Parents don’t get to sit at schools with their kids. They can’t raise their hands for their children or encourage them through a difficult test.
Still, their presence isn’t so far removed.
Parents and other stakeholders in the community determine the district’s values.
Those values become the goals of the district; those goals in turn fuel budget priorities and planning in each department, so that each plan in every department in all the schools must align to at least one of those goals.
“Then truly the entire operation of the school district will change to these (priorities),” Superintendent Brad Saron said.
The last time the district updated its goals was in 2005. Saron keeps a laminated copy listing those goals at his desk. They were compiled from forms submitted by community stakeholders. Saron created new priorities behind his desk that is informing this year’s budget.
Those goals are: Academic achievement, safety and energy efficiency in the buildings, technology, strategic planning and community engagement and personnel development and effectiveness.
But Saron knew these goals weren’t reflective of the community’s vision for the district; it was his opinion, which he said doesn’t matter.
“School districts that don’t care to hear community expectations run the risk of operating without support of the community stakeholders and parents,” he said. “If I tried to coercively dictate the district’s operations…the teachers get upset and the parents don’t like it. That’s where there’s friction.”
That’s one reason why Saron was driven to emphasize community involvement in his initial plan, and why he said the district isn’t just looking for sample-size feedback from a survey.
“The goal was more lofty than a sample of the population, which in my judgment is better done face-to-face,” Saron said. “We’re hoping to not only have the blessing of getting feedback, but use this opportunity to build community, too.”
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The goal of the forum is to align the district’s goals with the public’s idea for a successful district.
“If the school district is running and everyone is unhappy, it means the school district’s priorities differ,” Saron said. “(The community) can’t see a return on tax dollars because there’s misalignment.”
The design team that is sponsoring this event has set a tentative schedule for the three-day forum.
The meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6 will revolve around the past. The attendees will visit butcher block tables taped to the walls, each belonging to a specific decade, and will fill three lines with events that were happening in the world, in individuals’ lives and in the district.
Of course, not every stakeholder will have lived through each decade, but that’s sort of the point.
“They’re each standing next to a different stakeholder and they teach each other, so everybody gets to collectively understand what happened in our past,” Saron said. “The vets can get a better feel for what younger stakeholders feel about the community.”
Friday will be devoted to issues and trends that are shaping the community and the students. Included in this session are “mads, glads and sads”, where stakeholders talk about what they appreciate about the district, where they’ve been disappointed and what has upset them.
“There’s a legitimate way for them to express that and for us to listen,” Saron said.
Then, the stakeholders will be asked to identify skills they think students should have when they graduate. This will manifest in made-up scenarios that groups will present to the larger group.
Top themes will be picked out on Saturday and will translate into the district’s strategic priorities for the upcoming school year.
Saron estimates it will take the design team about a month to process the information gathered through the forum; in time for those goals to inform the budget.
“It would be wonderful to have more than 150 people talking about issues and trends that affect our community and our students,” Saron said.