My-Turn

Community can help assess school system’s needs

 

By Tom Venable

Dear Methow Valley students, families and community members:

As the colors of autumn unfold and we settle into the new school year, I hope my letter finds you well. During the past three months, I’ve had the good fortune to meet with many of you and learn more about our school district’s history, our many strengths, and areas currently needing attention.

My time spent meeting with staff and students, board members, parents and community members has enabled me to collect information and solicit multiple perspectives on a variety of topics and issues associated with our schools.

One recent example included the opportunity to speak with the Twisp Chamber of Commerce. With approximately 30 local employers and entrepreneurs in attendance, I was asked to share some of my past experience and my vision. More importantly, it served as a unique opportunity to further solicit thoughts and ideas from key members of our community about what we should be focusing on in our schools and classrooms to prepare our students for life after graduation.

I asked them to reflect upon three questions and share some of the highlights:

• As employers and entrepreneurs, what are we doing well to prepare our students for life after graduation?

• Given your experiences as employers, what do you believe we need to improve upon within our schools and classrooms to better prepare our students for life after graduation?

• Schools and districts can’t do it alone. What opportunities are possible through increased partnership with our local employers and entrepreneurs?

Some of the emerging themes and patterns shared and recorded (thank you, Amy Stork!) included:

• A desire to see the district increase its emphasis on financial literacy.

• Interest in promoting increased opportunities for internships and apprenticeships in the trades.

• A suggestion to initiate a jobs board to promote employment and internship opportunities for credit or pay, with a focus on developing work-ready skills.

• A high value was placed on graduating students with the skills, knowledge and attributes that foster choice – college and vocational education and career rather than tracking students into one or another area of focus.

• Uncertainty about the rapidly changing and globalizing workplace, and the ability to develop learners who can adapt to the changes in the workplace.

• Appreciation for the positive attributes and attitudes displayed by many of our current students and recent graduates who live and work our community.

While I’ve met with many, I haven’t yet met with all. During the next few months, I will continue my efforts to actively listen and learn about our schools and community. This will include interviewing every staff member individually, meeting with our students, observing in classrooms, lunchrooms, on the playground, riding bus routes, and attending a variety of school-sponsored and community events and activities.

In addition, I will be hosting two community listening sessions designed to solicit information from interested community members. The sessions will take place at the following times and locations:

• Mazama/Winthrop residents – Nov. 2, 10-11:30 a.m. at the Winthrop Fire Hall.

• Twisp/Carlton residents – Nov. 7, 6-7:30 p.m. at TwispWorks.

In preparation for our time together, I ask that you consider the following questions:

• What are we doing well in our effort to develop students prepared for life after graduation?

• What practices do we need to preserve as part of our educational program?

• What changes are necessary to provide the best possible education for our students? Please rank the changes by importance.

• Describe your beliefs about how parents and community members should be involved with the schools. What is your role in supporting these changes?

• What questions do you wish I had asked because of their significance to you and/or the school?

I hope you are able to join me. Thank you yet again for the opportunity to serve as your superintendent!

 

Tom Venable is superintendent of the Methow Valley School District.