By Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald
When I read that the Davis school board was assembling a team of community members – including teachers, staff, administrators, parents, and students – to chart the course of action for the district over the next decade I wondered what it would be like to be part of the process and help put forth thoughts and ideas on the action plan, since we have one child in fourth grade and two more children that will attend kindergarten in the near future.
Even before we had children I had always followed the issues of the district and knew that even with challenges we were fortunate to have a very dedicated team of staff, educators, administrators, school board members and community members in our district. I also knew that, like other districts, we needed to develop a course of action for the present and the future or we would not be able to provide the best educational experience for our children.
I recognized that the school board and administration were taking on a very big task, but I also saw that they were reaching out to the community to help in this process, because it is such a big task and cannot be accomplished by the school district alone.
They are smart and recognize that it’s something that must be done if we wish to stay competitive and meet the educational needs of an ever-changing and increasingly interconnected and diverse student population and world. And, in my opinion they are brave for reaching out and opening up the process to a very engaged, sometimes critical, yet giving community.
I read the ninety-plus page document and thought about it before I applied. I gave thought to the fact that we have all heard discussions at board meetings and amongst parents and members of the community about the achievement gap, GATE, English Language Learners (ELL), music/arts/drama programs, sports programs, special needs learners, building maintenance, the need for more resources and ongoing training for teachers, the need for more support for staff, staff workload and morale and the need for more counselors to address the needs of at-risk kids and high achievers.
Of great concern is the mental well-being of students, in particular at Davis High School, as written by Davis Enterprise reporter Anne Ternus-Bellamy in her September 27, 2013 article, At-risk kids, high-achievers dominate counseling caseloads at DHS .
According to Ternus-Bellamy, “There had been a disturbing uptick in the number of Davis students requiring suicide risk assessment interviews. In greater numbers than ever before, students were landing in counselors’ offices at school, seeking help on their own or having been referred by teachers, parents or friends for something they’d said or posted on the Internet or even, sometimes, because they had already tried to hurt themselves.”
She went on to report, “In a presentation to the school board last spring, district crisis counselor Jen McNeil reported an 81 percent increase in suicide risk assessment interviews over the past two years, with the district averaging more than one interview per school day by the end of last year.”
School board member Nancy Peterson, who was the school board member who participated with us in the Strategic Planning Process, told Ternus-Bellamy that the numbers were “staggering.”
School Board President Gina Daleiden noted, “This touches every student on campus, potentially. It’s not just the student at risk, they are (all) at risk by having students at risk.”
I decided to apply to be a part of the Strategic Planning Process thinking that it would be like other strategy planning sessions that I had been a part of over the years in various capacities. I would come to find out that this process was more intense, more inclusive and in the end my hope is that it will be more successful in helping us move forward with planning for the future in our distrcit.
I was informed that I had been selected and that we would have a 3-day marathon planning session of twelve hours each of two days followed by a 10-hour day on the third day. Were they serious? Yes, “they” were.
I went in with an open mind ready to listen and share thoughts and ideas and what I came away with was respect and admiration for the number of dedicated parents, teachers, staff, administrators, students and community members that we have in our district.
How many times can you remember having twenty-seven people in a room who can talk, debate, talk, agree, disagree, debate, debate, debate and then FINALLY arrive at an agreed-upon mission a full day and morning later? Yes, it took that long just to come up with a mission statement, because it mattered to all of us what the tone and direction were going to be to help guide us through this process.
At the end of the 34 hours of meeting (12 hours for two days and 10 hours the third day) and with the patience, humor, guidance and facilitation of facilitator Kathy Ohm of ACSA (The Association of California School Administrators) who has worked with and helped numerous school districts develop strategic plans for thirty plus years, I can honestly say that everyone who participated gave it their all and participated in what we hope the community will become a part of and give feedback and input to.
Much credit must also be given to Kim Wallace, the Davis school district’s Director of Instructional Technology who helped Kathy Ohm with the technology. Kim helped keep us going by ensuring that all of our technology glitches were quickly addressed. She also helped out with “other duties as assigned,” and played the important role of memorializing our decisions in writing., so we could view them and adjust them without interrupting our flow of thought. Her played a critical role in this process.
The silent right-hand person who helped behind the scenes as she often does and deserves a lot of credit is Penny Pyle, Administrative Assistant to Superintendent Roberson. Penny helped make the planning session work dealing with logistics and any other details that needed to be addressed for the planning session and for individual participation.
Kim and Penny also helped bring in the food (breakfast, lunch, dinner), snacks, water, coffee, juice and “brain food” such as fresh blueberries, rasberries, apples and strawberries to keep us going. They thought of everything and as participants we were very appreciative, because we wanted to make the best use of our marathon sessions.
Also paticipating in the process was Superintendent Winfred Roberson. I know that as a parent I appreciated him being there and I’m sure others did too. What I especially appreciated was the fact that he offered his insight when we needed his input but never tried to control the conversation or stifle the debate and discussion. His willingness and that of the school board to put this process out to the public and trust that we can provide input for all children cannot be overstated. As I said earlier, it showed the faith they have in our community and the courage they have to involve us as a community.
At the end of the marathon meetings we were all ready to collapse! We gave it our all! The school board will discuss our work at the board meeting on Thursday, October 17th. From there, the next step is for the action teams to research and prepare action plans and bring them back to the Strategic Planning Committee.
We plan to convene for another two-day marathon session in February 2014 where we will prepare a report containing our recommendations that will then go to the school board for review and discussion in late February to early March. If you get an opportunity to provide your feedback please be sure to do so. It’s critical for a successful plan for all children.