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School district hosts Navigation 2020 community meeting

South Whidbey School District will receive $1 million less from the state next year as student enrollment continues to plummet.

And because the drop in enrollment is likely to continue, the district needs to evolve to remain relevant in education, said South Whidbey School Board member Helen Price-Johnson.

The evolution has already begun, she added, and it’s time to again pull the public into the discussion.

From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 17, the district will host a public meeting in the commons at South Whidbey High School where school district administrators, teachers, school board members and people from the community will join to discuss the district’s strategic plan.

The plan, called Navigation 2020, is nearly complete after four and a half years of work, said Price-Johnson.

“Over the past four years, we’ve had community forums to gain insight, directions and values of our community. And beginning in November through and now culminating in May, we’ve done a strategic planning process,” she said. “The school board wanted to figure out what our strategic direction should take for the next five years in a very deliberate way.”

The goal was creating a blueprint for the district to follow.

During the previous four years, the forums brought into focus the values of vision, mission and the structure of the school district. It also asked “What 21st century skills do people value?”

The upcoming meeting will include how that four years’ of talk has shaped the district’s next steps.

“We’ll be bringing all that information we gleaned from the four years of forums, add to the six months of community forums, and bring them together to create strategic directions for our school district,” Price Johnson said.

The cost of not acting, of not evolving, will become detrimental to students, she said.

“The biggest downer about this is the decrease in financial support that we’ll be receiving from the state. We’re anticipating a drop of 75 to 100 students for next year,” she said.

“That translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars; next year, it will be about $1 million. We are feeling that we need to transform.”

A less-than-popular way to counteract the loss of revenue from the state would be to cut programs, she said.

“We can’t do less. Cutting our programs is not going to get us where we need to go,” Price Johnson said. “We really need to think differently about how we deliver our services.”

The downturn in revenue is not problem faced by South Whidbey alone.

“It’s happening in rural areas around the state. Oak Harbor and Coupeville also have decreasing enrollment,” she said.

The problem is about more than financial woes. The public education system itself is in need of an overhaul, she said.

“Public education across the board needs to transform to meet the needs of the 21st century student. We keep struggling to fit these learners into this old model,” she said.

Still, South Whidbey does have a big advantage.

“We’re ahead of the curve,” she added. “Because of our size, we are able to innovate.”

Price Johnson sees the proof in awards and recognition that the district has received from around the state.

“There are a lot of strengths to build on. This isn’t coming from a place of deficit,” she said.

Even so, the forums have shown a need to become more streamlined, and to better manage the money the district does receive.

“We are not expecting an influx of money in the short term, that’s for sure,” she said. “And that’s why we believe that we need to be proactive in our programs and in our systems; make them more efficient.”

Price-Johnson said there is no silver bullet to solve the issues the district faces. But finalizing its strategic direction will help, she said.

Dorothy Baumgartner is the facilitator for Navigation 2020 and sees Saturday’s meeting as a chance to fill out the framework that has been built during the previous years.

“Our intention for Saturday is to come as close as we can for being concrete about the strategic framework,” Baumgartner said. “Our hope is to have a vision statement and a mission statement.”

She is looking forward to getting a roadmap about how to proceed from this point forward for the next five years.

Baumgartner would also like to see it sent to the school board for approval.

During her tenure as facilitator, she has seen a shift in how the plan should be perceived and where it is headed.

“I think it is a system shift that is starting to happen. There is some culture engagement. Organizational work is really messy work because there are so many unknowns,” she said. “The pace of change is so fast, people are having a hard time staying with it.”

In addition to the system changes she has seen, Baumgartner has seen a shift in attitudes about the process as well.

“Because of some of the data that has emerged from these conversations, there are some things that emerged that weren’t addressed in the original intention; more cultural systemic kinds of things,” she said. “Things like concern about level of trust and respect in the district, people having a voice and seeing the results of that voice.”

Despite the need for a public school education evolution, Price-Johnson sees a lot of value in the system that has educated kids since the 1800s.

“There are needs that are best met through private education. But there is a responsibility of public education of creating an educated citizenry for our government,” she said. “And that’s the real role of public education.”

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