by David Safier
Back in February, TUSD convened its first district-wide Strategic Planning meeting, to begin the process of creating a 5 year plan. I was invited to participate in the all-day meeting as a member of the community, not as a blogger, and I wrote about my experiences that day from the point of view of a participant. I gave the meeting reasonably high marks, and that from someone who generally hates meetings of this kind.
At the end of that first day, people were asked if they wanted to continue the process. Those of us who expressed interest gathered the last two Saturday mornings. I was among them.
My impression so far is, the process continues to be worthwhile, both for the participants and the district. But it's only a process. What really matters is the quality of the product and how well it's implemented.
The people who are participating include community members like myself, parents and staff (mainly administrative staff). Too often in meetings like this, the leaders, meaning the administrators, take a dominant role and guide the other participants toward foregone conclusions. Here, the "leaders" worked hard to assume the role of moderators, making sure the group stayed on task and that its ideas made it onto paper, but not directing the rest of us toward a pre-determined goal.
Each of us chose one of five subcommittees. I chose the Diversity committee. It's genuinely diverse, which is encouraging. Parents and community members made up a large part of the group, including key members of community groups which advocate for minority rights. It's ethnically diverse as well. The mix helps to provide internal checks and balances. Parents made sure the role of parents was kept front and center. People who are long-time advocates for certain groups made sure their concerns were heard. A number of the administrators in the Diversity subcommittee have jobs which focus on diversity, and they added their expertise to the mix without being overbearing.
Superintendent H.T. Sanchez says he's determined the 5 year plan will be a concrete set of objectives — "Here's what we need to do, and here's when we want it done by" — rather than a feel-good, aspirational document — "Wouldn't it be wonderful if . . ." Our task this past Saturday was to create concrete goals. I was in a small group that looked at ways to increase equity in student access to accelerated programs. We knew some schools are missing accelerated programs — for instance, some high schools don't have the full complement of AP programs, which robs some students of an opportunity to participate. One of our goals was to have all those gaps filled by the end of the five year period, with established markers each year. We also knew some ethnic and economic groups are underrepresented in the accelerated program, so another goal was to increase participation in a measurable way — have more members of the underrepresented groups in accelerated programs each year.
We had a lot of discussion on various ways to make the goals happen, but our primary task was to describe the change we want to see and establish clear ways to measure progress.
OK. So far, so good. But the question is, after we finish all this, will it be just another set of folders filed away in some obscure niche of the Admin Building? Could be, I don't know. I hope not. Will Sanchez bail on us before the 5 year process is finished, and we get yet another superintendent with a whole new agenda? Could be, I don't know. I hope not.
I'm cautiously optimistic. The process is good, and the commitment I sense from Sanchez and other administrators feels genuine. Anyone who expects miracles, in the short or the long term, is sure to be disappointed. But I'm hoping that year by year, the ocean liner which is TUSD can be steered in an increasingly more positive and productive direction. Maybe "flotilla" is a better metaphor for the district than "ocean liner." A district is more like a fleet of ships moving more-or-less in the same direction than a single vessel. Each ship has its specific missions and is led by a different captain, and each needs to improve in its own way. One person oversees the overall speed and direction of the group, but each part of the fleet needs to be responsible for its own success. If the process works, each ship will be swifter and more seaworthy, and the entire flotilla and all those aboard will benefit.