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County classes getting great reviews by staff

Debbie Johnson led a class exercise in fuel consumption and conservation Thursday. She calls what she does 'facilitating the learning process,' not instructing. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Midway through the winter semester the students show up for class engaged, enthusiastic to learn more and especially anxious to put their newfound knowledge into action.

Every Thursday morning 15 Hubbard County department heads and two county commissioners attend "Leadership & Introduction to Lean Principles," a class offered by M State.

"It really makes you think," said building and grounds superintendent Lee Gwiazdon.

The three-hour weekly classes are getting rave reviews from county employees. They are facilitated by Debbie Johnson, who gets equally good marks.

"I don't call myself an instructor because I'm here to facilitate the learning," Johnson explained.

The class tackles real-life scenarios, not abstract problems.

There's an easy give and take in the class, a teamwork effort and a lot of ribbing. It is clear the students are focused, serious about the subject matter, determined to learn and to share.

Thursday's exercise was pinpointing the reasons why the county's fleet mileage might be drastically dropping over the last three months.

It was a "cause and effect" exercise.

Students discussed the obvious answers such as winter, maintenance issues, poor driving habits on vehicles employees don't own, theft and trip loads. They also mulled the less obvious: the age of the fleet, road conditions, winter habits of letting vehicles idle to stay warm, poor tire inflation and traffic congestion causing stop-and-go driving.

Johnson cautioned them to look at the big picture and get down to the root cause because the problems could re-occur.

The class sometimes breaks into smaller group discussions and problem solving teams.

"We've never had anything like this so I think it's great," said Auditor Pam Heeren. "She's very good at what she does. She's doing a nice job."

Recorder Nicole Lueth came to last week's board meeting to praise the education.

She said as soon as she returns to the office she shares her lesson plans and study materials with other employees and they discuss the curriculum and problems encountered.

In class they're frank about discussing poor leadership, management issues and employee issues.

"See how they pick on me?" county engineer Dave Olsonawski joked during the fuel exercise, when his fellow department heads honed in on road maintenance issues.

All of the class sessions are geared to Hubbard County problems, how to solve them and how to solve them permanently so they don't arise again.

Even the two commissioners chosen to attend enjoy the classes. Kathy Grell and Lyle Robinson even hate to miss a class.

"I'm going and you can't take it from me," Grell said at one board meeting earlier this winter when chairman Dick Devine suggested a substitution.

Johnson acts as coach, cheerleader, spectator and sometimes as a player.

Heeren said the learning is valuable. The county paid a $300 per pupil tuition.

"We talk about it," she said. "I have staff meetings on Monday mornings so then we go over stuff we've done and how we can implement it."

M State started classes last fall in Park Rapids.

It will customize classes and topics of learning and training for specific groups like Hubbard County.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364