(Editor’s Note: Harwood Union is undertaking a community visioning process and school co-principal Amy Rex agreed to a question-and-answer session with The Valley Reporter to explain the process.)
The Valley Reporter: What is Harwood Happenings and the Harwood Visioning process?
Rex: In the winter and spring of spring of 2013, the Washington West Supervisory Union sponsored two Innovation in Education seminars. A parent poignantly raised the question, “What sort of things are going on in my child’s school that reflects innovative education?” This question gave birth to Harwood Happenings. The intent of Harwood Happenings is to provide community members with an overview of the innovative practices currently in place at Harwood Union Middle and High School along with the rationale and necessary internal systems changes that need to occur to support the educational shifts. Furthermore, the upcoming Harwood Happenings presentation will also provide community constituents who wish to participate in the Harwood visioning process a framework of understanding; that is the current state of Harwood Union’s educational programming.
All people – students, teachers, administrators, parents and boards – know what they want from school. The visioning process brings these often-disparate aspirations into alignment around the focus all people share. The process identifies and articulates this common focus, which then becomes the purpose of the school. The process also supports diverse communities to create an image of the future along with identifying the values necessary to get them there. It is an important process because it builds a sense of shared commitment and serves as an inspiring and powerful force in improving opportunities for our young people.
It is essential that as many people as possible from each of the constituencies participate in the visioning process. If a vision is based on authority – the superintendent or principal – or only a partial representation of all stakeholders, then it will not be authentic or sustainable. In addition, it is also necessary to create a visioning committee. This group has representation from each of the constituencies and does the grunt work – collating, summarizing, drafting, editing and fine-tuning results into a cohesive document.
The Valley Reporter: How will the public be participating?
Rex: Capturing people’s aspirations is a process that requires time, care and strategy. People need to know that they have the freedom to express what they want about the purpose of Harwood Union with no limits – no reprisals. Therefore our process is designed to include all members of the learning organization and to be a multi-step process that will be conducted throughout the school year. It begins with providing communities an opportunity to learn about the current state of Harwood Union through the Harwood Happenings. These will occur in August and September. A brochure will also be created outlining the key points of the presentation. The brochure will be available in August.
The Valley Reporter: Can you explain the process?
Rex: The next step is called brainstorming; it is a facilitated forum in which constituents split into small groups and respond to a set of questions using a jigsaw protocol. There will be three brainstorming forums – one for teachers, one for students and then one for parents and community members. The parent/community forum will be held on Thursday, October 24, in the evening – details will be forthcoming. After the brainstorming, the visioning committee will begin its work of collating, sorting and framing the results. A second forum will then be held for the purpose of sharing the results and building consensus. The vision then goes through the fine-tuning process. The last stage is adoption and celebration. Be sure to know though that developing a vision is just the first step toward achieving it. The greatest challenge is in learning how to use it as a guide for action. This work is ongoing.
The Valley Reporter: Have you worked on a process like this before?
Rex: I had the great honor to bring my former school, a rural preK-12 school, through a similar visioning process. The results were amazing. It provided members of the learning organization an opportunity to voice concerns but then to be generative; that is to express their hopes and dreams for the type of learning organization – community they wanted to be along with the beliefs and values that would guide them. Last, the process created mutual trust – an essential factor for continuous improvement. Their vision continues to serve as the foundation for their work and has greatly improved continuity in programming across the grade levels.
The Valley Reporter: How will this change Harwood Union?
Rex: In a learning organization, a vision is a set of tools to guide the organization. It includes:
The vision statement – the goal; where we hope to see HU in the future.
The mission statement – overview of what we provide; how we will achieve our vision.
Core beliefs and values – the guiding principles or values we rely on when we are at our best in terms of teaching, learning, relationships and partnerships.
Learning expectations – the signature attributes we wish our graduates to share.
At this time, HU has a mission statement and identified learning expectations. The visioning process will complete our tool set by creating a vision statement and identifying our core beliefs and values. Harwood Union has a tradition of embracing new ideas and wide-ranging viewpoints. The visioning process will allow us to capitalize on our strengths while providing greater continuity, a clarity of focus, an understanding of our beliefs and values and a renewed sense of accountability in order to make a greater impact in preparing our students to be the very kind of citizens, scholars, professionals and solutions our society needs. The greatest change in Harwood teaching and learning and college and career readiness programs will be that they will be collectively designed and delivered to support optimum success for every student regardless of their aspirations.
The Valley Reporter: Who will serve on the visioning committee?
Harwood Happenings – Informational Sessions: Each session is the same and is designed to provide community members with an understanding of the current state of education at Harwood. Sessions are scheduled for August 22 at Crossett Brook Middle School from 6:30 to 8 p.m., September 21 at Waitsfield Elementary School from 10 to 11:30 a.m., and October 3 at Harwood Union High School from 6:30 to 8 p.m.