Meeting to shape district

Community to help form vision for schools

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Donna Howell's effort to refocus the vision of the Steamboat Springs School District takes its largest step forward this week.

Howell, the district's new superintendent, and two hired facilitators will lead more than 60 community members through a seven-hour meeting Tuesday to review input gathered from the community and establish goals for the district.

The invitation-only meeting, to be held at Olympian Hall, will bring to a close a nearly two-month-long process during which Howell has led focus forums with a variety of community groups, including business representatives, parents, students, teachers, district support staff and religious leaders.

The goal of the focus forums was to establish precisely where the community wants the district to be in three to five years. From the more than 15 forums held since November, Howell and district staff have assembled a detailed packet of the input community members have provided.

That input centers on factors the community believes impact education and what steps the district needs to take to prepare its students for the future.

Based on the feedback from community members at the focus forums, the most important factors that impact education are: governmental regulations, family participation and expectations, curriculum, virtues and values, quality of staff, expectations, leadership, finance, class size, facilities and extracurricular activities.

To best prepare its students for the future, the district needs to provide alternative education opportunities, teach critical-thinking skills, align relevant curriculum, employ technology, meet individual student needs, define its focus and continue staff development, according to forum participants.

While the cumulative input gathered over the past month is extensive, Howell said she wished there was more input from parents at the focus forums.

"They have a lot to contribute," she said.

The district's five schools, which serve about 1,950 students, scored well on the state's School Accountability Reports, but Howell said it could be dangerous for a school system to become too complacent about its past and present performance.

"I believe we have a responsibility to continually look for improvement," Howell said. "We have a responsibility to our community and our students."

Each of the 64 community members who volunteered for Tuesday's meeting will use a half-inch-thick packet of input and other school district information to set a vision for the school system. Most of the 64 representatives were selected after their participation in the smaller focus forums.

"The big task for the day is developing a vision for the next three to five years for the district," Howell said last week. "We're going to have a pretty full day."

That vision could include taking another look at the district's results policies, such as the district's mission statement, virtues and success and self-understanding policies.

School Board Vice President Tami Havener, speaking for herself, not the board, said she would be open to revising the results policies if that is the decree from the community.

"I can say I am very interested in what the community has to say," Havener said. "That would include the results policies."

This vision-setting process is the most the district has reached out to the community for input on its schools since the famed 10 + 2 Committee and its focus groups. While that effort was the direct result of a failed school district bond issue, this current process follows what some have described as a turbulent couple of years for the district.

With a new superintendent, a new makeup of the School Board and the recent communication audit of the district, the timing is ideal for a process that reengages the community in its schools, Havener said.

Jerry Kozatch, a member of numerous district committees and the parent of two district students, said this process is addressing an issue that's been the crux of district problems.

"The main thrust of what was wrong with our system or where it needed to improve had to do with communication," Kozatch said. "I think (Howell) is trying to address the communication issue and get input from the community. By getting input from as many different groups as possible, we're doing everything we can to get the community to express their feelings of the district."

Kozatch said he couldn't imagine a greater effort by the district to elicit input from district stakeholders.

"There was ample opportunity to voice input for those who wanted to," he said.

But all the input in the world doesn't do a thing unless something constructive is done with it, Kozatch said.

"Unfortunately, we have these issues sometimes, and nothing changes," Kozatch said. "If there's some specific action that comes out of this thing that will be the test of whether (the National School Public Relations Association communication audit) and all these focus groups was worth the trouble."

Making the revised vision for the district a reality will come down to what work is done by the School Board and district staff to reach that vision, Howell acknowledged. The superintendent is confident the work will get done.

"This is a collective vision, not just mine or the board's," she said. "This will be from the community."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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