Ron will be missed
I was saddened to hear of the recent and unexpected passing of the city of Hugo’s longtime finance director, Ron Otkin. I met Ron in 1989 when he first came to the city; at the time, I was a volunteer on the Planning Commission. Our paths crossed far more often when I served on the City Council.
Ron was passionate about his job, and it showed. I knew nothing about city finances when I first began contributing to Hugo’s budget planning decisions, but Ron was, first and foremost, a good communicator. He made it a priority to educate all of us in financial matters. His annual budget PowerPoint presentations were crystal clear. His aim was to help the city of Hugo keep its taxes low, set attainable financial goals, take care of its assets in a responsible way and be well prepared for the growth that we knew would come. I learned so much from him.
Years later, when I began writing about city budgets in Centerville, Hugo and Lino Lakes for The Citizen newspaper and, later, Press Publications, Ron was always ready to help and answer my questions in a timely way so that I could make my press deadlines. He believed that a city’s financial reports should be able to be understood by everyone. Over the years, I attended hundreds of city council meetings in Anoka, Ramsey, and Washington counties involving budgets, taxes, bond sales and assessments. Ron’s presentations were always the easiest to understand.
Because of Ron’s passion for excellence, the city of Hugo was recognized year after year for its excellence in financial reporting. There was a running joke at City Hall that the city would have to reinforce the walls in the finance director’s office to accommodate the weight of the accumulating plaques. He and his team deserved every one of them.
Ron will be greatly missed.
Schools need to promote social-emotional learning
I am currently a school social worker in White Bear Lake Area Schools and wanted to bring to everyone's attention the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) describes SEL as "the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” SEL core competencies consist of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
Schools need to promote SEL instruction within a school, as SEL skills promote and enhance students through increased school connections, positive behaviors and academic achievement and so much more. CASEL discovered SEL has a positive impact on students' academics because students received an 11 percentile point gain in academic achievement compared to peers who did not receive SEL programming.
SEL instruction has proven to have many long-term as well as short-term impacts. For example, schools that have implemented SEL have increased educational milestones being achieved along with increasing high school and college graduation rates. Additionally, research shows that "SEL programming can have a positive impact up to 18 years later on academics, conduct problems, emotional distress and drug use.” Short-term, SEL helps decrease negative behaviors in the classrooms through the development of skills that help students better manage their emotions. SEL helps decrease bullying and increases friendship and relationship skills.
As a school social worker, I have seen firsthand some of the amazing work that teachers and buildings are doing to promote and incorporate SEL into their schools and classrooms. I believe this is a significant first step to providing students with more holistic support that aims to expand beyond academic growth to increase social-emotional well-being. To increase SEL implementation, there is a need to further an awareness of SEL by school districts, students, families and community members, as well as why it is essential to teach, as it helps students be more successful and strengthens communities.