Citywide Conversation #1 (English Language Version)

The Citywide Conversation was meant to stimulate engaged and meaningful conversation among attendees—enabling them to be full participants as opposed to spectators, and fostering long-term stakeholder investment in the future of the schools.

Welcome & Introduction

The Mayor of Salem opened the first Citywide Conversation and set the stage for a conversation about the future of Salem Public Schools at a critical time in the city’s history, with its 400th anniversary approaching in ten years. The Mayor then introduced a 5-minute video excerpt of a TEDx talk by Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Todd Rose. This compelling video made the point that there is no such thing as an average learner, and that it’s necessary to design schools that enable all kinds of minds to develop and all kinds of talents to flourish.   We chose this video because we felt it would open people up to a new and more solutions-oriented public conversation, and broaden people’s thinking.

The Superintendent then reinforced the message of the video and described the strategic planning process, including the six different Work Teams that would each be tackling a different domain within SPS, or a “lever for change.” She then introduced a series of activities, described below.

Small Group Discussion #1

  • Purpose: Engage community members in discussion of the Levers for Change.
  • Activity: In the first of several small group discussions, participants were provided with short descriptions of each of the six Levers for Change, which they were invited to read together at their tables. They were then asked to select three Levers that spoke most directly to their own interests.

Identifying 21st Century Survival Skills

  • Purpose: Understand what skills and qualities community members would most like to see in graduates of the school system.
  • Activity:
    • Following the small group discussions, the Superintendent introduced a video of author and scholar Tony Wagner articulating the seven most important “survival skills” our children will need in order to thrive in this century and beyond. At the conclusion of the video, the Superintendent summarized its core message: “It’s not what you know, but what you do with what you know.” She then asked participants, “What do you think Salem’s young people will need to succeed? What are the skills and qualities that we as a community want a graduate of the Salem Public Schools to possess?”
    • Participants were then invited to reflect on these questions at their respective tables. Participants were given paper silhouettes of an SPS graduate, along with a list of 21st century skills and qualities. Participants broke into pairs at their tables and selected the top 5 skills that most resonated with them. Participants were also able to write in skills and qualities that seemed missing from the list.

Creating a Compelling Vision

The Superintendent then reconvened the participants and provided the following definition of a vision statement:

Examples of Vision Statements

  • To put a man on the moon in ten years -- JFK

  • To provide access to the world’s information in one click -- Google

  • All learners believe in their power to embrace learning, to excel, and to own their future -- Albemarle County Public Schools

"A vision is an expression of our deepest aspirations for our future and for our children."

The Superintendent also provided some examples of vision statements to ensure that everyone was on the same page regarding the purpose and importance of a vision statement. The Superintendent then introduced the next activity, which asked the audience to imagine a 21st century school system that builds the essential skills and qualities that young people will need for success. 

  • Purpose: Gain a better understanding of what the community believes the vision of the school district should be, and gauge their impressions of the draft vision statement. What inspired, moved, and concerned each community member?
  • Activity: The audience was asked: “What do we want to be able to say about our schools ten years from now at Salem’s 400th anniversary?” The next series of small table conversations was introduced, consisting of three parts:
    • Positive experiences: Participants take turns reflecting on a positive experience that their child, or a child they know, has recently had in the Salem Public Schools.
    • Vision crafting: Each table will brainstorm and craft its own vision statement for Salem Public Schools, and will then write this vision on the “Vision Wall” mural paper and on individual feedback forms. By posting their answers on the "Vision Wall" mural, all the teams could more easily identify any emerging themes or common ideas.
    • Feedback on draft vision statement: Participants were then given a card with the original vision statement that the School Committee drafted and were asked the following questions related to this draft vision statement.
      1. On a scale from 1 to 5, how inspiring is this vision statement? (That is, does it give you chills because it inspires, moves, maybe even scares you?)
      2. On a scale from 1 to 5, how much does this vision statement compel you to be involved in making it a reality?
      3. Are there certain keywords or phrases you’d like to see included in the vision statement?

Closing the Meeting

  • Purpose: To gauge the feeling in the room and understand what community members felt they were taking away from the evening's activities and discussions.
  • Activity: The Superintendent asked for several volunteers to offer one word to describe their feelings about the future of the school district. To determine how participants felt about the gathering and to inform future events, they were also asked to fill out an exit card before leaving, which included the following questions:
    1. On a scale of 1 to 5, after tonight’s event, how hopeful do you feel about the future of SPS?
    2. What should we make sure we include on the agenda for the next Citywide Conversation in March?

Citywide Conversation #2 (Spanish)

Over the years, as the population of Hispanic families in Salem has grown significantly, the relationship between the district and these families has been rocky at times. The current administration, led for the first time in the city’s history by a Hispanic woman, has made a commitment to listening to and better serving these families. An example of this commitment was a first-of-its-kind citywide conversation all in Spanish. The agenda was identical to the first Citywide Conversation. It was considered a resounding success and an important building block for the future.