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Class of 2020 vision begins to form

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Village public schools should teach students to embrace learning and curiosity, to accept diversity and to care about their community and others. When students leave Yellow Springs schools they should be able to think critically to solve problems, demonstrate resilience in the face of failure, and care about making the world a better place. The principles the school community needs to guide its students include caring about every child, valuing social justice, and being open to inspection and accountability.

These are some of the early themes that have emerged in the process of crafting the Class of 2020 strategic plan for the village’s public schools. While most of the 2020 process since it began last fall has been devoted to listening to other experts’ advice on how to improve public education, the current and final stage of drafting a local plan sized for Yellow Springs is moving at a fast clip. And several events starting this week and continuing through June are expected to culminate in a finished product by the end of the summer, which will then need to be put into action over the next few years, according to school board President Sean Creighton, who co-chairs the 2020 Steering Committee with school board Vice President Benji Maruyama.

The 2020 process was divided into three parts, beginning last October, with several KnowledgeWorks presentations and workshops on the hundreds of progressive education models currently being employed or developed around the world. Over the winter the district screened a series of films on contemporary education solutions and invited a series of speakers to address the issues of public education in today’s world. In April, the 2020 process moved into the phase of creating a plan for village schools. With the help of Wright State’s Center for Urban and Public Affairs, or CUPA, that phase began with a series of about eight small group discussions and interviews over the past five weeks with randomly selected participants, including teachers, administrators, students, parents and board members, who talked about the kind of schools they wanted for Yellow Springs.

CUPA’s Jack Dustin interviewed the groups about their visions for change in the schools, the ideal classroom size and function, the most effective roles for teachers, students and parents, and the values and ingredients of successful schools. According to a rough summary of the general responses provided by Superintendent Mario Basora this week, the visions for change focused on supporting curiosity as a driver for self-directed learners to explore, take risks and innovate while being facilitated by caring, committed teachers. The ideal classroom would be no larger than 20 students and would be socially and physically safe, flexible spaces for hands-on projects and group learning. The role of teachers should be to foster curiosity and entrepreneurship, adapt to different learning styles, and engage parents and community members in each individual’s learning process.

Regarding the capabilities that graduates of Yellow Springs schools should leave with, the group discussions produced a list including the capacity to problem solve, work hard, continue learning or enter the work force, and be aware of and care about the world around them. Among the ingredients necessary for success would be opening the schools to the greater community and the world, accountability for everyone involved, higher educational standards and alternatives to grades and assessment. The groups also came up with some possible themes for Yellow Springs schools, including “applied learning, cross disciplinary education, a community supporting individual success, and creative partnerships to expand capacity.”

The input from the group discussions will be used to design the next part of the 2020 process. This week, according to Creighton, the district will continue to gather more input from the wider community through a survey letter mailed last week to all village residents. The district encourages residents to complete the surveys in the manner indicated no later than June 5. (The school district initiated a separate internal evaluation survey in April, which was not directly tied to the 2020 plan. The results of that survey will be publicized sometime in June.) The 2020 survey data will then be analyzed by CUPA and the Steering Committee and encapsulated by a handful of priorities to be used for discussion groups at a public forum “Bistro,” to be held on Wednesday, June 8, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Yellow Springs High School cafeteria. The forum will also include a presentation from a group of students on their ideas about the 2020 initiative, and a time line and detailed review of the 2020 process up to this point. Finally, the Steering Committee and CUPA will retreat with all the data gathered and formulate a draft strategic plan to present to the school board for approval by the end of the summer.

Implementation of that plan, according to Creighton, will take another concerted effort over a period of a year or more to turn the ideas into jobs and processes. The district hopes to create task forces including dozens of parents and community members who have already volunteered to put the strategic plan to work.

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