GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A recent community visioning process initiated by Roaring Fork School District Re-1 officials, by most accounts, achieved the level of participation they wanted, and ultimately produced the information necessary to develop a long-range strategic plan for the district.
“It’s important to point out that this is not a finish line, it’s about developing an ongoing culture and atmosphere for our schools going forward,” Re-1 board member Daniel Biggs said last week during a draft report on the feedback received at a series of community meetings in September and October.
Added school board President Matthew Hamilton, “I consider this to be the most important work for our staff this year, more than any [state directives],” Hamilton said. “I take heart that we’re on the right path.”
More than 930 people participated in the meetings, which took place in each of the three communities served by Roaring Fork Re-1, including Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. That was only slightly below the 1,000 people district officials had hoped to reach through the visioning process.
Led by the consulting group Civic Canopy, sessions were held in both English and Spanish and invited business and civic leaders, high school students, parents, teachers, administrators and the general public to share their thoughts around four key questions:
• What is the purpose of education in our community?
• What are our hopes for our schools?
• What student outcomes are most important?
• What school characteristics are most important?
According to Drew O’Connor from Civic Canopy, who presented his draft report at the Oct. 30 Re-1 school board meeting, there were some interesting differences in the responses between different groups of people who participated in the visioning sessions. For instance:
• High school student groups and Spanish-speaking parents and community members rated “prepared with the attitudes and skills for a challenging college curriculum” 1.5 to 2 times higher than English-speaking parents and community members, teachers and administrators.
• Students rated “identify their interests and pursue their passions” 1.5 to 2 times higher than parents, community members, teachers and administrators.
• Generally, students prioritized athletic and nonathletic extra-curricular activities higher than other subgroups.
• Glenwood Springs parent/community members rated “higher standards for student behavior” 1.5 to 2 times higher than parents/community members in Basalt and Carbondale.
• Carbondale parents/community members rated “hands-on, project-based, experiential learning” higher than any other group did.
• Teachers and administrators tended to give priority to “learn how to work collaboratively with people from diverse backgrounds” more than students, parents/community members.
Given 10 choices for the most important character skills Re-1 schools should help students develop, and asked to pick the top three, the top choice across all groups was that students should have a “resilience, determination and a belief that they can succeed.”
A close second was that students should graduate high school with “strong critical thinking skills,” followed by “strong basic skills in reading, writing and math.”
Although certain student character choices, such as ensuring that students develop an appreciation for the arts or nature, or fluency in a foreign language, didn’t earn a high rate of response given the multiple, often equally important choices, that doesn’t mean programs supporting those values are any less important, district officials emphasized.
“Just because people didn’t rate the arts high, we made a point [during the community meetings] to allay people’s fears that art is going away,” Re-1 Superintendent Diana Sirko said.
Asked about the type of school environment the district should work to promote, also with 10 choices, participants chose as the top three: working to recruit and retain the best teachers; creating a safe school environment; and keeping class sizes small.
When it came to core academics, participants rated nearly evenly that schools should set “extremely high academic standards” and “emphasize hands-on, project-based, experiential learning.”
“Interestingly, support for [high academic standards] was uneven across subgroups,” O’Connor noted in his draft report. “Teachers and administrators gave high priority to high academic standards, while parents and community members in Basalt and Carbondale ranked it lower.”
One follow-up question that wasn’t addressed specifically at the visioning meetings, but which came up in some of the dialogue, is around standardized testing, O’Connor also observed.
Hamilton agreed it was a general theme throughout the community discussions, and one of the things he took away from the initial visioning process.
“There is a desire that we should focus on teaching, not just the high-quality test score. That will come with high-quality teaching,” Hamilton said.
O’Connor will give a final report on the visioning meetings at the Nov. 13 school board meeting, and make a proposal to continue assisting Re-1 as it develops an updated vision and mission statement and a districtwide strategic plan.
Also important will be to facilitate community input on an ongoing basis, he said.
“We have done work with [individual] schools before, but we’ve never done something like this for an entire school district,” O’Connor said. “We think you are at the start of something really important, and it’s our recommendation that you seize the moment.”
A copy of the draft community visioning report can be found on the RFSD Re-1 website, at http://www.rfsd.k12.co.us/important-announcements/1243-district-visioning-draft-report.html.