2016 Year In Review

Our customers accomplished some impressive goals in 2016, and for our final post of the year, we wanted to share what they learned from their experiences.

Passing Bonds

On November 8th, Spartanburg County School District Two passed their $119M bond with 80% support. To date, this is the largest majority vote we have seen our customers achieve.

The three strategies Mercer and his team used to create their widely accepted facilities plan included engaging the silent majority, fact-based discourse, and
fine-tuning the plan with community input.

While Spartanburg’s results are exceptional, their strategy is one that we have seen work for other customers. Examples from previous years include Central Valley School District in Washington, who used the same approach to create a quality facilities plan and pass first bond in 17 years, and Spokane Public Schools who passed their $145 million bond with an unprecedented 68.9% majority vote.

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An Intelligence Tool for New Superintendents

As the new superintendent of Linn-Mar Community School District in Iowa, Dr. Quintin Shepherd faced the challenge of getting to know a new district and a new state.

The district was also facing some known challenges associated with a feeling that people were not being heard or asked for their input. Decisions were being made and it wasn’t always clear why things were being done the way they were being done.

Dr. Shepherd started his time in the District with a clear plan to tackle the challenges facing him. He would discover the broad themes that were important to his staff, parents and community through a 100-day listening tour, reflect his learning back to these stakeholders through his State of the District address, then dig deeper into the themes with a Thoughtexchange to help inform key initiatives for the District’s new strategic plan.

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Re-Using Thoughtexchange Results for High School Accreditation

“The accreditation team used our Thoughtexchange results to jump-start what would have been months of trying to collect different types of input. In the past, we needed numerous meetings and surveys to just begin to gather enough information for our working groups to do a self study.”

– Dr. David Vannasdall, Superintendent Arcadia Unified School District

Arcadia used Thoughtexchange to inform its local funding plan, or LCAP, which is part of California’s system for funding public education. Though Arcadia started with a uniquely California-focused engagement, they were also able to accomplish something important to districts across the country.

The three open-ended questions that informed Arcadia’s LCAP planning happened to be the same three questions customers across the country ask in their Thoughtexchange “Weather Reports”.

Namely: “What do you appreciate about our schools?”, “What are you concerned about?” and “Do you have any additional thoughts?”

The data and analysis from these open-ended questions also aligned perfectly with the requirements for Arcadia’s high school accreditation – a process that all school districts, nation-wide, must complete every few years.

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Sharing Communications Solutions Amongst Districts

In 2016 we partnered with the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and ran a Leadership Thoughtexchange asking school district communications professionals to share innovative communication strategies, success stories and ideas for future learning and professional development.

Many districts expressed an interest in enhancing marketing and branding initiatives, but had questions around how to develop communications activities to foster ongoing brand engagement – especially content for social media and storytelling.

The results of the Thoughtexchange offer some creative ideas and practical advice from fellow school district public relations and communications professionals.

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Using Thoughtexchange for the Harder Conversations

Topics like mental health and bullying, or initiatives that contradict a particular group’s fundamental beliefs are challenging to talk about because of the stigma or other risks associated with speaking out.

With these kinds of conversations, the ability to provide thoughts privately, and still see them recognized and heard by the community, can have a transformational effect.

Districts like Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools in Alberta, Canada and Westview School Corporation in Indiana proved just how much progress could be made with this approach.

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Understanding Priorities Around School Start Times

“Thoughtexchange really created the opportunity for our entire community to see both parts of the conversation, react to what they learned, and help us understand how they felt about that conversation.”

-Trent Allen, APR, Sr. Director of Communications

San Juan Unified School District started considering later start times for its high school students after a group of parents and other community members approached the District’s leadership with research supporting the health and learning benefits of a later start to the school day.

The District held meetings to get an initial read on the community’s reaction to later start times and quickly came to some important realizations. The first was that the impact of moving start times is highly personal. In order to be able to support any change, families would need to be able to talk about how much they were impacted. The second was that finding a way to hear, appreciate and organize, these stories would be critical to fully understanding the impact of any decision.

Knowing that their community would be divided, Allen and his team used Thoughtexchange to identify specific concerns and create a forum where participants could learn about the trade-offs from each other.

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Do any of these examples resonate with the challenges facing your district?

About the Author

Senka Kovacevic

Senka is a Writer. She has interviewed superintendents, communications professionals, business and thought leaders across North America and is passionate about bringing their experiences to wider audiences that can benefit from their learnings.

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