June 2017 Update
Last December Winchester Public Schools launched an effort to envision the future for our students, schools and community, and to make recommendations on how we might embrace/evolve practices that would enable us to realize that vision.
A Team of WPS stakeholders agreed to serve as the organizers, data collectors, and co-leaders of this work and both directed and informed the process. Together, these advisory and working team members represented a broad cross-section of the school and district communities of Winchester. A full list of team members is available online.
Three guiding principles directed our work, with facilitation support from two outside consultants:
1) Our schools are by nature fractal, and whether it is the fears that sway our behavior, the influence that adults have over their environment and others, or our learning curves, all levels of school participants – students, teachers, administrators – share experiences and go hand-in-hand as learners. We rise or fall together.
2) When our schools, classes, and meetings are psychologically safe AND support accountability, all can learn best. When our schools, classes, and meetings are psychologically safe AND support accountability, all can learn best. This second principle addresses how schools can prevent both high anxiety and low energy among students and staff.
3) Finally, only by engaging one another as lifelong learners – who take risks and are deliberate in embracing differences, doubt, and disagreements – can we increase our collective ability to adapt to the rapid pace of change in the world for which we are preparing our students.
With these guiding principles, the Strategic Visioning team began to host workshops/focus groups to ask four core questions: What kind of learners and community members do we hope all students become? What current policies/programs/people are best supporting growth in those areas? How can we expand or build on those successes to evolve our practices? From their perspective, what do others need to understand or learn about our students and teachers?
Over the Spring, we hosted a number of two-hour workshops with unique stakeholder groups, including Central Office and School Committee, Building Leadership, Director and Supervisors, and Municipal and Community organizations. In addition, 15 mini-workshops were held with approximately 300 students. A parents’ workshop was planned, but the busy spring/summer schedule forced us to postpone to a future time. A staff-focused workshop and smaller conversations will also take place in the fall.
In order to capture the perspectives and ideas of those who were unable to attend one of the workshops, three unique surveys were also created and distributed by the SV team. With the tremendous support and outreach by school partners, especially the Winchester Education Association, a total of 180 students, 210 community members, and 114 staff members completed a survey.
Themes and Next Steps
From the data collected, several themes have emerged as we begin to surface what we are calling the WPS Strategic Visioning beacons – the highly aspirational principles and guides for our work over the next five to eight years. Below is a preliminary list; work will continue over the summer and into the fall to expand, revise and refine them.
The most frequently shared priority on the part of all stakeholders was that Winchester invest in/support/expand strategies that promote BOTH academic excellence AND social emotional wellness. When asked what qualities we seek most from our students as learners and community members, Kindness was the most frequently prioritized response.
Secondly, celebrating diverse pathways of success – for teachers, students, administrators, community members – yields more engaged participants. We begin with an unyielding commitment to the success of every student. We recognize that there are 4500 students and 700 staff members with different passions, abilities and styles. Each brings value and each is capable of meeting and exceeding high expectations and a range of definitions for genuine success. Continuing to differentiate our policies, programming and personnel to best support all, and for all to be their best, is a likely part of any vision of the WPS future.
Meaningful, high impact visioning requires some degree of shift in culture or challenge to current definitions of success, not just changes to programs or policies[AB3] . Best practices may and should incorporate ideas about mindsets, inspiring independent thinking, relationships between all stakeholders, finding and using one’s voice, critical thinking, and practice using learned skills and knowledge for creative and shared problem solving.
It is our expectation that the Summer months and early Fall will provide opportunities to build a more complete set of beacons. After deep review and revision by school leadership, these beacons would then be presented in the Fall to two major groups – parents and staff – for feedback and revisions. We will strive to find consensus, and make recommendations for strategic planning, communications, leadership, and resources.
We hope by late Fall to identify long-term and clear statements of where WPS intends to go, and to have developed a practice of having hard but successful conversations about how to get there.
To stay informed about the Strategic Visioning Initiative, please share your email online at http://www.winchesterps.org/strategic_visioning.
Phase I – Kickoff and Build Process
· Establish working/advisory groups responsible for documenting process and monitoring progress toward expected outcomes and timeline.
· Define key questions of initiative
· Determine RFP and hire facilitator(s)
· Create devices for internal and external communications
· Schedule Activities/Meetings
Phase 2 – January/February - LT/AT/WT– Generate Initial List of Core WPS Values and Focus Areas/Long-term Strategic Objectives
· Determine Facilitated Workshop Design and determine other data to be collected
· Facilitate Workshop and Collect Data for School Committee and Central Office
· Facilitate Workshop and Collect Data for School-based Leadership Team (Principals, Assistant Principals, Directors, Athletic Director, Supervisors, Team Leaders, Head Nurses, etc.)
· Create online survey tools
· Finalize Facilitated Workshop Design
Phase 3 – March/April - Other Stakeholders – Engage others, communicate and expand lists
· Facilitate Workshop and Collect Data for WPS Staff
· Facilitate Workshop and Collect Data for Students & Families
· Facilitated Workshop and Collect Data for Other Community Stakeholders and Partner Organizations
· Distribute on-line survey
· WT/AT report to LT on progress
Phase 4 – May/June - LT/AT/WT – Refine and prioritize list and make recommendations for future policy, programming, budgetary, and strategic planning efforts.
· Collect all data
· Provide summative report
· Clarify, refine, and build consensus on final values and work areas
· Finalize report/deliverables
· Develop list of recommendations to inform future activities, policy, programming
· Communicate and collect feedback on Summative Draft with all stakeholder participants.
Phase 6 – Summer/Fall – Final Report - Communicate back out
· Final Presentation to community
· Final Presentation at Whole Staff Meeting