Board Excellence Newsletter, October 2020
Volume X, Issue 4
Welcome to the October 2020 edition of the Board Excellence Newsletter, your connection to important information for extension board members.
Every fall, K-State Research and Extension specialists, administrators and agents gather together for our annual conference. The conference is an important opportunity for extension professionals to participate in sessions that engage, inspire, and enhance their subject matter knowledge and increase their ability to reach Kansans with research and evidence based information and programs.
Because of the continued health concerns related to COVID-19, we are planning a virtual conference this year, October 27-29. Agents will be able to participate from their homes and/or offices and won’t be required to travel to Manhattan. Even with that change, we know from our experience over the last six months that focusing in meetings and conferences virtually can be a challenge for agents. It can be easy to get distracted or lower the priority of professional development when not actually traveling to the meeting location. It might also be confusing to the public that the agent isn’t available to answer their question in that moment if they can see them sitting in their office.
My request to you is that during the dates of our virtual conference, please provide your agents with the opportunity to participate in the conference sessions with minimal interruptions, either from the office or their home. Trust that they are focused on improving their skills in order to better serve the residents of their local unit.
Director for Extension
K-State Research and Extension is moving toward a plan to provide more specialized leadership of our research and extension centers and for our local units as well. This includes placing the administrative leadership responsibilities for the research and extension efforts of our centers and their respective research and extension faculty and staff into the hands of a Western Research and Extension Center Head and an Eastern Research and Extension Head. We are in the process of hiring those center heads.
Our K-State Research and Extension leadership responsibilities for local units will be shifted to three Regional Directors of Local Units. Dr. Chris Onstad will serve as the Eastern Region Director of Local Units, Ms. Aliesa Woods will serve as the Central Region Director of Local Units, and Ms. Mary Sullivan will serve as the Western Region Director of Local Units. The regional directors and the Associate Director for Extension Field Operations, Dr. Jim Lindquist are working on that transition which is effective October 1. See the map below for the three regions.
The fall season typically brings about a number of Extension activities, from new educational programs to the new 4-H year to Extension Council elections and annual meetings. While it’s tempting to let our guard down and go about our business as usual, we need to continue to be vigilant about the COVID-19 situation. COVID cases are still on the rise in many areas of the state and KSRE needs to continue to do our part to keep our program participants safe. Please continue to follow COVID safety protocols and the advice of state and local health officials. Also continue to support your local unit agents as they adapt to educating in new and different ways. Take time this fall to recognize the excellent work being done in your local unit.
As a result of COVID-19, the Cherokee County extension staff quickly shifted gears from traditional programming to meet the increasing needs of residents and local communities. Families that were already struggling economically were affected by job loss, financially burdened to pay for child care, dealing with virtual learning, and facing the limited ability to access food for their families. Local partners and community members were limited in their abilities to meet the evident needs, because of limited numbers of workers, financial limitations, and uncertainty.
A three-page resource guide was created to help low-income audiences easily connect with the resources and support they needed. The resource guide provided information on food pantries, mental health counseling, Wi-Fi access, parenting support, educational resources, and connection with local and government agencies that provide support and assistance. The resource guide was quickly shared throughout the community through websites and social media and provided to virtual learning families. It quickly reached 10,018 views on social media.
In following up with the partnering organizations listed in the resource guide, staff quickly learned how COVID-19 had affected local food pantries. One food pantry was down to only having vegetables available to share with struggling families. As a result, the Cherokee County Food Fight challenge was started. The challenge encouraged all communities to compete to see which of the five participating communities could raise the greatest amount of food that would be returned to the food pantries in their community. A local Cooperative Association (CO-OP) was contacted about weighing the food from each community on their scales. The Co-op manager offered to donate an additional 2,000 pounds if each community gathered at least 2000 pounds of food. Cherokee County Extension partnered with local businesses to promote the challenge and had five drop-off locations throughout the county. At the end of the two-week challenge, local citizens had donated 10,780 pounds of food. With an additional 2,000 pounds donated from the CO-OP, the total reached nearly 13,000 pounds of food for eight local food pantries.
“Local Unit Agent Expectations” is designed to provide more clarity to board members about the performance expectations for extension agents. The expectations will also be helpful to agents, especially new agents, in providing a clearer picture of what is expected from K-State Research and Extension agents.
The expectations fall into six categories and include:
- Engagement – connecting with individuals families and communities to better understand their needs and develop educational strategies that address those needs.
- Program Planning, Implementation, Evaluation and Reporting – designing and delivering timely, high-quality educational programs that result in positive changes in participants knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviors.
- Education and Facilitation – demonstrating effective teaching and facilitation skills that fit the various needs and learning preferences of the target audience.
- Program Management – utilizing effective and efficient strategies for managing multiple educational programs including promotion, selection of program sites, and external funding.
- Volunteer Development and Management – Utilizing volunteers as appropriate in order to expand programming. Implementing and managing a comprehensive process for recruiting, selecting, screening and training volunteers.
- Administrative and Supervisory*- coordinating and directing the administrative functions including fiscal operations; personnel; and providing overall leadership for the development and delivery of a comprehensive extension educational program.
While the relative importance of the criteria may differ among agent positions, meaningful contributions in each area are essential for an agent’s success and in receiving “meets expectations” as part of the annual performance review process.
By January 1, local extension boards should complete the Excellence in Board Leadership Assessment. This tool helps boards assess their effectiveness and identify areas to strengthen.
At the beginning of the year, boards set goals based on best practices to guide their work. Throughout the year, board members review their goals, complete the self-assessment, and submit the document to the associate program leader by January 1. Boards that achieve a standard for 2020 will be recognized for their accomplishments.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everyday life and food systems in Kansas. Many families were not able to easily purchase the foods they were accustomed to at the grocery store, people became more interested in the nutritional and health value of the food they consumed, and people were spending more time at home. Many Kansans had not previously grown their own food, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they wanted to begin raising and preserving more of their own food in a “pandemic homesteading” mode. Large numbers of Kansans were also beginning to buy more of their food locally because many foods were harder to find at places such as grocery stores. Kansans were looking for timely and trusted technical assistance to help them to better raise their own food and source more of their food direct from the producer.
The newly formed K-State Research and Extension (KSRE) local foods transdisciplinary team identified this need, and also that KSRE already had a large number of relevant fact sheets and other publications, as well as expertise in these areas. Since many people like to get information through short, informal, authentic videos on social media, a series of 10 “webisode” videos in which lay persons were filmed asking questions and KSRE experts were filmed responding and referencing KSRE resources available on that topic. The videos were posted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels once a week, beginning in late May.
Homesteading 9-1-1 videos showcased to a potentially new audience how KSRE interacts with stakeholders to solve problems and has helped highlight how our existing KSRE resources address different facets of current “pandemic homesteading” needs of Kansans and others. Currently, the videos have reached the following numbers of people through Facebook alone:
- Starting a garden/ choosing a space: 14,203
- Chicken for meat and eggs: 28,536
- Choosing high value garden crops: 11,909
- Buying local at Farmers Markets: 2,231
- Gardening with children: 13,643
- Buying meat from the farm: 2,871
- Cost and reward of gardening: 1,882
- Food preservation: freezing: 26,299
- What’s in season and when at Kansas Farmers Markets: 884
- Food preservation: canning: 28,487
Each fall, Extension boards approve agent professional development plans. A new Board Leadership Module is available which addresses the importance of professional development for our staff. The Professional Development for KSRE Staff module can be viewed at a board meeting or by individual board members.
K-State Research and Extension administration has recently updated the Professional Scheduling Policy and created new Telecommuting guidelines.
The Professional Scheduling Policy outlines the principles behind the concept of professional scheduling as well as implementation procedures. Extension agents often work unconventional hours that fit the availability of the public and program participants. Professional scheduling allows them the flexibility to manage their own schedules to meet the best interest of the program as well as their own. Agents are expected to work at least 40 hours per week but are likely to work more on occasion. If an agent is consistently working more than 40 hours per week, it is their responsibility to prioritize and delegate tasks to achieve greater work/life satisfaction. Professional scheduling does not afford an agent hour for hour credit for time worked over 40 hours but does offer the flexibility to take care of personal needs on occasion during normal business hours. Using professional scheduling courteously and responsibly is an agent’s responsibility. Boards are encouraged to review the professional scheduling policy at least once each year and support agents in achieving work/life satisfaction.
Since the first district formed in 1991, agents have been performing work remotely, both from home or from an alternative office location. During the early days of the COVID-19 situation, most KSRE staff worked remotely for at least a short period of time, and many realized some advantages to telecommuting. In response to several local units requesting guidance on telecommuting, a new Telecommuting Policy and Telecommuting Agreement has been developed. As with professional scheduling, telecommuting is a privilege that should be based on performance and should be exercised at the mutual convenience of the organization and the agent. Formal telecommuting agreements should be documented in writing so that all parties know what is expected.
During May and June of every year, K-State Research and Extension (KSRE) conducts more than 70 in-person wheat extension meetings across the state. These meetings take place either in growers’ fields or in research stations, and producers can learn about and see for themselves new and upcoming wheat varieties that can help them improve profitability. Growers also have the chance to ask questions directly to specialists, network with other growers, have a good laugh at a joke or two, and of course, eat a tasty meal. These meetings are organized by county/district extension agents and are usually led by area agronomists and wheat specialists. Because of the restriction to in-person meetings due to COVID-19, these in-person wheat tours were canceled in 2020.
In lieu of in-person meetings, virtual wheat tours were offered at two different levels:
Wheat specialists, area agronomists and wheat breeders offered two live two-hour presentations to a statewide audience covering different aspects of wheat production and variety selection. Topics during the first session covered wheat variety selection from the perspective of the cropping system adopted in each farm; wheat variety selection from a disease resistance perspective; and wheat variety selection in western Kansas. In the second evening, topics included a discussion about new and upcoming varieties; wheat variety selection in central Kansas; and a representative of the Kansas Wheat Commission, covered current research being funded by the growers commission.
In addition to the statewide event, agricultural agents indicated that their producers would also like a more regionalized event that discussed similar topics as the statewide event
The statewide virtual wheat plot tour had a total of 297 people watching live during the first day, with an average watch duration of 33 minutes from a somewhat constant audience of 75 viewers. To date, the recordings of the first day’s live event have 740 views. The second day had a total of 147 people watching live, for a constant audience of about 50 people and average watch time of 27 minutes. At the time of this writing, the second day of recordings has had a total of 69 views after the event.
For the recorded field days, the number of views depended on the county or district, but ranged from nine to 131 views on YouTube, from 2,359 to 4,416 impressions on Twitter, and reached from 270 to 449 viewers on Facebook.
While the virtual format will not substitute for the face-to-face format as it lacks many enjoyable facets such as networking and a good meal, we strongly feel like it succeeded on its main goal, which was educating Kansas wheat growers on improving profitability on their own farms.