As The Valley reporter goes to press on June 27, the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board is discussing a report on community outreach around the issue of district redesign that came from the district’s administrative team. This is part of the board’s ongoing discussion of the community engagement on school district redesign. Last week, the board discussed a proposal from consultants Sue McCormack and Matt Leighninger of Creative Discourse. Their proposal was submitted in response to a request for proposals (RFP) from the HUUSD Board.
After that RFP, administrators came forward with a request asking the board for the opportunity to present a report on community outreach skills that exist through the schools already as well as ideas on how to the work with the board going forward.
“At the May 23, 2018 HUUSD Board meeting, we presented a request to hold voting on the single proposal received in reponse to the board’s community engagement RFP until we could articulate, in writing, how we might further support the work you have proposed. The administrative team is interested in improving and building upon the structures for community engagement across our communities to further foster sustainable and effective, board-based community collaboration and connection with schools across the HUUSD,” administrators wrote in their outreach proposal to the board.
School district redesign has been a main topic of conversation at HUUSD meetings over the past six months after district Superintendent Brigid Nease offered a proposal last December. That proposal envisioned putting all fifth- and sixth-graders at Crossett Brook and all middle schoolers at Harwood Union and potentially closing two of the four elementary schools in The Valley.
Given the political and emotional sensitivity of closing local elementary schools, the board opted to seek professional help with community outreach around the issue. Additionally, the board is at the beginning stages of planning for a $21 million renovation of Harwood Union and has begun the visioning process for that plan.
The report from district administrators lays out the admin team’s experience with facilitation training including work that some members of the team had done with McCormack. The administrators note that because schools function as hubs within the community, they have a broad and deep base of connection to the community.
The report that they are presenting this week details their existing community engagement practices and how they engage the community and parents in four different sectors. Those sectors are both one way as well as interactive. One sector is newsletters, websites, blogs, social media, press releases and other informational outreach to parents. A second is input gathering via surveys. A third is dialogue, as gather in parent/teacher conferences, open houses, topic based groups, PTOs, email, face to face meetings and community circles. The fourth category covers participation in school sponsored activities such as Four Winds, Everybody Wins and mentoring programs.
When the admin team proposed working with the board on community outreach, some board and community members voiced concerns about giving the principals more work. Administrators, in the proposal being presented this week, pointed out that they consider working with the board and engaging with the community to be part of their jobs.
Their report spells out a variety of ways they feel they can help the board, including helping to create a broader framework for ongoing interaction with the community. They suggest that they can:
“Work with the HUUSD Board (or community engagement committee, if task is assigned to that group) to draft a strategic plan for ongoing community engagement, working from consultant generated report (cited in proposal No. 2). This strategic plan could identify ongoing community engagement activities (i.e. bi-annual community forums, review of climate survey data) and help to guide us in determining the kinds of issues that might require outside consultants and internal responsibilities for ongoing activities.”
The board in past meetings, discussed developing a “toolbox” with ways to engage the community. The admin team proposal speaks to some of those tools, such as community surveys, workshops and meetings.
The board is expected to vote this week on how to proceed with community engagement.
The proposal was submitted by principals Lisa Atwood and Sam Krotinger (Harwood Union), Tom Drake (Crossett Brook), Denise Goodnow (Thatcher Brook), Kaiya Korb (Waitsfield Elementary), Elizabeth Peterson (Warren Elementary), Duane Pierson (Moretown Elementary), and Jean Berthiaume (Fayston Elementary).