Board Excellence Newsletter, January 2021
Volume XI, Issue 1
Welcome to the January 2021 edition of the Board Excellence Newsletter, your connection to important information for extension board members.
Happy New Year! We enter 2021 hopeful that we can soon put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, but it will continue to take effort from all of us.
In early December we began requiring extension professionals to submit a Face-to-Face Meeting Necessity Form as part of our KSRE COVID-19 protocols. I want to clarify and reiterate that there is no new ban on face-to-face programs, but that virtual is the preferred method for delivering extension educational programs and meeting with those whom we collaborate with and serve. This process will be in place until it is reevaluated on March 31.
This new process is in place for several reasons. First, we have received inquiries about the justification for holding face-to-face meetings, even when sound COVID-19 protocols are in place. If the justification for an in-person meeting has been filed, it is very easy for us to communicate that reasoning to the concerned party. Second, it offers one more opportunity for the extension professional responsible for holding the meeting or activity to think about their justification for the face-to-face option and to think about whether their COVID-19 protocols are sound enough. Finally, this gives the extension professional holding or responsible for the meeting an opportunity to receive feedback regarding their justification and the COVID-19 protocols they plan to use.
Is this an approval process? Not necessarily. If there are suggestions for improvement, extension professionals receive those suggestions in the response I or another member of the Extension Administrative Team send back to them. If we have a strong concern about the justification for holding the meeting or the planned protocols for the meeting, they will receive a call from me or someone from the Extension Administration Team.
So far, I have received hundreds of submissions, and appreciate our staff taking this extra step in program planning. I’ve made a few observations while considering each proposal.
- Many are submitting the educational justification that face-to-face learning is the best form of education. While this is true for many educators and learners, it is not necessarily true for all. Long before COVID-19 led us to engaging more via virtual means, we discussed the issue of more and more learners (e.g., farmers, ranchers, parents, young adults, youth, adults and seniors) preferring or needing to receive their formal and informal education via virtual means. We need to continue to reach out to these learners. Another consideration regarding in-person education being the “best model” is that we, like all education institutions, must balance our educational mission with public health and safety considerations. Because of the COVID-19 challenge, the “face-to-face education is best” argument is not a good justification for engaging face-to-face.
- Many indicated that they were going to have virtual engagement as an optional delivery method for those who felt uncomfortable engaging face-to-face. Why not make the virtual method the primary method of engaging and the face-to-face the optional method? Whenever one indicates one method as primary and another as an alternative, it can lead those who are indifferent to choose the primary method. Advertising the virtual optionas the primary method could encourage more people to choose that option. The face-to-face option would then be for those who truly need to attend in person. Hopefully, by having more people attend virtually and fewer people attending in person we would provide greater safety for all.
- There appears to be an over-reliance on masks, social distancing, sanitizing, and cleaning work stations. These protocols are great for reducing the threat of transmission when meeting face-to-face. However, they do not eliminate the threat. Meeting virtually or not at all is the only way to eliminate the COVID-19 threat.
Health experts indicate that the next month will be especially difficult in relation to COVID cases. I ask you, as board members, to continue to support our local unit staff as they fulfill our educational mission in as safe a manner as possible.
Director for Extension
One of the hallmarks of extension programming is that it is open and available to all and we make educational resources available to those most in need. We do this regardless of where they live, what language they speak, what religion they practice or whether they can afford to pay. How is your local unit doing at reaching all populations that live in your community? It’s important that we check in annually to see how we’re doing and change our outreach strategies if we see we’re falling short of the mark. It’s so important, in fact, that it’s one of our civil rights compliance requirements.
We measure our efforts by calculating parity for our extension programs. To calculate parity, we look at the demographic make up of the local unit and compare that with the demographics of those who are participating in extension programs. Extension programs are considered to be in parity when the percentage of each racial/gender/ethnic category in our client contacts (program participants) is within 80 percent of that category in the potential clientele group (local population). For example: if the potential audience for an extension program is 80% white and 20% Native American, and the actual face to face contacts for that program are 90% white and 10% Native American, then the program is not in parity with respect to Native Americans. Parity calculators are available to help staff calculate program parity, and your extension board should take an active role in reviewing parity calculations each year.
What if we haven’t achieved parity? It can be challenging to achieve parity in all gender, racial and ethnic categories, but it’s important to know where you stand on a yearly basis and have a plan for continuous improvement. Looking at the data to see who in the community isn’t participating in your programs is the first step to improving outreach. Your agents, board and program development committees can then brainstorm ways to reach those underserved audiences. Some strategies for doing so may include:
- holding programs in different locations
- partnering with other organizations who’ve already gained the trust of your target population
- building relationships with new groups to better understand their needs
- inviting members of new audiences to be part of PDC discussions
- involving members of new audiences as PDC and board members.
Board and program development committee members should also review KSRE’s Civil Rights and Diversity Training Video annually. This video pairs nicely with a discussion of parity and your local unit’s outreach efforts. Make time at your February or March board meeting for this activity.
Generational Differences in the Workplace and Community explores the traits, beliefs and life experiences that mark each generation and the challenges it presents for today’s employers and in our communities. The module also discusses some strategies to overcome the differences.
Kansas Open Meetings Act/Executive Sessions reviews the provisions of the Kansas Open Meetings Act as well as the proper use of executive sessions.
Welcome to the new members of the State Extension Advisory Council who were elected by local board chairs in December. They will serve a four year term from 2021 through 2024.
- Amy Miller, Shawnee County
- Lisa Brummett, Riley County
- Sandy Keas, Phillip-Rooks District
- Dan Mosier, Wildcat District
- Anne Lampe, West Plains District
You can learn more about these newly elected representatives by viewing their bios on the State Extension Advisory Council page of the Board Leadership website.
Prospective council members must have served at least two years and currently be, or within the past two years have been, on their local extension board. They fulfill four-year terms as an advisory group to the director for extension. The 20-member advisory council meets in February and August. The February meeting is normally in Topeka and includes legislative visits. This year the meeting will be virtual. The August meeting location rotates around the state and features different K-State Research and Extension programming.
In April, four members typically travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Public Issues Leadership Development Conference and to visit U.S. Representative’s and Senator’s offices. The purpose is to educate and advocate on behalf of K-State Research and Extension, communicating how important the federal investment is in allowing us to continue to positively impact the lives of Kansans, and thank them for their continued support. The PILD meeting will also be virtual this year.
Each year at our annual conference, faculty and staff are recognized for outstanding programming and contributions to extension excellence. Agents and staff from local units who were recognized in 2020 include:
- Rebecca McFarland, Frontier District — Outstanding Local Unit Extension Professional
- Alexandria Weese, Chisholm Trail District — Outstanding Local Unit Employee
- Nancy Honig, Wildwest District — Mentor Award
- Gregg Eyestone, Riley County — Communicator of the Year
- Matt Young, Brown County — Diversity Award
- Bernadette Trieb, Wabaunsee County — 4-H Clover Award
- Tristen Cope, Chisholm Trail District — PRIDE Partner Award
The Barber County Extension team was recognized as the Outstanding Local Unit of 2020. Their local staff has worked together on outstanding projects, including a local beef initiative which helped to provide low-cost, high-quality local beef for both of the county’s school districts. This initiative has expanded lunch menus, reduced food waste and lowered the cost of food for the local schools. They also received a $25,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to address food insecurity issues in the county.
For rural counties and communities to survive and thrive, they must present themselves as welcoming and desirable places to live. First Impressions, a program offered by K-State Research and Extension, allows communities to see the strengths and weaknesses of their community through the eyes of a first-time visitor. With the knowledge gained, communities can develop an improvement plan to assist in creating a desirable place to live.
Between June 2015 to October 2020, 108 communities with populations from 93 to 12,500 have participated in First Impressions. Communities of like size are paired together and teams of 3 to 5 volunteers are trained to visit their matched community. Volunteers are given a standardized questionnaire to evaluate appearance, access to services, friendliness, and other community attributes. Volunteer observations are then compiled into a community report.
In a follow-up survey:
- 94% of volunteers stated First Impressions resulted in a greater awareness of community needs.
- $7 million was raised through donations, fundraisers and grants to support community needs.
- Communication and cooperation improved between citizens, community groups and city government.
- Blighted properties were removed, and community clean-ups were initiated or revived.
- Improved signage was installed.
- Volunteerism increased, resulting in community engagement and pride.
The following comments were expressed by the volunteers and participants in the First Impressions program:
"First Impressions was an eye-opening experience. When you drive through the community all the time you don't notice as much until someone points it out. It also made those involved in the community projects work hard to make sure to continue to have a wonderful community to work in and call home."
- Downs, KS
"As a result of First Impressions, we have a more active PRIDE group, a new City Beautification Committee, a trails group, and a new position, Community Development Director."
- Columbus, KS