Winchester Public Schools (WPS) Strategic Visioning Initiative - Overview
In 2016-17, WPS launched an effort to envision the future for our students, schools and community, and to embrace the practices that will enable the district to realize that vision. Through this initiative, we travelled down two parallel tracks.
First – We developed an approach or strategy, a manner in which we as a community could come together – in small and/or larger groups - to solve problems. How do we strengthen our capacity to have more honest conversations, where we can disagree agreeably, and hear and understand the different perspectives that often accompany complex issues? We know that in order to prepare our students for a rapidly changing world, where learning takes place in so many ways, our schools will have to be much more nimble and agile. Faculty and staff want to be part of this conversation, and all stakeholders, including students, need to have their voices heard.
Second – Where are we going, as a district? By what beacons should we be steering this “ship,” imagining our students, schools and community, five to seven years from now? We are overwhelmed with possibilities: pressures to change, different directions we can go, with limited resources. So what are we going to do and what aren’t we going to do? Through a series of conversations with all stakeholders, we crafted a vision for where we want to head.
On Track 1, we custom built an approach for Winchester that was inclusive, honest and engaging, and then practiced this approach to answer the questions of Track 2: What kind of do we want our students to become? What will they know and be able to do? How do we encourage continuous learning for the adults in the building? What resources do we need to get there? How might we know if we are making progress?
A Team of WPS stakeholders served as the organizers, data collectors, and co-leaders of this work and directed and informed the process. Together, they represented a broad cross-section of the school and district communities of Winchester.
Between January and June 2017, there were three overlapping phases to our work. January and February meetings were spent determining guiding principles and norms and then designing and developing this approach. How do we individually lead these conversations with our own stakeholder groups and be a catalyst for healthy dialogue? Through training and workshops, we focused on building our team’s capacity to engage in this work.
Over the Spring, we hosted a number of workshops, first with central office and building leadership, and then staff, students, parents and other stakeholders. Through these conversations, we asked what our students need, what our adults need, and what are our shared priorities and core values. Surveys, small one-on-one conversations, staff meetings, and lunches were used to share perspectives and collect ideas, and success was measured by how well all felt heard.
Finally, with guidance by outside facilitators, we found consensus, and made recommendations for strategic planning, communications, leadership, and resources.
The strategic vision and beacon matrix is not a strategic plan, though it lays a foundation for one. It is also not a mandate to implement any specific program. The strategic visioning initiative was focused on being aspirational and pro-active, not just doing more. Through this process, we identified long-term beacons of where we want to go, and developed a practice of having hard but successful conversations about how to get there.