City and school district officials and staff attended a two hour collaborative workshop at USD 231 headquarters on June 12 Staff photo by Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
City and school officials attended a joint workshop at the USD 231 school district headquarters on June 12 to discuss common goals and objectives.
Steve Swafford, consultant, led the two hour interactive workshop. Swafford’s biography says he has 30 years experience working with non-profit and education-focused organizations nationwide, in areas of strategy, leadership, volunteer development, communication and executive management.
Elected city officials in attendance included four of five city council members: Rich Melton, Todd Winters, Randy Gregorcyk and Mark Baldwin; and Steve Shute, mayor. Lee Moore did not attend.
Other representatives from the city included: Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator; Jason Bruce, parks and recreation director; Gonzalo Garcia, utilities director; Laura Gourley, finance director; Michael Kramer, public works director; Alan Abramovitz, human resources manager; Daneeka Marshall-Oquendo, communications manager/PIO; and James Pruetting, police chief.
Six of seven shool board members in attendance were: Rob Shippy, Shawn Carlisle, Greg Chapman, Kristen Schultz, Robin Strentz and Lana Sutton. Tresa Boden did not attend.
District staff attending included Pam Stranathan, superintendent; Dr. Jody Marshall, human resources director; Bruce Kraci, director of operations; Ben Boothe, director of secondary educational services; Jeremy McFadden, finance director; Leann Northway, communications director; and Karla Reed, professional development director.
Jason Camis, chamber of commerce president, also attended.When the meeting began, Swafford told the group that the goal of the interactive exercises they would be participating in was to bring out the best ideas from the group.
“I’m not the knowledge base in the room – you all are that knowledge base,” said Swafford.
The attendees were seated at tables in groups of three to four per table. Throughout the meeting, various topics were presented for each table to discuss. Following the discussion, one member from each table gave a summary of the main points or ideas that came up to the larger group.
The first topic of discussion was to consider past and potential future collaborations between the school district and city, and “blue sky” aspirations if there were no barriers, such as finances or staffing.
Past collaborations mentioned included the development of Madison Street, crossing guards, SRO Officers and fiber internet for the school.
Blue sky aspirations included recreation facilities, a community center, sidewalk expansion and cross promotion of events. One of the items mentioned under the heading of No Barrier Resources was targeting more young professionals to the community.
Swafford said the goal of this exercise was to identify good things that are already in place and to see opportunities to expand on that.
The next topic for consideration was “Filters of Change.”
Swafford said that when change comes the questions that arise are always what is changing, who is changing it, why, when, and how the change is happening. The group was also asked to try and identify common reasons for resistance to change.
“It’s reality, it’s a train. It’s coming down the track whether we like it or not. […] It’s going to impact the city and the district, and I want you all to identify what those things are from a collaboration standpoint and how the two entities can work closer together,” said Swafford.
Participants were asked to look at areas that fall under the headings of Culture/Society, Economy/Financial, Technology/Virtual and Regulations/Legislation.
Items mentioned after the exercise included collaborative planning for building new schools, upfront information regarding abatements and incentives used to bring in new businesses, dual use of facilities, more distance learning opportunities, efforts to make internet access available to low income families and more skills-based hiring to compete with college degrees.
Swafford compared internet access today to the need in the past for job seekers to have a telephone.
Other items mentioned included identifying municipal and/or district policies or legislation that might be restricting things from moving forward. A need for quarterly or regular meetings between the two entities was suggested.
Also cited under this topic was a need for more positive use of social media. Reference was made to a popular local social media page that frequently produces negative discussions.
Swafford told the group they were not alone in this, that it happens everywhere and cannot be controlled. He said it all goes back to positioning, branding and marketing.
“If your message is not being shared first, or [put] out there, somebody else will take that space away from what is actually happening. […] The reality is, when someone throws something over that’s not positive, we tend to be reactionary and want to respond to it. So how do you put something in place that’s proactive, knowing that those things are going to be lobbed at you?” said Swafford. He said it was a “moving target all the time” and was one of the toughest things to deal with.
As the workshop continued, attendees were asked to identify goals and objectives and how strategies to accomplish those could be implemented and achieved.
Effectively dealing with rapid growth and changing demographics was discussed, as well as challenges related to best use of limited resources.
Improving communications, both with the public and between entities, was identified as being of importance.
Swafford described “sacred cow” objections to change as being the type of commentary such as ‘we can’t do this because we’ve always done it that way.’
Near the end of the workshop, Swafford told the group they had made progress in this two hour exercise and said he would provide a written report detailing the meeting discussion.
“I want to commend you all. The ground that you’ve covered in a very short period of time was significant. I know this is not a clear road map but you have your destination of where you want to go,” he said.
Swafford suggested creating a joint task force to continue working towards the goals the group had identified at this workshop. He suggested the task force contain at least four, but no more than six members from both entities, and that it would be good if one of those members was from the chamber of commerce.
As the meeting closed, Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator, thanked Swafford and all the participants for making time to attend. She said she looked forward to the establishment of a task force and another meeting would be held in a few months to report on progress.
Steve Shute, mayor, thanked Swafford for his guidance, for keeping the workshop focused and on task, and also thanked all the participants for attending.
“We’re moving forward, we’re not looking backward. You never get where you’re going by looking in the rear view mirror, so we really appreciate the focus of all the folks in this room,” said Shute.