The highly anticipated Vision Summit on June 15 & 16 was a hugely successful event and a shining example of the synergy that invested community members can create together.
The summit was designed and planned in a collaborative effort between the district’s administration and dedicated parents and community members. Pre-planning meetings took place in November and February to pave the way for this successful community event.
The ideas generated and the information collected over the course of the two-day summit will be compiled and analyzed by the team tasked with writing the strategic plan for Colchester schools. As Superintendent Larry Waters said at the summit’s conclusion, “This is the very beginning of our work here.”
Approximately sixty-five people representing a wide range of ages, backgrounds, experiences, and careers attended the summit, all of whom viewed student artwork and listened to small chorus and band ensembles. Some of the participants took home door prizes donated by area sponsors.
The two-day event was structured around one-on-one interviews, small group discussions and collaboration, and whole-group presentations. The different discussion formats were used to generate a variety of wish lists, which were then aligned and unified in order to identify the common elements. The summit culminated with group planning centering around how to achieve those unified elements in our schools.
The wealth of ideas and beliefs about learning generated at the summit are too numerous to list here, but among them were the following:
• Schools should allow students to be more self-directed, and students’ interests should be a larger component of their education.
• Students should have more of a voice in their own learning, and they should be treated as colleagues rather than as subordinates.
• Learning can and should occur less in the classroom and more in the community; there should be more community-based activities in students’ education, and the community should be a support mechanism in the schools.
• The community isn’t just about Colchester, because technology makes the world smaller—so we need to utilize that more effectively while still bearing in mind that technology cannot replace face-to-face communication.
• We need to change the definition of school to not simply mean a physical space or an institution and the definition of student to not simply refer to those between the ages of 5 and 21 but rather to all of us in the community—all of us are lifelong students, and our community should support that.
• We must change what failure means, allowing it to become more of a learning experience rather than something resulting in punishment.
Co-facilitator Marge Schiller, who has led numerous summits of a similar nature over the course of her career, noted that the participants in this summit had a number of very similar goals and visions for the district, particularly the interest in intergenerational learning and activities. She also said that the many personal stories that participants shared really fueled the discussions and created a huge impact. She observed that there was a tremendous amount of ownership and involvement in this summit by the Colchester citizens.
Bill Romond, a retired deputy commissioner with the Vermont Department of Education, a member of Mobius’ board of directors, and a former CSD teacher, said, “The summit exceeded my expectations because of the unanimity of view. It was very comprehensive and collaborative, and there was a call for community commitment to be a part of the system. The [appreciative inquiry] process was really helpful in that it is designed to leverage strengths rather than focusing upon weaknesses.”
CMS’s assistant principal, Peg Gillard, said, “I was really inspired by the involvement of our students. They really contributed a lot, and I really appreciated it.”
Parent and community member Tom Bacon added, “There were so many great ideas and so much passion that it was hard to stay on topic.”
At the summit’s conclusion, Superintendent Larry Waters said, “This is one of the greatest community buy-in projects I’ve ever been in.”
As a closing remark, here is a quote from Dr. Lilian Katz, which was provided at the summit by MBS principal Julie Benay:
I really believe that each of us must come to care about everyone else’s children. We must come to see that the welfare of our own individual children is intimately linked to the welfare of all other people’s children. After all, when one of our own children needs life-saving surgery, someone else’s child will perform it; when one of our own children is threatened or harmed by violence on the streets, someone else’s child will commit it. The good life for our own children can only be secured if it is also secured for all other people’s children. But to worry about other people’s children is not just a practical matter; it is a moral and ethical one: to strive to secure the welfare of all other people’s children is also right.
—Dr. Lilian Katz