The agendas for the later work team meetings in the planning process were more variable and less standardized across the work teams.
While the first several meetings helped the work teams become established, get to know one another, and arrive at intended outcomes, the fourth through sixth meetings were more specific to the lever for change and the groups’ diverse agendas and inclinations. By design, these agendas were less prescriptive, allowing the work to emerge organically from the co-leads and their team.
In general, the agendas that work team co-leads developed for the fourth work meeting tended to include 1) some type of warm up activity (video, text study, etc.), 2) summary/reminder of what was discussed in previous meetings, and 3) discussion of issues/priorities that emerged during the previous work team meetings. The co-leads of the different work teams chose warm-up activities that made sense given their specific context. For example, the High School Work Team co-leads chose a video about the importance of 21st century skills. The Early Childhood Education Work Team co-leads did a text study on the Child Trends report, “Early School Readiness” and Thrive in 5’s Boston School Readiness Roadmap. The Meeting the Diverse Needs of All Learners Work Team completed a text study using Educational Leadership’s “Differentiated Instruction and RTI: A Natural Fit” and an excerpt from Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real about Race in School. These warm-up activities served the purpose of focusing work team members on the issues at hand.
The agendas for the fifth work team meeting were designed to help each work team get closer to developing a full set of recommendations. In the case of the High School Work Team, the co-leads and New Profit arranged a video conference with a school district in California to hear about its multi-year redesign efforts.. The Early Childhood Education Work Team invited a representative from a leading non-profit policy and advocacy organization that helps communities expand support for and availability of early childhood education. The Portfolio work team discussed three potential school models that it might include in its final recommendations.
Several of the work teams also used part of the fifth meeting to begin to complete the Goals and Recommended Strategies Worksheet, a tool to help work teams develop a set of recommendations that addressed the following:
- Goal statement(s)
- Rationale for goal(s)
- Recommended strategies to achieve goal(s)
- Evidence/data to support strategies
- Potential tactics to consider to pursue strategies (optional)
- Stakeholder socialization (optional)
Some of the bigger work teams split into smaller groups, one for each issue area or goal, in order to fill out this worksheet more efficiently. Other work teams -- particularly those with fewer members -- chose to fill out the worksheet together for all of the issues or goals that the work team had identified.
Part of our intent for this worksheet was to ensure that all work teams submitted their recommendations in a parallel format, so that it would be easier for us to reconcile and combine all of the work teams’ recommendations. As it turned out, not every work team closely followed the format of this worksheet, so we did not end up with consistently formatted recommendations as we had hoped. In hindsight, we might have been more prescriptive because it would have saved considerable time later on when we were pulling all of the recommendations together, trying to identify gaps and overlaps, and filling in other missing pieces.
Four of the six work teams had a sixth meeting. The Meeting the Diverse Needs of All Learners work team had agreed upon a well-defined set of recommendations by the end of the fifth meeting. The Family & Community Engagement Work Team chose to only hold four meetings because the district had just received a foundation grant to support a multi-year effort focused on family and community engagement; the work team wanted to allow time for its work to be aligned with that of the technical assistance provider assigned to the grant. Of the four work teams that held a sixth meeting, most of the agendas focused on finalizing the team’s recommendations. Most of the work team co-leads also led their teams in a closing exercise returning to the postcards that were used by some teams at the beginning of the strategic planning process. In this exercise, each work team member was asked to pick a postcard that represented their answer to one of the following two questions:
- What do you aspire to on behalf of Salem’s kids?
- How do you feel about the last 5 months?
This exercise served to close the work team process in a meaningful way. The work teams spent much of their time together in fairly intense, time-sensitive work mode, so this enabled them to take a step back, reflect on the work team process, and share their thoughts -- both with their fellow work team members and co-leads, as well as with the New Profit team. It served as a kind of barometer of the effectiveness of the process as a whole.