Summit assesses district priorities

BY ELI FRANK —

The Shorewood Schools Summit, the first step in creating a long-term plan for the district by the year 2025, featured discussion by staff, students and community members on February 25, 26 and 27.

“We were really hoping to get a sense of the values of the community, and [to] see whether those values are with where we are right now and where we would want to be in 10 years [and] are consistent with where we’ve been in the past,” said Bryan Davis, superintendent, who, along with his administrative team and a planning committee, organized the three day event. “[The] idea was to be able to really bring people together and develop some common themes … to be able to help give us some direction.”

Each of the three days of the event focused on a different time period in relation to Shorewood Schools: the past, present and future, respectively.

“I was very impressed by the way the Summit was organized. I thought it was very helpful to look at the past to figure out what was happening in the world, and … I found the discussion on current issues and trends in education … very useful to our goal of looking toward the future of our district,” said Evan Schmidt, French and Economics teacher.

The event format was borrowed from Patina Solutions, a company that specializes in community events like this, but modified by the planning team to fit Shorewood’s needs.

Drew Howick, who works at Patina Solutions, moderated the event.

“It was decided that the best way for us to be … as objective as you can in the outcomes of the process is to make sure that nobody from the community is leading the process or leading you down a particular process, and so that’s why we went with an outside agency for consulting,” Davis said. “I then checked into multiple resources that we could get, including the gentleman that we got to … check with other districts to see what they’ve done in this type of process, and Mr. Howick came with great recommendations.”

“The process is [Howick’s] and his company that he works for, … but built within that, is four or five planning sessions to make sure we ‘Shorewoodized’ it and be able to get out of it what we want,” Davis said.

Planning for the event began in December, and invitations were mailed out to residents about a month before.

“We had a core group of people who were in charge of planning the Summit, which was a cross section of the community, just to make sure we were reaching out to different demographics, between senior citizens and students and staff and parents and all kinds of people in the community,” Davis said.

“I love that it was so diverse, with respect to attendees,” Schmidt said.

Ashley Kinnard, junior, was involved in the planning process as a student representative.

“My job was to try and get students there, as many as I [could]. It was a little bit hard because a lot of students were turned off with the idea of it being three days,” Kinnard said.

While Kinnard was pleased with the turnout overall, she expressed disappointment at the lack of students.

“I wish more students would have shown up just because our voices are important. We’re trying to make it better for other students, and the adults don’t really know what’s going on in high school, but we do because we’re here everyday,” Kinnard said. “There were some [students] at some tables but not at every table- and I wish that was different.”

While student involvement was lower than many would have hoped, community members expressed the benefits of having students involved.

“Truly one of the highlights of the summit was getting the students’ perspective,” wrote Nancy Peske, resident, on a post on the Ripples Facebook page about the Summit. “This was a huge commitment — and I’m very grateful that they made it.”

“I thought my voice was really well heard,” Kinnard said.

Overall, Davis said people seemed to be satisfied with the event.

“Feedback has been positive,” Davis said. “[I’ve heard] it was exhausting, physically and emotionally, to be able to get through, that we probably could have shortened things up by half a day, [but] overall, my feeling is that it was good.”

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(Shilei Bell-Lipsey) Kip Berg, Christ Trost and Cliff Tisser, community members, brainstorm with Post-it notes to assess the condition of the district. This activity was one of many at the Shorewood Schools Summit.

Davis and his team began meeting on March 11 to transform the goals of the community identified at the Summit into substantive policy to achieve them. A final plan is currently scheduled to be announced in August, near the beginning of the next school year.

The top goals of the community were identified on day three of the Summit, which can be seen on our website shorewoodripples.org. These included the desire for more authentic learning experiences, along with more cross-curricular education and more modernized facilities that allow for improved and more open educational experiences, while maintaining the historic aspects of our schools.

Davis was surprised, however, by the lack of focus on technology issues.

“What I thought might be more of a topic that didn’t really rise to a level of urgency … was around issues of technology in the district … I think there’s quite a ways we can go as a district with technology, but it also didn’t come across as something people feel this urgency for,” Davis said. “I think from what I see, in our district, it’s pretty well in line with what the values are and that it’s not just a high priority, not that we’ll not continue to make progress on it.”

“I do think we have a good foundation [for beginning the strategic planning process],” Davis said.

According to Davis, the community will be involved throughout the remainder of the process.

“Any time that we wouldn’t have any expertise in particular areas, either within the administrators or the staff members, then that’s when we’ll reach out to bring in community members,” Davis said.

After the strategic planning process begins, Davis plans on doing an annual review, which would be open to the community to evaluate if the district is on track for meeting their goals.

“It’ll be an opportunity for the community to give us feedback off of the themes and what we’ve built: are we heading in the right direction? And that way, we’re also accountable for those results and what we’re doing, and we can … validate what we’re doing or just bring in a few new things that have come up. It just makes it more dynamic,” Davis said.

Documents from the Summit and detailed coverage of what occured each day is available on our website, shorewoodripples.org.

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