A New Superintendent Blueprint
After ten years as a superintendent in two different school districts
just outside of Chicago, Dr. Quintin Shepherd was recruited to be the new
superintendent of Linn-Mar Community Schools near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In Dr. Shepherd’s words:
Coming in and trying to get to know a new group of administrators and a new community, compounded with the fact that it was a new state for me, meant a pretty steep learning curve.
Dr. Shepherd’s new district was also facing some known challenges that, in no
small part, led to the search that resulted in hiring him. He continues:
There was this feeling 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. The District also knew we were facing changes in education and the
Board wanted to be as public and transparent about that as possible.
In addition to what Dr. Shepherd refers to as “poor optics,” the District needed
to begin work immediately on a new strategic plan. Its existing plan was ten
years old and had been out of date for several years at the time of his hiring.
And, finally, the District’s buildings were “bursting at the seams.” The District
had long run out of space and classes were overflowing into portables and
hallways. The new strategic plan would have to encompass a comprehensive
plan and process for new facilities.
A clear plan
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, reect 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.
To ensure that the results of the engagement were useful for strategic planning, Dr. Shepherd and his team focused on creating cohesiveness between each step of the plan.
They used the themes that came out of the listening tour to build the questions for the Thoughtexchange process, and encouraged people to listen to the State of the District address prior to participating to establish the context for the Thoughtexchange.
“There was a genuine excitement for what the next step would be, how we would use this information and where it would go from here.”Dr. Quintin Shepherd, Superintendent
Setting a tone of listening
Dr. Shepherd continued to hold PTO meetings during Linn-Mar’s Thoughtexchange process and was pleased to receive feedback about how the tool was transforming community dialogue and exceeding the expectations of participants.
“When people logged on and actually saw what other people had written, and then got a chance to give their feedback on that by assigning stars, they felt like they were part of a conversation that was in the process of evolving,” Dr. Shepherd explains. He continues:
There was a genuine excitement for what the next step would be, how we would use this information and where it would go from here. That’s an experience that I’ve not yet had as a superintendent. When you give out a survey and people are genuinely excited to know what the next steps are in the process, that’s a very rare ed place to be.
Participant thoughts define strategic plan
The next step for Dr. Shepherd and his team was to use the Thoughtexchange results to create a new strategic plan. This is the point at which the District started to distance itself from the DRIP (data-rich, information-poor) syndrome associated with past surveys. According to Dr. Shepherd:
You’re not just collecting data. Thoughtexchange allows you to dig into the
process to find meaningful information that is specific, descriptive, and recommends a course of action. It is the process of turning data into information that schools don’t have the capacity to do.
Dr. Shepherd continues:
With Thoughtexchange, we not only have access to the information, but are given the opportunity to turn that information into new knowledge and to inform new practices.
The three major themes laid out in Dr. Shepherd’s State of the District address became the strategic directions for the District. By looking at the themes that came out of their Thoughtexchange, Dr. Shepherd and his team identified six goals within these directions.
They then used actual, verbatim thoughts from participants as the dozen or so initiatives under the goals. The District decided to quote the verbatim language from the participant thoughts so the community would see that their input truly was used to create the plan. As Dr. Shepherd notes:
We can say to the community not only did we hear you, not only did we respond to you and build a strategic plan around this, but you can literally nd your own language in here to show the work that we’re doing.
Moving forward together
Dr. Shepherd reflects on what the District was able to accomplish through his plan for his first year as Superintendent:
The community is thrilled. We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback. The Board of Education is ecstatic, because we actually have community input – 162,000 interactions – that lend credence and depth to the Board’s strategic planning process.
Linn-Mar Community School District looks forward to the public release of its strategic plan inthe fall of 2016. Knowing that facilities upgrades are on the horizon, Dr. Shepherd and the Board are using Thoughtexchange to get more feedback, and ultimately support for, the projects that will be needed. In summary, he has this to say:
Thoughtexchange has allowed us to be truly responsive to our community.
We’re not just going to ask for feedback, we’re going to move on it, or not, and have a reason why.
It has allowed us to make manifest the promises we’ve made.
"Thoughtexchange has allowed us to be truly responsive to our community. We’re not just going to ask for feedback, we’re going to move on it, or not, and have a reason why. It has allowed us to make manifest the promises we’ve made."Dr. Quintin Shepherd, Superintendent