by David Safier
My opinion: TUSD's all day strategic planning meeting Tuesday was pretty good.
Let me put "pretty good" in perspective. I hate meetings. Hate them. When I was a teacher and I had to suffer through an after school staff meeting that was especially dismal or depressing, I'd stand up and walk out the minute my 8 hour day was over, even if the principal was speaking. Hate meetings. So if I say being locked in a meeting room from 8am to 3pm was a "pretty good" experience, you should bump that up a couple notches. Here's a start. The meeting was pretty damn good.
First an overview, then some random thoughts. (NOTE: The nice thing about a post like this is that other participants can chime in with comments to agree with, disagree with or elaborate on my impressions of the day. Please feel free.)
All the invitees were placed at round tables with about 8 other folks, including community members, parents, teachers and administrators. One of the visiting consultants would give a 20 minute talk on an issue, then the people at the table would discuss it for about 30 minutes. Each table had a facilitator who fed us open-ended questions and a secretary who recorded what we said on a laptop wired to a central computer, meaning all our input was gathered instantaneously. We took a 15 minute break, then we had another speaker and discussion, and so on.
No grand conclusions were reached or specific plans created, since the discussions were free ranging and different at each table. We didn't coordinate with the other tables or learn what they talked about. What happened to me was, as the day went on, I felt myself buying into the process more and more, taking personal ownership and responsibility for the issues and suggestions the group chewed over. And that was the point, I think. To get the participants involved in the planning on a personal level, to begin a dialogue, which will be followed with further input by participants at the meeting — and by others, I'm sure — resulting in the creation of a five year strategic plan. If that was the idea, the process worked for me.
At the end of the day, we were asked to sign up, if we wished, for one of five committees that would meet with Superintendent H.T. Sanchez and appropriate administrators at another time on one of the topics we discussed, with the goal of hammering out clear, concrete steps for implementation of a five year plan.
Now, for some random thoughts in no particular order.
• One of my favorite things about the day is that Food Technology students prepared our continental breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack and were there in charge of the food, smiling, courteous, friendly. It was in house catering at its best. I love high school students!
• The five topics we discussed were Communications, Curriculum and Instruction, Finance, Facilities, and Diversity. (The presentations were filmed and will be on the TUSD website, along with input fields so people can make comments.) Those are also the five committees which we could opt to join. I went with the Diversity committee.
• In a post I wrote Tuesday, I expressed concerns about agendas some of the consultants might bring with them, given their histories. Other than one presentation which made me a bit uncomfortable, and only a bit, the 20 minute talks were more about sparking discussion than pushing us in any specific direction. So my concerns about the meeting were unfounded, I'm happy to say. I'm rooting for this process to be successful. However, I'll remain wary and watchful since the consultants' contract extends beyond the one day meeting. I want to make sure the process doesn't take a wrong philosophical or educational turn somewhere along the line.
• If H.T. Sanchez ever wants to quit education, he could probably get a steady gig as an M.C. He's a natural. Easygoing, mildly humorous without forcing it, genuine, and effectively serious when he wants to be serious without getting all "Pay attention, I'm being serious now" on the audience. His deft, light touch was glue holding the proceedings together. Sanchez should get in front of parents and other community members whenever he can, to be the face and voice of the district.
• After I wrote the post I referred to above expressing concerns about the consultants, which couldn't have made Sanchez happy, especially after the drubbing he took in the Star, he reached out to me, gave me a call. It could have had some tense moments. Instead, it was a friendly, serious, occasionally light-hearted talk (We had talked before, which made things easier). He explained what the meeting would be like and the faith he had in the consultants. I expressed the reasons for my concerns. We both listened carefully, responded respectfully and understood each other better when the conversation was over. I won't mention any specifics, since we were talking person to person, not superintendent to blogger, but I have a feeling he wouldn't mind if I did.
• I got the feeling from the meeting that administrators are mostly buying into the direction Sanchez is taking things. I hope that's true, since he seems to be trying to move the leadership culture in a good direction. I haven't talked with enough teachers to get a read on their impressions. If they're like I was, they spend far more time thinking about all those growing bodies, minds and spirits in their classrooms than thinking about what's going on in the Admin Building.
• Instead of dreading the next meeting with the Diversity group — remember, I hate meetings — I'm kinda looking forward to it. That's a good thing, right?