Wisconsin, like many other states, is faced with attacks by some of its citizens on public employees, public education, and local community services. These attacks are a direct outgrowth of how all of the parties have developed, used, and abused their power relationships with each other over a period of many years. While these attacks must be vigorously resisted, they also point to a need to deal with each other in a dramatically different way. We believe that way is to build collaborative relationships among all the stakeholder groups in the community.
School district and community stakeholders should be fully informed and engaged in a collaborative process to determine the potential reduction in educational opportunities and community services for students and adults. Collaborative processes allow the school district and community stakeholders to successfully assess the current reality, evaluate the interests of the parties and determine the best solutions for these complex issues created by the financial burdens placed on local school districts and communities.
The context/environment/climate for public schools, like our communities, has changed. The context of the community can’t be ignored in how we move public education forward. Community governance and school governance should be interdependent rather than independent entities. They are part of the same system.
School Districts and communities are systems whose constituent groups are intertwined within other larger systems such as the state legislature. When traditional governance structures are threatened as they are now due to the reduction in state aid for schools and communities and re-alignment of school district and community roles in managing budgets, programs and staff, it clearly demonstrates the need for collaboration within the various governmental entities at the local community level.
Public school districts and local towns, villages, and cities, as traditional systems, are structured in ways that limit their ability to make decisions on complex issues through collaborative and synergistic thinking. To increase our ability to make meaningful decisions, based on our collective knowledge, skills, abilities and thinking, the structure of these systems must become more collegial and collaborative. Strong positive relationships with all stakeholder groups are the basis for transforming the school districts and local communities from separate traditional organizations into collaborative systems. Working together, school districts and local communities are in a better position to transform a hostile environment and to sustain their roles within the democratic society.
All school district and community stakeholders including city and town councils, school board members, administrators, staff and their associations, politicians and the critics must assume a greater role in the ownership, accountability and responsibility for improving public education and local community services.
We believe that all school district stakeholders, and especially those community leaders not often included in educational decision-making, must become part of collaborative planning processes. These processes include Future Search Conferences, Appreciative Inquiry Summits, Stakeholder Focus Groups, and other processes that engage all stakeholders in dialog focused on the needs and interests of students and adults and suspend preconceived solutions.
One way to begin this new way of working together is to bring a group to the Collaborative Leadership Trust Conference. The Collaborative Leadership Trust is a national non-profit network designed to support school districts, communities and other organizations in their efforts to build and sustain a collaborative culture, shared governance systems and shared consensus decision making processes. (Click here for more information.)
Collaboration is the model for how we want our children to live. We believe the effort we put into resolving these issues collaboratively is a measure of how much we value our children. Collaborative processes allow the school district and community in concert with all stakeholders to successfully assess the current reality, evaluate the interests of the parties and determine the best solutions to the complex issues created by the financial, educational, and social burdens placed on local school districts and communities.
Written by Karen Alexander and Jermitt Krage
Collaborative Partners LLC
Jermitt Krage is team member with Collaborative Partners LLC. He has dedicated his career in public education to “working with those who want to change the culture of schools and who are willing to make schools better for children and to improve the quality of learning for children and adults.” After public school teaching in Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska, Jermitt served over 30 years as an organizational development and training specialist with Wisconsin Education Association Council. For the past 20 years as a facilitator, trainer and consultant, he has worked with over 100 school districts across the country conducting more than 1000 sessions with school personnel, parents and community members. To e-mail jermitt, his name (one word) @netzero.net
Karen Alexander‘s background includes 10 years of teaching in wisconsin, and over 15 years working for the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the National Education Association innegotiations and as an organizational consultant. Karen’s work includes executive induction processes, consensus bargaining, organizational restructure, and strategic planning/vision processes. To e-mail Karen, kdalexanderATwildblueDOTnet