By Nan Royce
DASSEL, COKATO, MN In an attempt to determine what school projects are most important to their communities, the Dassel-Cokato School Board recently hired the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA).
The MSBA has an established program for strategic planning with school districts and the communities they serve.
Listening to all
The MSBA staff working with the DC district are Jeff Olson, consultant; Bill Kautt, associate director of management services, and Gail Gilman, associate director of board development.
The trio spent most of Monday listening to small groups of students, teachers, district staff, and administrators.
Specifically, they wanted to hear and take notes about things the district does well, opportunities for district improvement, and visions of what the DC district could look like five years down the road.
Monday evening, the MSBA reps put school board members through the same exercise.
At the beginning of the public listening session, Olson noted the packed middle-school commons area held a record number of participants for a listening session.
He reiterated what he had told the school board earlier that evening: DC residents had also returned a record number of surveys.
(The surveys were available to the public from Jan. 22 to Feb. 9. Olson said 672 external surveys from the community and 170 internal surveys from within the school district had been taken.)
The MSBA team asked the audience to divide themselves into small groups, and then answer the questions presented to each group that day.
Each small group received a piece of paper on which to record their thoughts about what the district does well, areas of opportunity for the district, and visions for the DC district in five years.
The small groups had approximately 15 minutes to brainstorm about these concepts before Kautt led the full audience through sharing some of their small-group responses.
Begin with the good
Small-group ideas for what the district does well included:
• good communication between parents and teachers;
• great teachers and staff;
• a large variety of extracurricular sports and artistic options;
• working to meet the needs of individual students;
• a strong academic focus;
• fiscal responsibility;
• the performing arts center;
• the presence of a social worker in each school building;
• character building and anti-bullying campaigns; and
• the feeling that school staff want what is best for the students.
Opportunities for improvement
Kautt then led the audience through sharing thoughts about areas in which the DC district had opportunities for improvement.
Small-group ideas in this area included:
• stop class sizes from growing further;
• upgrade facilities such as the elementary gyms and bathrooms;
• improve leadership activity involvement;
• improve the district website;
• offer better computer and tech opportunities;
• develop a better vision about where technology is headed in the workplace, and teach students accordingly;
• improve the school food program;
• become faster at changing curriculum to the speed at which community and businesses accelerate, for example, offer relevant foreign language classes;
• reinforce the drug abuse resistance program (DARE) beyond the fifth grade level;
• show fewer movies to fill time or as rewards, and get students to be physically active instead;
• repair district parking lots;
• offer competitive wages for teachers and staff;
• elimination of behavior charts; and
• add education regarding mental health.
The five-year vision
Finally, the small groups shared some of their visionary ideas for the district. These included:
• an increase in reading staff;
• a proactive stance on aligning technology classes with technology used outside of the high school environment;
• become known to other districts as a leader in arts, athletics and academics;
• continue improvement of district facilities;
• retention of family focus, with an emphasis on family values;
• passing a referendum funding the multipurpose building, the career and technology project, which failed during the district’s last referendum, and an aquatic center;
• the development of more school spirit and pride;
• offering a vocational technology program within the district, as opposed to sending students to other facilities; and
• an upgrade to community education facilities so more adults of all ages could make better use of the buildings.
The MSBA members thanked the residents for their input, and detailed their plan of action.
The MSBA will analyze survey results and information gleaned from all listening sessions.
The committee is comprised of district administration and staff, and volunteers from the community.
The committee will meet three times. The first meeting will include a “State of the District” report from Superintendent Jeff Powers, and a review of survey and listening session results. The second meeting will focus on visioning-related activities. During the third and final committee meeting, members will write determined goals and objectives, and identify indicators and measures of progress.
How will it happen?
Afterward, the MSBA will present a summary document of all three committee meetings, and present it to the school board. The school board will review and approve a Strategic Planning Governance document which incorporates district beliefs, mission, vision, goals and objectives.
Powers and district staff will then develop action plans (activities, assigning responsibilities, developing timelines) and prepare a monitoring schedule.
Next, the DC School Board will review the action plans and monitoring schedule.
Powers will be tasked with updating the school board on the progress of the strategic plan’s goals.
Finally, in June of 2019, the MSBA will hold an accountability meeting.