One of the many worksheets pasted on a wall at Creswell Middle School during a recent session of the ”Strategic Planning Design Team.”
Mike Johnson has a plan. Not the plan, but a plan.
The Creswell School District superintendent has gathered a large, eclectic group of people – including students, teachers and administrators, blue- and white-collar workers, public safety officials, nonprofit leaders – from across every strata of our community.
This group will develop the plan.
Johnson has hired a third-party facilitator to help guide, focus and recap discussions of the ”Strategic Planning Design Team,” whose goal is to develop a vision and mission that will serve as CSD's ”North Star” through the next three to five years of Creswell's journey to better educate and prepare our students.
Vision and mission statements are tricky things.
I recall a well-known sports psychologist who worked with professional franchises in the San Francisco area, among other places, describing the inspirational mission statement that the NFL's 49ers had carved into a piece of granite in the lobby of their headquarters.
Every day, staff, players, coaches and visitors would pass by that glorious mission statement. And no one could tell you what it said.
During my time at ESPN the mission statement evolved, reflecting the less-is-more approach: ”ESPN: Serving sports fans, anytime, anywhere.” It's succinct. It's easy to remember and to articulate.
Johnson has scheduled four brainstorming/work sessions with this all-volunteer army, and two have taken place already.
The sessions are a site to behold, not unlike a beehive.
More than 40 people are divided up into smaller teams who then work together on exercises that help identify the core issues. Participants then discuss solution-oriented approaches for addressing the core issues.
Thought-starters are provided for the volunteers, and there's constant back-and-forth around ideas. Worksheets and notes quickly begin to look like overgrown gardens, with thoughts shooting out like weeds all over the place.
Large sheets of paper cover the walls and contain notes, scribbles and drawings, a collection of scotch tape and markers and scissors that would make any second-grader squeal with delight is always on hand, and the conversation seems to be at a constant crescendo.
Put simply, the participants are into it.
There are few unanimous decisions, yet people are in violent agreement that education is critically important and we're invested in making our voices heard.
The fact people are being heard, and given the chance to be heard, is no small feat.
That's powerful, because people will better support something they had a hand in creating. And the entire community's fingerprints are all over this project, thanks to the new superintendent's approach.
It's not especially glamorous work, but it's the elbow-grease application needed to make big change happen. Big change such as better pre-K, care for homeless and hungry students, life-skills preparation, job preparedness and higher education preparedness.
There are two more sessions planned by the end of December. It is this group's challenge to distill all of these ideas into a vision. Into a mission. And to be able to explain that mission effectively and succinctly.
It's a huge undertaking, a Herculean effort really, that Johnson is out front and leading like a high-stepping drum major. Well, maybe he's a bit more reserved than that, but you get my point.
He's even reaching out beyond this group, preparing a survey to send broadly to students and parents for additional input.
The big ideas and big push for improvement won't happen because of one person. But one person is making a difference by enlisting our entire community to help create a better future.
Noel Nash is publisher of The Chronicle.