Residents share ‘perspectives, perceptions’ on the future of the district

The Nov. 9 Strategic Planning meeting focused on the direction of the Washington Township Public School District within the next five to 10 years

Members of the Washington Township community had the opportunity for their voices to be heard at the public school district Strategic Planning community focus group on Nov. 9. Attendees were able to share their vision for how they wish to see the district grow and develop, in all facets of education, over the next five years.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education signed a contract with Education Consulting Research and Analytics, a Schaumburg, Ill., firm focused on “assisting boards of education and educational leaders improve student outcomes by adopting more evidence-based practices.” Consultants Bill and Stacey Adams facilitated the meeting, held in the Investor’s Bank Performing Arts Center.

Superintendent Joe Bollendorf presented an introduction to the meeting but was absent for the active focus group to ensure his presence did not influence the discussion. According to Bollendorf, a strategic plan “of this magnitude” has never been conducted in the history of the district.

“We’re such a large community and such a big district, I thought it was important, for the purposes of validity, we bring in an outside agency to thoroughly collect the data, go through the data and make some recommendations as an objective observer. I think that is critical,” Bollendorf said. “If we really want to take a strong look at who we are, and what direction we want to go in, we need somebody who is going to be objective. We want to take a look at where our district is, and collectively as a community start making decisions on where we want this district to go.”

According to Stacey, the process in generating a strategic plan is extensive, and takes into consideration the “perspectives and perceptions” from all areas of the school district and township stakeholders, such as teachers, central administration, parents, students, residents, council members, Board of Education and more.

Based on information and data gathered through focus groups, one-on-one meetings, an online survey and research looking at the district’s budgets, past and present, organizational chart, technology plan, facilities plan, salary schedule and various components that encompass the school district, a “state of the district” will be conducted.

From there, a steering committee will be formed, with the goal of representing people from the entire community — business people, parents, students, teachers, faith organizations, administrators, Board of Education members and more. The committee will analyze the information collected and begin to develop a vision for the district. With that vision, smaller sub-committees will develop action plans, which will then be presented to the Board of Education in March or April, with the hopes of implementing the action plans as early as this summer or the start of the 2018–19 school year.

According to Bill, the school population reached a high of 8,400 students in the early 2000s, but has dropped significantly to the mid-7,000s. Demographics are projected to be at a low of 6,300 by 2020, he said.

“The children who started kindergarten this year are going to graduate high school in 2030,” Bill said. “What’s the world going to look like for them; what is Washington Township going to look like for them?”

Popular points of concern within the district shared by residents included diversity within the student body, as well as staff and administration, communication between students, staff and parents, as well as character education.

“I believe our school should teach restorative practice; our students should learn to talk about their concerns, their issues, and get to know one another on a more personal basis to build a community in our schools,” parent Colette Staab said. “I also believe in restorative justice as part of our discipline; I don’t feel as though the punishment always fits the crime, and we should be including parents, and people involved in the situation, to talk about the punishment best suited.”

Parent Melissa Glemser said she’d like to see students within the district have more opportunities to receive a strong background in science, engineering, technology and math.

“That’s where this country’s biggest weakness is, and it’s where we are falling behind,” Glemser said. “I want to make sure my kids have that strong background because it’s really going to impact every part of their life in the future.”

Additional comments on qualities a Washington Township High School graduate should embody included life skills, social skills, work experience, broad worldviews and empathy.

“We need to slow things down,” Staab said. “That’s a skill we need to push so people can build a community together, see concerns and recognize feelings when harm needs to be repaired.”

When attendees were asked to envision the “perfect school district” within the next five to 10 years, many responded with hopes for an inclusive, diverse, innovative and model school.

“I would like to see a school that is more inclusive to every type of person,” junior Kayla Webster said. “Lowerclassmen look up to upperclassmen, so I’d like to see more support for LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities and diversity.”

While the meeting was primarily focused on constructive improvements within the district, attendees were able to share the positives of Washington Township public schools, for instance the dedicated, committed teaching staff, a talented visual and performing arts program, innovative technological advances, safety and pride.

“In spite of everything, Washington Township has great pride, and I believe that is why the young people are out and why we are out, to continue that pride across the board to all people,” parent Kim Webster said.

Community members, with or without children, who wish to participate in the strategic planning process are encouraged to take the online survey found on the district website. For more information, visit www.wtps.org.