Originally published on The Caledonia Argus - June 30, 2021
Houston School District has had a journey in getting where it wants to be as a district, but through supporting its outgoing superintendent over the years, they made it.
Superintendent Krin Abraham looks back on seven years and 23 years total with Houston School District.
Abraham started her career with Houston School District in August 1998 as a high school English and math teacher, even though she said she’d never come back to Houston.
She also was the director of curriculum and instruction, taught classes for Minnesota Virtual Academy (part of Houston School District), union president, speech and Knowledge Bowl coach and finally, one of two junior class advisors “popping more popcorn [at the concession stand] than anyone should to have to pop in their lives.”
“That’s kind of been the philosophy, even with MNVA. In a small school mentality, you’ve got a few people that wear a large number of hats,” she explained. “You’ll find people throughout the entire district who have held a lot of different titles.”
Abraham also wrote many different grant applications, including those for ADSIS, Q Comp and the National Blue Ribbon Award. The work was worth it, as Houston now has those tools and awards in place.
It’s part of a continuous improvement model that has proved vital to the success of Houston Public Schools.
“It’s the continual growth mindset that has helped Houston Public Schools, not just me, have a collective vision for the district,” she said.
After going through five superintendents in four years, Houston School District was on the hunt again in 2014. Abraham and her colleagues felt as if they had been thrown under the bus, so she said, “Since we’re all under here, let’s pick up the bus and take it where we want go.”
She threw her hat in the ring for superintendent and is indebted to the board members who voted for her to fill the position, she told the board at her last meeting on June 17.
Abraham’s goal as a superintendent was to bring stability to the district. She also had continuity.
“Every single member of the staff who worked with me, they knew the most important thing to me was the fact that we are a district that provides excellent education to our students,” she said. At the end of the day, if our changes aren’t doing that, we shouldn’t be doing them, she added.
And though some could cite the age-old adage of “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” but to that, Abraham asks, “But is it working as well it could? Is there a way to eliminate frustrations? Is the change going to cause more frustrations?”
Her dedication to finding solutions with the best win-win situation shows throughout the district. When the district needed rental tents set up for outdoor classrooms, she found the industrial tech teacher does that for a summer job. So in exchange for helping assemble the tents, the teacher got a piece of equipment he needed for his classroom.
When the gymnasium floor was updated, everyone from coaches who would use the floor every season to kids who would have their physical education classes every year, everyone had a say.
“These buildings are our home during the day. It’s important that the kids feel this is their school home, the staff feels like this is their work home,” Abraham said. “Buildings are nothing without the people inside and the people inside have to be valued.”
She also re-vamped the English curriculum and started Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Now, MNVA and Houston High School have an element of career prep in its classes. Students also receive social emotional learning.
Abraham said she’ll miss the people the most, especially those she works with closely. Teachers, support staff, administration and board members will also be missed. She will also miss the online staff and especially getting to see them in person in the fall.
“Knowing that I was with a team that wanted the best for the district,” she added. “I did everything with that kind of philosophy. We were all paddling together in that same direction, and I paddled along with everyone else.”
Even if that meant she spent a good chunk of time holding screws for custodial staff, who were re-installing shower stalls in the locker room on New Year’s Eve.
Or if it meant telling a construction company that they had to re-do the archway at the elementary school until it looked just right and that the elementary principal was satisfied.
“We weren’t going to stop until it’s right,” she said.
Houston School District made about $6.2 million in improvements without raising taxes. The board concluded this year with Smart Boards in every classroom and a new website. The wireless network, servers, camera systems, and finally getting new bleachers in the gymnasium, all fall under the benefit of the kids.
The elementary school saw a large upgrade with windows and LED lighting so that kids have the right type of lighting all the time. The district also switched from a boiler to a water heater in order to help keep kids as healthy as possible.
For Minnesota Virtual Academy, Abraham and her team developed an entire schedule of synchronous classes that allow for relationship-building between students and teachers, which is especially important in an online environment.
“Building relationships is vital for students to care about their schoolwork. They have to know someone cares,” she explained.
MNVA teachers were also able to help onsite teachers across Minnesota familiarize themselves with various different technologies when the pandemic hit.
She gives advice to incoming superintendent Mary Morem to “listen first.”
“There were times where I thought I knew before listening to all views, that I didn’t make the best decision,” she said. “Listen to all the stakeholders.”
Abraham thanks Houston Public Schools and the Houston community for the years of support she had while working for the district.
“This is not anything I thought I wanted to do. Looking back, I can’t imagine not having done it,” she said. “It has been really an honor and privilege to look at where we have come.”
Looking at the elementary building and seeing the sign that lists the national blue ribbon award and having the high school consistently ranked among top high schools in Minnesota by US News and World Report and knowing she had a small hand within that team effort, Abraham can proudly look back at her career.
To learn more about Minnesota Virtual Academy, visit mnva.k12.com