News St. Joseph — 10 October 2013
World Cafe encourages discussion on school district’s future

by Janelle Von Pinnon

news@thenewsleaders.com

Nearly 100 St. Cloud School District community members gathered to share ideas, explore opportunities and identify challenges at a “World Cafe” event Oct. 8 at Whitney Center in St. Cloud.

The participants included students, teachers, parents, school district personnel, school-board members, senior citizens, business owners and community leaders of various ages, both genders and a variety of ethnicities.

This was one of two events held the same day as part of a comprehensive strategic visioning process to shape the future of the district, which includes eight elementary schools, two junior highs, two high schools, an alternative school and an early childhood education program. The afternoon event had an additional 100 participants.

“We are thrilled with the turnout and the diversity of the turnout,” said Shannon Avenson, assistant director of curriculum for the district. “At the evening session, there were many high-school students who attended. We had a nice representation within the community and a very engaging conversation.”

Avenson is also the internal coordinator between the district and Transformation Systems, a company out of Ashville, N.C., that’s facilitating the strategic planning. Susan Hintz, former superintendent from Minnesota who works for Transformation Systems, emceed the event.

The district is developing a strategic plan that will impact the school community for the future.

“This will provide the filter to make great decisions and the framework for our actions as we move forward to serve our students and community,” said St. Cloud School District Superintendent Willie Jett. “In order to create a strategic plan that best reflects the hopes and dreams of our community, we’ve requested the participation of our community members committed to the future success of our school.”

Throughout the evening, participants met in intimate four-person roundtables then rotated several times to give their input on four specific questions. Included below is a small sampling of discussions on those four questions:

What would you want the students of St. Cloud Area School District to thank us for as they graduate?

One father and former teacher mentioned schools need to have positive energy so students are excited to learn. A male student said he wanted to be appreciated and respected for his ideas and opinions. A male school employee said he felt St. Cloud schools do a lot to help students feel safe in schools and while coming from and going to buses, and the community may not be aware how much effort is put into that. A mother mentioned all students should come away from school knowing they received the best education and are on a par with their contemporaries coming from other parts of the state, nation and world.

What do you believe will be our greatest challenges and our greatest opportunities, as a school community, in the next 3-5 years?

The consensus of one small group agreed this was a difficult question because most challenges can become opportunities if cast in a positive light.

One mother said keeping up with technology is an ongoing battle and yet the possibilities are staggering. A male business owner said preparing students for real-life jobs and the responsibilities that go with that. A male student said with the intensity and grind of Advanced Placement and Post-Secondary Education Opportunity within the academic rigor, students need to be taught some practical, everyday-life components such as cooking, financial and basic shop skills. Another mother said with English-as-a-second-language learners and the high rate of students on free and reduced-lunch programs, it’s hard for those families to make education a number-one priority when they are in survival mode.

What do you really value about our schools that you would not want to see change as we plan our future?

A mother said she appreciates good communication between teachers and parents so parents understand what is expected of their children and know if the child is communicating this correctly to the parents. A student said  he enjoys discussion in English literature class but because of budget constraints some of the “fun” English classes are being eliminated. A school employee said she would like the district to hang on to its heritage, including the Tech High School buildings and Clark football field, but she added she had recently heard there is an effort in the works to renovate the existing Clark Field.

What are the greatest untapped resources of our staff and community that will contribute to the success of our students?

A Somalian male interpreter said the diversity of our district’s families because everyone has a story and if we meet one-on-one we can learn a lot from each other’s backgrounds, perspectives and experiences. A female business owner said she thinks there are a lot of multilingual residents whom students and the community at large could benefit from. One senior citizen said the district’s best assets are its teachers and that we, as a society, need to encourage our best and brightest to go into education as a priority goal, not an afterthought. He continued by saying we need to reward excellent teachers and weed out those who are mediocre.

About 25 tables of four or more people discussed each question. The strategic plan will include the district’s mission, strategic objectives, action plans and the measurement tools to chart progress.

“We need your thinking about what works well at our schools now and what we should consider for the coming years,” Jett said.

Those who were unable to attend the World Cafe can still complete the survey at isd742.org. Click on “World Cafe survey” to provide your thoughts.

The district is also asking for nominations from citizens to put forth some time and energy on one of three essential teams: the Core Planning team, which will contribute to the creation of a long-term vision and plan; the Action Team, which will create specific steps to accomplish the strategic plan; and the Measurement Team, which will develop the tools to monitor and assess progress. To be considered as a member of a working team, please review the obligation necessary for each team described on the application/nomination form on the district’s website, complete the nomination form by Monday, Oct. 21 and email it to shannon.avenson@isd742.org. Questions may also be directed to Avenson at that email or by calling 320-253-9333 ext. 1268.

Members selected for the Core Planning Team will be informed on Monday, Oct. 28.  Those selected to participate on the Action and Measurement teams will be informed on Friday, Nov. 1.

 

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