Stein column: School district visioning highlights successes, points direction
Five years ago, the Roaring Fork Schools held a series of community meetings to find out what goals you had for your students and what characteristics you wanted to see in your schools.
Building on that work, we went back to our communities last fall to continue the conversation. This time, we wanted to know how well we had met the commitments we made, and where the community wanted us to go next.
We held 16 meetings with over 400 participating students, parents, staff and community members in November. We held meetings in English and in Spanish and at all times of day in multiple forums so as to allow anybody to participate. We gathered written comments, took notes, received texts and emails, and collected more than 110 pages of verbatim notes and comments. This feedback was invaluable.
The feedback from these meetings affirmed much of the work our schools have undertaken over the past five years, and surfaced areas where we need further clarification.
There was consensus among parents, students, teachers, and community members that there has been growth in several areas. We heard that there is a stronger sense of emotional safety and belonging in our schools due to increased emphasis on social-emotional learning and character development, explicitly naming what we call “habits of a scholar” and crew. There has also been an increased emphasis on, and investment in, mental health.
Feedback also highlighted an increased sense of community within schools, as well as between schools and the broader community. There are more community-oriented activities in schools and more partnerships between schools and community organizations to support our children.
Participants reported a great deal of emphasis on high quality and engaging teaching and learning. There is both a more rigorous core curriculum and expansion of experiential learning opportunities. Student engagement in their learning has increased.
There is much greater inclusion and opportunity for students who come to our schools from Spanish-speaking households, and increased focus on bilingual and bicultural learning. There have also been increased efforts to partner with and include Spanish-speaking parents and families in school activities.
Facilities investments have improved learning environments and increased physical safety. Investments in staff housing were a step toward making living in the Roaring Fork Valley more affordable for our teachers and other staff members.
We also heard, in almost all of the above categories, that the community would like us to go further.
We heard a desire for a continued emphasis on academic engagement and rigor, including more advanced coursework and more delineated career pathways to prepare students for their future. We still have work to do in all students feeling that they belong and that they have the character and social-emotional skills to thrive. The community wants to see more whole-child supports, such as increased health and mental health services, and differentiated academic supports for different kinds of learners.
We heard that our community loves our teachers, and that they want to see us invest more in them. That includes even further effort to address endemic challenges of the profession, such as having a livable wage, a manageable workload, access to housing and health care, and opportunities for leadership.
We heard that our community wants even deeper connection between schools and community, more student learning embedded in community, and more parent engagement. They especially want to see partnership with all families — especially our immigrant community — and more parent involvement and dialogue around school-level planning, visioning, and decision-making.
We have been given clear direction to continue on the path of the strategic plan that was formed five years ago, though updated to reflect shifts in community priorities and emphases over that time. We also identified two areas where additional work is needed. First, the community has pushed for a broader commitment to, and a clearer vision of, equity in our schools. Second, participants pushed us to define what it might look like for all schools, families, and the entire community to truly engage as partners.
These are not questions we can answer alone, so we plan to have further conversations in every school and community over the course of the year. We are also working toward a revised strategic plan to be submitted for board approval before the end of the school year.
We are deeply grateful to have a community so committed to its children and schools, and to have learned so much through this visioning process.
Rob Stein is superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools.
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