Citywide Conversation #3

As part of the district leadership’s commitment to transparency and authentic engagement of the community in charting the district’s future, a third Citywide Conversation was held.

The chief goals were to: 1) To update the community to the Salem Public Schools Strategic Planning Process, 2) To share the recommendations developed by each of the Work Teams with the community, 3) To create an appetite for continued involvement in the change process.  

For this session, the event venue was set up with about 18 round tables, each labeled with two of the six “Levers for Change” that would be discussed at that table in the second part of the evening’s agenda. Upon arrival at the event, participants were directed to sit at a table that was labeled with two of the six “Levers for Change” that they found most personally relevant. Providing choice is an important tenet for learning, and we felt that it would set the stage for more meaningful conversation.

We once again recruited district staff members to serve as facilitators at the tables, and we created a facilitation guide (similar to the one we created for the first Citywide Conversation) to help guide our volunteer facilitators.

Putting Students at the Center

Participants at the first Citywide Conversation noted their keen interest in seeing students having more of a say in their own learning experiences. We took that to heart in planning the third Citywide Conversation. For example, after the Mayor opened the event and shared the purpose of and agenda for the evening, she invited a middle school student to come up to the stage to read a powerful poem she had written in an after-school program. Later in the evening, the Superintendent presented a video montage of art that was created by middle school students as part of a curriculum on identity and social justice.

Sharing Key Findings

The Superintendent then shared some of the key findings from the first Citywide Conversation (both the English-speaking version and the Spanish-speaking version), and reported some of the findings that emerged from a recent community survey, and several student focus groups. The Superintendent then asked participants to take a few minutes to discuss these findings at their tables, specifically responding to the following questions:

  1. Were there any surprises?
  2. Is there anything you want to know more about?

The Superintendent then reported back to the community on the following:

  1. She revealed the six skills and qualities that participants in the first Citywide Conversation had cited as the most critical for every Salem Public Schools graduate to possess.
  2. She showed a “Wordle” – or word cloud –containing the community’s ideas for the vision. She also showed how a new vision might look on a mug or a t-shirt.

Creating a Compelling Mission Statement

The Superintendent then introduced the first small group discussion of the evening. She presented a new mission statement that, in the months since the first Citywide Conversation, was drafted by the Senior Management Team, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee and the School Committee, based on feedback from the Citywide Conversations.

  • Purpose: Obtain feedback and buy-in from the community on the new mission statement.
  • Activity: Table facilitators led a discussion about the revised statement, with the following questions as conversation prompts:
    • How motivating is the mission statement?
    • How well does this mission statement capture the overall purpose of Salem Public Schools?

Facilitators also asked participants to complete a mission feedback survey so that individual feedback could be collected. Participants also discussed the new draft vision statement and the revised set of values—to inform final decision-making by the district and School Committee.

Work Team Recommendations

  • Purpose: Engage community members in a deep discussion of two of the six Levers for Change.
  • Activity:
    • Participants were given a worksheet for each of their assigned Levers that listed all of the goals and strategies (along with potential action steps) for that Lever, and they broke into pairs and discussed the following questions for each strategy:
      • How effective will this strategy be in strengthening Salem Public Schools? (Please circle a number from 1 to 5, with 1 being “Not at all effective” and 5 being “Extremely effective”).
      • What questions do you have about this strategy?
      • What additional thoughts or ideas do you have related to this strategy?
    • Participants were given about 12 minutes to complete this worksheet, and then the table facilitator led the group in a discussion of the Lever for another 12 minutes.
    • Participants were asked to share their thoughts on the goals and strategies, and the table facilitator recorded their comments on a poster, categorizing feedback as either “warm” (anything positive, e.g., “This strategy sounds like it could have a significant impact” or “I can imagine this happening here in Salem”) or “cool” (anything negative or skeptical, e.g., “This sounds like something we tried before and it didn’t work” or “This is going to cost too much”).
    • Each table then repeated this process for the second Lever. 

Highlights and Closing Comments

  • Purpose: Understand what community members are taking away from the evening's conversations, as a critical input into the final phase of the strategic planning process.
  • Activity: The Superintendent asked for some volunteers to talk briefly (a couple of sentences) about their table conversations, with the following three questions in mind.
    1. What did you learn tonight that you’re most excited about?
    2. What advice do you have for the Senior Management Team as we turn these proposals into concrete plans?
    3. What one idea would you be interested in helping move forward?

Participants also filled out exit surveys before leaving the event.