Gowanda Central School District is approaching the 2021-2022 academic year with one eye on the horizon.
Finding time to focus on “the big picture” of education is important to the mission and vision of the district, and its latest effort to engage the community in long-term planning and goal-setting took the form of a Blueprint Day held Aug. 3 on its campus. (You can read the “Gowanda Blueprint for Success Plan 2021-2022” here.)
“It’s important for our district and stakeholders to know what we are up to without people wondering what we are up to,” noted Dr. Robert B. Anderson, superintendent of schools. “At the end of the day, it is about improving student outcomes.”
The strategic planning event was an opportunity for the district to develop better plans representative of the community and consider what’s working, what it would like to improve upon and how everyone in the school community feels about the work.
“We want to be transparent and give real-time information on our progress — or our lack thereof,” says Anderson.
For five hours more than a dozen community members got together with the district administrative team to strategize. And the business of educating children centers on preparing our community’s children for a future with a lot of unknowns, an uncertain future most of us can only imagine.
The top priority areas — family & student engagement, systems & processes, conditions for success and individualized opportunities — were the focus.
“Who are we and who do we want to be?” asked Anderson “And what are we willing to do to meet our priorities?”
These big conversations aren’t simple, but they are necessary. These talks beget decisions and, ultimately, action. Turning a critical eye toward the district’s mission, vision and collective commitments sounds daunting. Especially in a district with a high poverty level in a rural agricultural community with a strong Native American population. It’s also exciting and, at times, surprising. But it’s always informative.
Following up on the data submitted via an online Thought Exchange in May 2021 that saw community stakeholders weigh in on what matters most to them, the Board of Education looked at the feedback as a way to help the district shape its goals.
No detail is too small: Enhancing STEM, attendance accountability, teachers and students working together, social emotional learning and taking a step back from screentime-heavy days of remote learning were all identified as concerns via the most recent community survey.
Feedback can vary wildly: Air-conditioning, long considered a luxury, was a few years ago identified as a necessity after years of sweltering classrooms. The intolerable conditions hindered teaching “because it’s insanely difficult to concentrate and learn when the room you’re in is over 90 degrees,” according to survey feedback. Other issues singled out include poor attendance, lack of effort and little parent support — seen by one survey respondent as “the root of most of our problems.”
But there are also compliments: “Teachers are the front line. Their expertise and knowledge of students needs to be taken seriously.” “My children’s teachers at GES went above and beyond this year, completely changing how they teach. That needs to be recognized.”
Blueprint Day opened with presentations by the administration giving an overview of what they are proud of, things they’d like to work on and their hopes, dreams and visions for the future.
“Each department gave a 5-minute snapshot of strengths and areas of growth with an opportunity for questions and answers,” said high school Principal Rebekah Moraites. “Each of these were developed into an objective and a list of brainstormed ideas of how to accomplish this objective.”
David C. Schwedt taught at Gowanda CSD for more than 30 years. He has lived in the community for 57 of his 84 years. He says education is in his blood and attended Blueprint Day to weigh in on the district’s many facets — where it is, where it should be going and how it can keep growing.
“I thought the session was well-organized and fast-paced,” said Schwedt. “The break-out group I worked with considered how to improve professional development sessions, mainly to make them more focused on what the teachers perceive their needs to be.”
In mid-August, district leadership discussed the data gathered at the Blueprint Day to help make measurable action. The process continues next summer, when another Blueprint Day is planned for fine-tuning purposes.
Local resident Christina Cassel found Blueprint Day to be “positive and inspirational.” She has grandchildren attending elementary school in the district, but is also very interested in being a part of helping the school district grow and prosper.
“It is a great start,” said Cassel of Blueprint Day. “And I think it’s important to work together as a community to support our school district in any and all efforts to help each and every student to have a good school year.”
If you’d like to work together on the needs and wishes of its school community, then Gowanda CSD wants to hear from you. Anyone interested in participating in future stakeholder opportunities should reach out to district clerk Kathy Ferneza at (716) 532-3325, ext. 6300 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.