A vision that works if you let it – News-Press Now

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Updated: January 23, 2022 @ 8:43 am

People are passionate about their schools, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re engaged on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, things don’t boil over until there’s controversy.
In St. Joseph, folks got pretty interested in education once the future of three high schools was in play. The issue of critical race theory generated impassioned debate at board meetings across the country.
These discussions can be pointed, emotional and even ugly. But people should never have to apologize for taking an active interest in their schools.
The trick is to turn these passions into something productive that serves as a vehicle for meaningful improvement. The Vision Forward process has a chance to serve as that vehicle, but only if those in St. Joseph allow that to happen.
St. Joseph voters made their opinions known on last year’s $107 million bond issue. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the status quo is hunky-dory. Not with facilities but also not with academics, teacher pay and retention and other key metrics of success.
So what do you do about it? There’s still a trust deficit with the school board and administration. Strategic plans tend to get drawn up by consultants in closed-door rooms.
Vision Forward is more broad-based than that, with people from different parts of the community invited to get together to discuss what they want for the future of the St. Joseph School District. That means the discussion is driven not by bureaucrats and consultants but by your neighbors. Hopefully, it is an effort that can move beyond factionalism and reach more of a consensus on where this district needs to go.
There is risk here, namely in creating a process that operates parallel to the Board of Education and its subcommittees. Those challenges can be overcome as long as the process remains open and transparent, board members stay engaged and the final action plan is directed by the community as opposed to consultants brought in to act as facilitators. Superintendent Doug Van Zyl said the community engagement effort will be devoted to longer-range planning and will not usurp the board’s statutory obligation on matters of policy and finances.
At some point, an action plan will be presented to the Board of Education, which will have the final authority to approve, disapprove or modify. We can make no recommendation on that action plan, because it doesn’t exist at this point.
We will say that the process of community engagement deserves strong support, because when the schools succeed we all succeed.
A kickoff meeting is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25, at Word of Life Church. A virtual Zoom meeting is set for the following day. We encourage active involvement from all who care about St. Joseph and its schools.