Friday, February 3, 2012

Engaging the Community in Creating a New Vision for Education in Lewisville ISD

By Crystal R. R. Edwards

Lewisville ISD, in the heart of the DFW Metroplex, spans many miles and towns. The idea of cohesion is almost laughable amongst 52,000 students, 63 schools, 13 municipalities and 72 languages “as of yesterday,” quips Superintendent Stephen Waddell.

And yet somewhere, amidst the diversity, Waddell and assistant superintendent Penny Reddell found a single, simple question that unified thousands of voices: “What is your highest hope for your student?”

Asking that question opened the floodgates of public discourse, and they called in Shannon Buerk, the Chief Learning Officer of engage! Learning Organization, to help them direct the flow. Ms. Buerk led the process for Lewisville ISD, using TASA's Visioning Network document. “What followed," said Reddell, “changed us all.”

In this presentation, Waddell, Reddell, and Buerke, described the early parts of their visioning process. In its infancy it faced some challenges, including that of having a new superintendent in the first place. But before too long, Reddell said, people began to react in positive ways. “Everyone was spellbound by the idea of ‘future,’” she said. “They began to ask, ‘How can we have this come true?’”

The answer lay in a series of efforts. First came the summits, where every person in the community with something to share came and expressed themselves. The information presented at the summits was distilled and turned into survey questions. From the answers to the surveys, focus groups were developed. Once the focus groups were heard and understood, the difficult work of creating strategic design teams was underway. 

Buerke discussed the results of the visioning process. 

“This didn’t require a buy-in from the community at first. But we didn’t need a buy-in. This is about creating something together. We wanted them to know their ideas were valued, which is very different from what ‘buy-in’ indicates: ‘I want you to think like me.’ This was broad-based input. Up until now, each community had been working in silos, and they were not unified. By going to the district as a whole, by listening to the district as a whole, we found each community began to bond with one another over the shared goals.”

Over 3,500 voices were heard throughout the process, with some 400 people in focus groups alone and more than 1,500 taking part in the online survey. “This was a process of connecting people together,” Waddell said. “Through dialogue -- that’s key. Going into a room and coming back out with a visioning plan isn’t key, it’s just talking.”

Transparency became a guiding principle during this dialogue and Buerke told attendees that all of the information they used -- from footage during the summits to the surveys used -- can be found online. They have also developed five blogs, one for each of the high schools, to give daily news about the campuses and programs. A newsletter is also available for subscription.

Which brings us to the present day. Not even one full year into his tenure as superintendent, Waddell now stands at a critical point. The project teams have nearly come to a consensus -- yes, that’s “nearly,” and consensus is a requirement. A few more meetings, a few more tweaks, and Waddell feels they will be ready for the next steps: taking the entire plan for the district before the community for forum events, and after that, receiving final approval from the school board.

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