate the new training offerings TASPA could provide, possibly including training on the new state model teacher and principal evaluations. TASPA’s popular documentation workshops aren’t going away and training on handling employee grievances will likely be expanded based on attendee feedback.
 
Benitez says training on conducting educator misconduct investigations is already in the works. After her December retirement she was approached for advice on the topic so she wrote a plan of action and started developing a presentation. She’s in the process of trying to find a district to host an initial workshop on the topic to allow her to hone the material for future training.
 
“I’ve been developing this training using my experience handling a myriad of cases including investigation of allegations, knowing where the decision points are,” Benitez said. “For HR administrators, handling the difficult conversations, the difficult employee situations, those are the kinds of things they are looking for,” Benitez said.

Tuition exemptions for aides could help districts battle teacher shortages

Does your district have educational aides that would make good teachers? There’s a program that can help them achieve that goal.
 
In the last session, the Texas Legislature restored funding to the Educational Aide Exemption program. It provides tuition exemptions for educational aides who take courses to obtain teacher certification in critical shortage areas. Those areas are as follows:

  1. Bilingual/English as a Second Language
  2. Career and Technical Education
  3. Computer Science
  4. English as a Second Language
  5. Math
  6. Science
  7. Special Education—Elementary and Secondary
Over the next two years, The Texas Higher Ed Coordinating Board (THECB) has $1.5 million available for the program. Colleges and universities that provide a match of at least 10 percent for each tuition exemption will be given priority when funds are distributed.
 
Program eligibility is based on need. Applicants for the exemption must meet the following requirements:
  • Be Texas residents
  • Work full-time as an aide or substitute in a Texas school district
  • Be employed by a Texas district during the term of the exemption
  • Enroll in courses leading to teacher certification in a critical shortage subject area
  • Register for the Selective Service or be exempt
  • Meet the academic requirements of the college or university
  • Have applied for financial aid to the college they plan to attend, including filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The program’s funding was cut in 2011, so the THECB is in the process of making new rules to determine how institutions will be reimbursed for the exemptions. A list of frequently asked questions is on the THECB Website.
 
Principals and administrators should encourage promising educational aides to look into the program.

School HR leaders can use big data to predict success

As the hiring frenzy begins to slow, school HR departments may find the time to review just how productive their hiring practices have been. If your school district is like most, you know how many vacancies you filled and have some idea where your employees went to school, their college degrees, and their performance, through their annual evaluations.
 
Why should you care about this data? What can you do with it?
 
For starters, you can use the data to strategically recruit the best employees for your district.
 
Where did you find your high-performing employees? Did you go to job fairs? Were you able to find quality candidates on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites? Most of the answers to these questions are found in employee applications, which can be paired with performance data. If you use an applicant tracking system, you could pull this information from an ad hoc report. Reviewing this data in isolation may show that most of your best hires are from a particular university, so your recruitment efforts should be focused there.
 
“Big data” doesn’t necessarily mean collecting more data. It is analyzing the data you currently have to inform decisions in better ways. For example, in turnover analysis, you could add variables, such as teacher preparation program (traditional educational degree path versus alternative educator preparation program) to see if retention rates are different.
 
There is a typical maturing process that most employers experience when using data. Bersin and Associates identified the four stages of how employers use big data as:
 
1.      Reactive
2.      Proactive
3.      Strategic Analytics
4.      Predictive Analytics
 


Level 1 is the entry stage, called reactive/operational reporting. As the name suggests, this level is used mainly for ad hoc reporting, when you are asked to run a specific report in isolation. Usually the reports are compliance based; for example, determining the number of students being taught by highly qualified teachers. According to Bersin, more than half of employers, including private sector employers, use data reactively.
 
The next stage is proactive/advanced reporting. These reports are used for benchmarking and decision making. Some school districts may even use dashboards to display teacher attendance to drive improvement. Nearly a third of all employers are at this second stage in data use.
 
Moving to the third stage, only 10 percent of the businesses reported using strategic analytics. This is where statistical analysis is used to identify causes, commonalities, and correlations.
 
The final level is predictive analytics. Even fewer businesses are at this level (4 percent). Here organizations are using big data and algorithms to create predictable models, do scenario planning, and mitigate risks. 
 
Regardless of your district’s stage, the importance of big data in HR will only continue to increase. If you are in the reactive stage, consider proactively analyzing possible trends in employee turnover and employee recruitment. If you are in the proactive stage, consider how you can more strategically incorporate HR data into decision making throughout the district. If you are in the strategic analytics stage, you may want to consider how you can provide district administrators with predictive models about employee performance. The more comfortable you become in collecting, analyzing, and presenting HR data, the more effective you will be in supporting the district’s mission. 

HR Extras

Penalties for failing to file ACA information returns doubled

Large employers should be aware of a potentially costly Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that was tucked away in the Trade Preferences Extension Act. Beginning in 2016, it doubles the per-employee penalties on applicable large employers that fail to file ACA information returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or fail to provide employees with payee statements regarding their health care coverage, as required by the law.
 
All employers that offer self-insured health coverage for employees, regardless of size, are required to comply with the law’s reporting requirements. “Among other things, these increased penalties will apply to Forms W-2 and the 1099-series, as well as the ACA required employer shared responsibility and minimum essential coverage reporting forms,” according to a July 13 Benefits Brief from Groom Law Group.
 
The provision’s increased penalties are as follows:
  • The basic penalty for failure to file or furnish a correct information return or payee statement will more than double, going from $100 to $250.
  • The standard annual penalty cap will double from $1.5 million to $3 million.
  • If the failure relates to both an information return and a payee statement, the penalties are doubled to $500 per statement with a $6 million cap.
The new penalties apply to returns and statements required to be filed after Dec. 31, 2015, including 2015 informational forms that must be filed with the IRS by Feb. 28, 2016 (or by March 31, 2016, if filed electronically).
 
—“Penalties Doubled for Not Filing ACA Information Returns,” by Stephen Miller, Society for Human Resource Management Website, July 22, 2015.

How far does $100 stretch in Texas?

The Tax Foundation published an interactive map showing how far $100 would go in different metropolitan areas across the U.S. Using 2013 data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the map lets you to see differences in the real value of $100 within each state.
 

 
We found substantial differences in purchasing power within our own state. The two Texas metro areas where $100 is worth the least are Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ($99.21) and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugarland ($99.40).
 
In stark contrast, $100 goes farthest in cities along the border with Mexico, including El Paso ($110.01), Laredo ($112.11), and Brownsville-Harlingen ($117.23). Real purchasing power is nearly 20 percent greater in Brownsville-Harlingen than Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington. In fact, cities in the Rio Grande Valley even have greater purchasing power than rural areas in Texas ($114.03).
 
Another regional comparison shows that one hundred dollars goes as far in Austin-Round Rock ($101.32) as it does in Midland ($101.73).

TEA announces teacher shortage areas for 2015‒16

The U.S. Department of Education has approved the following teacher shortage areas for 2015‒16 as submitted by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
  1. Bilingual/English as a Second Language
  2. Career and Technical Education
  3. Computer Science
  4. English as a Second Language
  5. Math
  6. Science
  7. Special Education—Elementary and Secondary
These shortage areas are the same as those from the previous year.
 
Administrators can recruit and retain teachers in these shortage areas by encouraging them to use the loan forgiveness programs available to them. TEA has information on the loan forgiveness programs on its Website.
 
For additional information on loan forgiveness programs, contact James Golsan in TEA’s Department of Leadership and Quality.

Inside HR Services

Register now for TASB/TxCEE/TASPA Symposium in October

TASB, TxCEE, and TASPA are teaming up to offer school administrators a unique opportunity to learn how six Texas districts created and implemented new teacher development and reward systems.
 
Optimizing Educator Effectiveness: A Multifaceted Approach will be offered Oct. 27‒28 at the San Marcos Embassy Suites. District and campus leaders from Austin, Houston, Dallas, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, Lytle, and Anderson-Shiro ISDs will participate in two days of conversation with attendees on how large and small school districts have renewed their approach to teacher development, evaluation, and compensation.
 
With a new state evaluation model coming soon, districts need to begin thinking about alternatives for student growth measures and preparing appraisers and teachers. Lessons learned from these districts will be valuable to all attending. Register on the Region 18 Website. Click on Workshop System, create an account, and register for workshop 123902 or click on the calendar date of October 27.

Superintendent survey closing soon; District Personnel survey opens

Be sure to submit your district’s Superintendent Salary Survey by Sept. 11, if you haven’t yet participated. To get your survey password (which is different than your DataCentral login) e-mail us at salary.survey@tasb.org.
 
Check your e-mail inbox for the District Personnel Salary Survey or download a copy. The annual survey, which includes teacher pay, was sent to TASB HR Services district contacts on Sept. 1. It includes more than 120 benchmark jobs commonly found in Texas school districts.
 
Here are five reasons to participate:
  • Your district will need its data in DataCentral to be able to run custom market comparison reports.
  • You can measure the change in beginning and average teacher salaries in your area.
  • You will have current data on “hot” jobs (i.e., speech pathologist, high school principal).
  • Your participation helps other school districts like yours that need accurate salary data.
  • Because it’s the most comprehensive salary survey for Texas schools!

 

Register now for the 2015 Texas School HR Administrator’s Academy

Be prepared to hit the ground running, not one step behind! Cosponsored by TASB and TASPA, the Texas School HR Administrator’s Academy is the premiere training opportunity for new and aspiring human resource administrators. Experienced HR administrators, HR consultants, and a school law attorney are the seminar facilitators and presenters.
 
Topic sessions cover the primary HR functions and critical issues every new administrator encounters. The seminar helps attendees learn the best way to use HR resources and offers opportunities to network with new and experienced administrators. A resource notebook is included in the registration fee.
 
Early registration is available through Oct. 19. Registration at the discounted fee and additional information is available on the HR Services’ Website.

Visit us at TASA/TASB Convention

The annual TASA/TASB Convention is Oct. 2–4 at the Austin Convention Center. HR Services consultants will be presenting several sessions of interest to HR administrators and board members. Session topics include rules for hiring and firing, innovations in teacher pay, understanding employee compensation, and measuring and promoting employee engagement. Staff will also be available in the HR Services exhibit booth in the TASA/TASB Marketplace. Please come by and see us!

Watch your mail for HR Services membership invoices

TASB HR Services just sent our program contacts membership invoices for 2015‒16. Our membership year runs from Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016. Be sure to renew your membership so you don’t lose access to critical resources including the HR Library, DataCentral, and the Model Employee Handbook, to name a few.


Q&A: The value of total compensation statements

Q: Why should we provide total compensation statements to our employees?

A: Benefits are a significant portion of an employee’s total compensation package—often 25 to 35 percent or more. However, many employees aren’t aware of the value of the benefits provided by their employer.
 
By providing total compensation statements to employees, districts can quantify the cost of their benefits package and communicate to employees their financial commitment to them. They also provide a way for employees to verify and validate their current pay and benefits information on an annual basis.
 
Some important items to share in a total compensation statement include:
  • Base salary
  • Stipends (degree, teaching area, extracurricular duties)
  • Health insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Vision insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Other forms of insurance (e.g., long- and short-term disability)
  • Investment plans (e.g., 403(b))
  • TRS contributions
  • Start and end dates for the employee’s job assignment in the current school year
Additional paid or convenience benefits, such as tuition reimbursement, free admission to district events, or an Employee Assistance Plan, may also be included on the total compensation statement, along with contact information for staff members who can respond to questions.

Tips to get started

Once payroll records have been updated to reflect the current school year salary increase, HR and payroll staff can pull data from their records to prepare the statements. Some districts create statements using mail merge functions; others post the information in an employee portal or Intranet that requires a protected log-in. Depending on the method selected for distribution of the information, HR staff may need to collaborate with other district departments, such as Information Technology and Finance, to prepare the statements.
 
Districts may consider including a brief letter from the Superintendent or HR leader with the total compensation statements to explain compensation changes and thank employees for their contributions to the district.