Great Schools Together: Stewardship and Accountability (part 2 of 6)

Stewardship and Accountability cotinues the Great Schools Together series:

  1. Student Achievement and Well-being
  2. Stewardship and Accountability
  3. Faculty and Staff Excellence
  4. Engagement of Parents and the Community
  5. Diversity
  6. Facilities

 

As a reminder, these are taken from the Strategic Plan developed through the “Great Schools, Together” initiative back in 2007-2008. Page 10 of that plan covers one of the shortest strategic goals (the other being Diversity).

Goal: Align the District’s priorities and resources through a community-involved planning process implemented through focused action plans with regular progress reports

 

I think this is where the term “community-involved planning” originated, at least in the context of Unit 4. Another thing that I found interesting about this particular goal is that there are no mid-term (2011-2016) or long-term (2016-2013) actions – they are all short-term actions, and thus should have been accomplished already:

Short-term actions
A. Continue to engage in a long-term strategic planning and visioning process
B. Build an annual reporting process to the School Board that includes public input
C. Hold bi-annual open forums for the community to participate in upcoming school year plans and assess the previous school year.
D. Improve the District’s efforts to identify and pursue grant proposals
E. Continue to institute principles of fiscal responsibility
F. Actively seek private donations to build/maintain facilities

 

It is safe to say that many of the financial stewardship aims have continued on past 2011; Gene Logas and later Matt Foster have prepared many reports for several committees, including the Finance Committee and Promises Made Promises Kept, not to mention the many individual efforts of staff and administrators to seek out grants and donations.

 

I am not so sure about the “community-involved planning” pieces. I think the Board Retreats are counted as “open forums” in which the community is expected to participate in the planning process, but the number of community members that show up at those forums can be counted on one hand. There are tons of “reporting processes”, but which ones “includes public input”? I do not know the answer to that. Prior to September of 2011, how was the public involved in the planning process outside the small handful of folks that made committments to various committees? Mark Aber’s Climate Surveys? The Dejong-Richter experiment? The one and only avenue of “input” as part of a planning process (that I know of) that the community regularly provides is done at the Mellon Center, either at board meetings in a 3-minute window or during committee meetings.

 

A few months ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Wiegand and Stephanie Stuart to discuss “community-involved planning”. At the outset, we all agreed that it is difficult to see what good “community-involved planning” looks like because 1) we are sorely out of practice as a community, and 2) there are so few well-known examples to follow. Stephanie even boldly mentioned the need for accountability, which I was very much quick to support her in. To me, Accountability is one side of the coin, community-involved planning is the other. And here is the crux of the matter – why are these so important? Because the local community bears a majority of the financial burden of public eduation via property tax dollars, the community entrusts their children to the educational system, and the community elects board members. In short, as the Unit 4 Policy 105 so succintly and so powerfully says, “(t)he public schools belong to the people.” Or as Article X of the Constitution of the State of Illinois says:

SECTION 1.  GOAL - FREE SCHOOLS
    A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.

 

In general, our society has fallen into the bad habit of letting “someone else” do the work of staying informed, going to meetings, deliberating ideas and holding elected officials accountable; we feel we do our “duty” when (or if) we complain, maybe on facebook or as some anonymous online troller.

 

We need a huge paradigm shift; and the really bad news is that it has to come from the people. The people have to want to own the schools. We have to take seriously our obligation to provide for “the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.” If you are unwilling to do so, then you forfeit your “right” to complain.

 

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