When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, few organizations were impacted more than school districts. Fortunately, Independent School District 196 (Rosemount, Apple Valley and Eagan) was well-suited to take on the challenge, under the leadership of one of the longest-serving school district attorneys in Minnesota, Jill Coyle.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1995, Coyle was an associate at a local law firm before being hired in 2000 as only the second general counsel for ISD 196. Coyle was drawn to the position by her affinity for school and government law, and the opportunity to become an in-house attorney.
“As an in-house counsel you really get a sense of what matters and what doesn’t, which makes it easier to craft solutions. It’s granular problem-solving,” she says. “And, I’m a parent, so it’s easy to relate to issues that come up for the school district.”
Coyle has appreciated the opportunity to “work with people who are at the top of their fields, but different fields than my own. The superintendents I’ve worked with have taught me so much about educational policy and leadership.”
Some of Coyle’s most significant and effective work has been done within the past two years as the educational system has grappled with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, when Gov. Tim Walz issued executive orders on protecting the public safety, “we had a matter of days to figure out how to change in-person learning to educating 29,000 kids at home, remotely,” she recalls. “We had to repurpose all of our district staff, paraprofessionals, and bus drivers … to protect the safety of students and staff. We were constantly grappling with changing requirements and safety practices, contact-tracing, mask-wearing, determining when it was safe to be ‘in person’ — issues none of us had to deal with before.”
There were some positive changes that came out of the pandemic, as administrators and educators were compelled to think creatively and come up with solutions that should benefit the district and those it serves for some time to come, Coyle says. For example, “we now have an online educational program that we didn’t have before.”
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