Retired ABE Manager Wisdom

Over the past year or so, nine long-employed and highly-experienced ABE managers have retired. The list includes Cathy Koering (RAVE), Joan Krulc (AEOA), Beth Tamminen (Duluth), Jim Nicholson (Willmar), Janice Mino (Austin), Kevin Avise (Burnsville), Britta Youmans (Rochester), Bev Mountain (Mankato), and Bonnie Herman (Moorhead). Recently, eight of these wonderful ABE managers participated in an email interview or lively in-person discussion.

Their honest answers to three questions are presented here. Their insightful answers to five other questions were combined into Retired ABE Manager Tips below. As you read their “captured” ABE manager wisdom, consider asking yourself:

  • What does this mean to me as an ABE manager, coordinator, or lead teacher?
  • What does this mean to my ABE program?

Question 1: Describe your career in 3-5 words.

  • never boring, always worthwhile
  • amazing journey, life-changing, humbling,
  • rewarding
  • fulfilling, interesting, challenging
  • collaborative, similar to educational mission work
  • too short to waste time
  • wonderful

Question 2: What has been your greatest accomplishment?

One manager mentioned winning the Pegasus award and another as runner-up the same year, but still recognized as a program of excellence. For both, this statewide honor publicly confirmed their exceptional ABE programs and staff. Two others responded with “watching students learn and achieve success and mentoring staff to become accomplished in their jobs” and “getting managed enrollment working in our ESL program.” One described initiating and continuing a GED graduation ceremony and celebration for over 20 years. Another described starting a county jail and paraprofessional program. The final greatest accomplishment was increasing the program budget from about $300,000 to over a million dollars.

Question 3: What has been your greatest frustration?

  1. Lack of budget control
    Unknown budget amounts, which limit programming options
    Budget limitations, which reduce staffing options (such as full-time positions with decent benefits)
  2. Advocating ABE to outsiders OR advocating rural ABE differences to metro programs
  3. Accommodating and balancing the many changes and mandates in the world of ABE
  4. Learning how to navigate the politically-charged atmosphere of the community college system
  5. Dealing with the never-ending student barriers of childcare and transportation
  6. Lack of teacher evaluation tools and processes that provide constructive feedback and can result in more rigorous programming

Retired ABE Manager Tips

  1. Be visible in your school district(s) and community; remind local administrators, related service agencies, and potential outside funders of the importance of ABE services, teachers, and students.
  2. Establish and foster relationships with your school district’s VIPs, MDE-ABE staff, supplemental service providers, and other ABE program managers. Network (even if not natural) and share chocolate.
  3. Follow the rules – even if you disagree. Make your opinion known and lobby for change, but in the end, follow the rules.
  4. Surround yourself with good people. Connect with ABE managers or coordinators from similar programs, communicate often, and do not hesitate to ask for help or advice. Hire qualified staff, let them do their jobs, and watch your program grow. Do not micro-manage – it does not benefit you, your program, or staff.
  5. Lead by example: Always keep the lines of communication open. Always keep everyone informed.
  6. Always listen to staff’s ideas, insights, and concerns. Always give credit. Always say thank you.
  7. Be friendly, curious, talk and listen to staff even when there is not a problem or crisis. Be aware of their different learning styles or personalities and try to balance their strengths and weaknesses.
  8. Do not make promises that you cannot keep. Be honest with staff about what’s doable, affordable, etc.
  9. Attend and send staff to as much professional development as fiscally possible. Then ask them to share their learned knowledge and skills with others.
  10. Interact with students often so that your managerial demands do not overshadow the importance of your work in the lives of real people. If possible, do some teaching in the classroom.
  11. Keep detailed notes of all phone calls and conversations. They will be valuable in more ways than you can imagine.
  12. Gain access to and become adept at UFARS (financial system) and MARCS or MABE (reporting databases). Establish a daily, weekly, or monthly routine of viewing, checking, and updating.
  13. Try to let go of your work-related stress and leave it behind every day. Being overly consumed by program, teacher, or student problems is not good for you or your work.
  14. After statewide ABE meetings or Summer Institute, take deep breaths and give yourself time to process new mandates, initiatives, or expectations. Talk with YOUR staff, set clear goals, and figure out what will work best for YOUR program and YOUR students.
  15. Try to be flexible; ABE is a constantly changing field. Take a few risks. Go with confidence.
    KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR. Laugh more than worry or cry. Eat more ice cream! J

And finally, if you think you have seen it all, just you wait…

Marn Frank, Literacy & STAR Coordinator ATLAS