Overcoming the new superintendent challenge with Thoughtexchange

about a 6 minute read

Overcoming the new superintendent challenge with Thoughtexchange


Linn-Mar Community Schools-logoDr. Quintin Shepherd took on a leadership challenge when he accepted the position of Superintendent at Linn-Mar Community Schools in Iowa.

Dr. Shepherd not only faced the steep learning curve that all superintendents who are new to communities and states face, he also had to create a new strategic plan for Linn-Mar that addressed the district’s overflowing school facilities. And he had to do that while coming into a difficult community engagement situation.

“There was this feeling that people were not being heard or asked for their input,” Dr. Shepherd says. “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.”

Part of an evolving conversation

Dr. Shepherd approached his challenge with a clear plan. He would embark on a 100-day listening tour of the district and then communicate what he heard back to the community at the end through a state-of-the-district address.

Through a partnership with Thoughtexchange, he and his team would dig deeper into the themes he discovered in the listening tour to build open-ended questions and share them with the community.

By letting people respond confidentially in their own words and consider thoughts shared by others, they would learn what was really important to people and include that in the district’s strategic plan.

After delivering his widely promoted state-of-the-district address and laying out the three key themes that emerged from his tour as strategic directions from the district, Dr. Shepherd and his team launched their exchange with an email to their community.

“When people logged on and actually saw what other people had written, and then got the 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,” he says.

“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 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 rarified place to be.”

“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.”Dr. Quintin Shepherd, Superintendent

Specific, descriptive and action-oriented information

Their discussion came to a close with resounding positivity from the community. Dr. Shepherd and his team then used the data visualization tools Thoughtexchange provided to easily navigate the rich data from their exchange and hone in on the most important points to include in the new strategic plan.

“You’re not just collecting data,” he notes. “Thoughtexchange allows you to dig into the process to find meaningful information that is specific, descriptive and recommends a course of action.’

The Linn-Mar team took the three strategic directions they had set out earlier and paired them with themes that emerged from their exchange to identify six major goals.

Letting people know they have been heard helps create confidence around any decision. So the team decided to use the exact words people shared in their thoughts as the action steps to help reach the goals outlined in the strategic plan.

“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 find your own language in here to show the work that we’re doing,” Dr. Shepherd says.

He adds that Linn-Mar’s board of education was “ecstatic” to have so much participation from the community to provide depth and credibility to its strategic plan.

“Thoughtexchange has allowed us to be truly responsive to our community. We’re not just going to ask them 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 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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