Breaking down communication silos with Thoughtexchange
Like many other districts in the state of Indiana, Westview School Corporation has been trying its best to adapt to state-level funding changes, and reached a point where they can no longer keep up. Despite their best efforts to work within the financial structure set out by the state,they may be forced to run a general fund referendum to cover the funding gaps created by the current state-wide model.
Doing that would mean asking taxpayers to help pay for things they never have before. Communicating this need and identifying common spending priorities in Westview is particularly challenging because the district has two distinct community groups with drastically different values, who have traditionally had very little interaction with each other.
About half the students in Westview are from conservative Amish families and need to be ready to leave the school system for the world of work by the time they finish Grade 8. The remaining half, referred to as “English,” go on to high school and have more interest in technology, higher education and global issues.
Accommodating these two very different trajectories within the same school system is one of the district’s biggest challenges.
Including them both in the same conversation was nearly impossible in the past, as traditional tools like online or phone surveys cannot reach the Amish households where families maintain a lifestyle without electricity or electronic devices. Even using paper and pencil versions of these tools couldn’t create a conversation between the two groups.
As a result, the district would engage each group individually and make informed, though ultimately best-guess decisions as to what the common ground between the groups might be.
Bridging the divide
Superintendent Dr. Randy Zimmerly went in search of a solution that could bring these two groups together, and discovered Thoughtexchange®. Using Thoughtexchange, the district was able to ask the entire community what Westview was doing well and where they thought it could improve.
They used their email list to electronically send a set of open-ended questions to the English community members, and provided paper-and-pencil versions of the questions for Amish members. They collected the Amish paper responses and sent them to the Thoughtexchange team to be entered into a spreadsheet.
In the following Thoughtexchange Star step, the Thoughtexchange team aggregated thoughts from both communities so that Amish and English thoughts appeared together.
For Dr. Zimmerly, seeing those thoughts together showed the beginnings of a true conversation between the two communities.
“The value I see, as a superintendent who’s been here a long time, is how Thoughtexchange got two very distinct groups talking to one another. That is really unique to Thoughtexchange. There’s an actual conversation – not us speaking to the community which so often is the case with surveys – but it’s the community talking to each other,” says Dr. Zimmerly.
“We were holding back on technology implementation, afraid of what attitude our community would take. But, with Thoughtexchange, we were able to see that there was a distinct point where the sentiment for the integration of technology would be positive.”Dr. Randy Zimmerly, Superintendent
Results that lead to action
The results of their first Thoughtexchange not only created “an enthusiasm and a motivation to keep things going” but also allowed Westview to create a scope and sequence for the appropriate use of technology in their classrooms.
“We were holding back on technology implementation, afraid of what attitude our community would take. But, with Thoughtexchange, we were able to see that there was a distinct point where the sentiment for the integration of technology would be positive,” Dr. Zimmerly explains.
The district has since implemented a one-to-one Chromebook program for its high school students, and received much affirmation for the initiative from grade 9-12 students, staff, and parents.
Seeing the thoughts of both communities together for the first time and the effect that had on the community was also a poignant moment for Dr. Zimmerly, who was raised in a conservative Amish-Mennonite community in Ohio much like Westview.
“I initially turned to Thoughtexchange for a bond issue. But, as an 18-year resident of this community – who has raised his family here and whose children will likely live in this community – I’m finding that Thoughtexchange is improving our community, as opposed to just getting me what I wanted as a superintendent. It’s actually becoming a way for us to talk to one another.”
Thoughtexchange provides software solutions that bring people together, build trust and make progress on important topics. Whether it’s employees, customers or whole communities, our solutions effortlessly connect you to your stakeholders. People can confidentially and independently share their thoughts, appreciate other points of view and understand how their perspectives are connected to decisions. Our patent-pending data analysis gives you the insights to make informed decisions and take action.
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