Board Members Kristine Chalifoux and Tom Lockman were kind enough to join Chuck Jackson and I today at Houlihans. Kristine says the weather is utterly irrestible; I would tend to agree. 🙂
So you other three that were there will have to help me with the details. We spent a bit of time (on and off) exploring the idea of a shared vision, or a common inspiration, in our schools and our community. In retrospect, it is possible we succumbed to scope-creep from time to time; Kristine mentioned many times that some of the short-comings we have with community engagement is the entire reason we are hiring a public engagement firm. We reflected on Great Schools, Together a few times, in light of the obvious similarities and glaring differences. One thing I think we all agree on is that we cannot simply hand DeJong-Richter a grocery list and tell them to come back with full bags; we all have to walk and work side-by-side with DeJong-Richter to maximize the “investment” of their contributions (or contrawise, the money from our wallets).
We seemed to have some difficulty in identifying what was not working previously, in order to improve and/or mix things up and try a different angle of attack. What will it take to get our community engaged in the school district? Tom mentioned that the district and the board is putting a ton of information “out there” (ie, via board meetings, boardDocs, press releases, etc); I responded that while that was true, people are not able to access the deliberative aspects – the present forms of communication are essentially one-directional or siloed in the sense that some really great conversations are happening and nobody knows about them. I am convinced that people will engage more when they feel (keyword, “feel”) they are a part of the invisible clique, where they can join in the ongoing conversation by which their own thoughts and opinions are constantly in flux and being added to the general soup.
Kristine reminded us that there is a flip side, a side which she seems to very much regret gets overlooked – there are a lot of positive and good things happening. I would agree it is important to take a step back and look at how things have changed over the past 10, or even 2, years. Under Dr. Wiegand’s leadership, many things are starting to slowly change for the better. Personally, I know of how David Hohman is making changes to not only the website, but the underlying technology. Dr. Wiegand has initiated “safe environments” and given more freedom and more space for teachers and staff to lay out their honest thoughts. Others like Sheri Williamson are organizing some very beneficial events for students, parents and service providers. Tom is making stronger points that the board needs to get out in the community, while Ileana is paving the path on doing exactly that. Schools are doing awesome things, teachers are winning awards (or at least “running up”), some students are absolutely thriving in the current system. Yes, there are good and awesome things going on. No doubt.
We did not come up with any action steps like I had hoped. Unfortunately. But it was a good discussion. There were several points of irony that I will highlight because they are relevant. And even somewhat humorus. 🙂
1. Chuck Jackson and I have been meeting at Houlihans for close to two years, inviting any one who wants to join us. We who are trying to push engagement and involvement so much, have held several open forums, we only get a small handful of folks to join us at Houlihans. And even with that, we haven’t seen a new face in a long time.
2. The topic of Holly Nelson’s efforts to start a conversation came up. It came out that Chuck didn’t participate in her blog. Kristine had a hoot digging into that! 🙂 But I wish to say it here because it probably reflects a large part of our community; he felt that whatever he might want to say would probably already have been said. How many other folks feel exactly the same way, on any issue?