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School Board recoins 2020 Vision

The Mercer Island School Board has updated its district mission, values and strategic goals for 2009-2010 — a result of last week’s annual board retreat. The two-day conference, which was held in the Mercer Island High School Library, included Board members, Superintendent Gary Plano, district staff members and Mercer Island Education Association President Mike Radow. Professional facilitator Sue Bennett, an Island resident, led the discussion process. Although the event was open to the public, few residents attended.

The key objective of this year’s retreat was to refresh the district’s 2020 Vision, mission statement, values and strategic goals for the coming school year. Board members discussed the district’s current policies, tweaked the language and brainstormed new objectives for the district, focusing on clarity and impetus for change.

“Our vision needs to explain what it is we value. The mission says, ‘How do we get to this place?’” said Plano.

Overall, the MISD vision was shifted from focusing on what the system can achieve to what students can achieve. The School Board struggled with how to fully and accurately capture this goal in words.

“The Really Big Idea Committee has been trying to find a vision for two years now. Janet Frohnmeyer’s tagline is as close as we’ve come, but this tagline doesn’t serve as a vision either; it provides guidance,” Councilmember John DeVleming said, referring to the 2020 Vision tagline, “Successfully preparing students for the cognitive, global and digital world.”

Indeed, the school district has struggled to develop a concrete 2020 Vision since introducing the idea in 2007. The Really Big Idea Committee, which carried the responsibility of formulating a path for the district to follow in pursuit of the 2020 Vision, has spent hours debating over the means to an admirably ambitious — yet evasive — end. “What can we do to make MISD the best school district? How do we prepare our kids for today’s globally competitive world?” they asked.

The School Board is well aware of this quandary. And they tackled it head-on at last week’s retreat.

“I didn’t get anything out of the vision. It’s too vague. There is no guidance, and worst of all, there’s no inspiration,” DeVleming said.

Others sympathized with his frustration.

“We still haven’t captured the best phrase that we could use,” said School Board President Janet Frohnmeyer.

The members spent most of July 7 and July 8 brainstorming specific language that could enhance the district’s over-arching mission statement, vision and values.

In the final hours of their July 8 meeting, the School Board agreed on a draft 2020 Vision statement for 2009-2010: Our students will thrive in the cognitive, digital and global world while sustaining their passion and inspiration for learning.

The language of this statement takes the School Board’s original 2020 Vision to a more detailed and focused level.

There are nine fundamentals or “indicators of progress” behind the 2020 Vision, which are also included in the School Board’s “Policy 2020” document. These fundamentals will serve as guiding language toward achieving the 2020 Vision. Some of the fundamentals were revised to emphasize learning diversity.

“You want diversity to be included, more specifically. And you don’t mean just gender, religion and ethnicity, but divergent thinking and learning values,” Bennett said during open discussion.

In addition to diversity, the School Board also placed an emphasis on addressing pedagogy — the way that academic content is taught and discussed — rather than student assessment.

“Pedagogy is about how you support teaching, how you move students forward by moving teachers forward,” School Board member Adaire Dingle said. Plano rephrased the word “pedagogy” to “teaching styles,” while retaining the same purpose.

Another goal of the retreat was for School Board members to decide on three to five strategic imperatives for 2009-2010.

Originally, there were eight ideas floating on the table, yet Bennett asked the Board to narrow its list down to three.

After evaluating and debating each of the eight proposals, the Board decided that one comprehensive and clearly worded imperative would suffice. This would make their task of achieving imperatives more realistic, Bennett pointed out.

After much discussion, the Board agreed on the following goal: By August 2011, the Mercer Island School District will provide more personalized learning where student-centered education is responsive to students’ strengths and learning styles, interests, passions and affinities.

“We looked at many possible goals,” said School Board President Frohnmayer. “They all seemed to have elements of more personalized learning, so we decided one goal is enough. If we intend to sustain student passion and inspiration, then it logically follows that our system as a whole should focus on strategies to help students be more engaged in their own learning.”

Although the School Board approved the district’s new 2020 Vision and agreed on one overarching imperative, the nine fundamentals drafted last Thursday were handed over to Plano for review.

The superintendent agreed to polish up the language of these “indicators of progress” and, with help from DeVleming, compose a final draft, which he will discuss with MISD principals and his leadership team. Plano will then bring the document back to the School Board at its Aug. 13 meeting for adoption before the 2009-2010 school year.

The new 2020 Vision can be viewed online at www.misd.k12.wa.us.

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