Competency 3: Community Relations

Related Task: 3.1 Ability to utilize staff and community involvement in developing goals and objectives for a school or school system. Specific Task 3.1.3 Outline a plan for involving community and staff in the development of a proposed curricular program. Narrative description of specific task: Develop a plan that communicates the vision of VR Tech‟s expansion and the incorporation of a local charter alternative ed high school. This plan would involve two parts. 1) Informing staff, students, and the community about the acquisition and current transition plans. 2) Create and participate in committee groups for focus on specific elements of programming changes. Evidence will consist of meeting minutes as well as final plans submitted for board approval.

Background: Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to be part of a unique idea. A local charter alternative education high school,WaveCrest Career Academy, run by the ISD, was going to close its doors within two years. Rather than just close and have students be forced to find another school, thoughts about a merger between VR Tech and WaveCrest began to emerge. The fundamental question that was asked at these initial meetings was; “together, could we create an even better alternative education environment than either school currently has?” This question turned into an exploratory committee to find an answer.

In January of 2013, the first exploratory committee, consisting of myself and three other VR Tech staff, and four WaveCrest staff met for two all day discussion sessions. The purpose of these was to determine if a merger was viable. After several more meetings over the remainder of the 2012-2013 school year, we determined that working together was the best path forward for students. This initial experience was very eye opening for me because of the difficulty of educators to collaborate in this instance. Many of the ideas that were expressed were originally

met with hostility and mistrust as to the motives of the person sharing the idea. This experience helped me to gain incredible insight into group dynamics, as well as perspective in regards to collaboration between educators. Once the group began to trust each others motives, a decision was made to move forward with planning during the 2013-2014 school year to determine what the new school would look like.

Structure Planning: In December of 2013 the current Director of WaveCrest and myself began to take all the ideas that had been formed in the group planning meetings with other staff. The two of us worked with Holland Public Schools Superintendent Brian Davis, and Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) Superintendent, Karen McPhee and their staffs to create a working model and implementation timeline to be presented to the boards of education for each school respectively. The WaveCrest director and myself were tasked with creating a credit schedule, determining course offerings, organizing community partner relationships, and creating collaboration methods and a timeline for students and staff to begin working together to smooth the transition from two schools into one. These goals were on a very short timeline of two months before we had to have everything ready to present to the boards for the February Meeting.

Credit Structure/Course Offerings: (See supplements)

Part of the original mission of creating a new school structure was to determine what needs students had, and how a school could help students be successful both during school and after graduation. To this end, the 18 credit structure of VR Tech and the 22.5 credit structure for WaveCrest were adapted to create a new 21 credit model that contained more beneficial course offerings and requirements. The highlights include adding four new .25 credit classes as a graduation requirement. Career Skills and Adult Living are two classes that we felt were needed

in order to help students transition effectively beyond high school. The Career Skills course would allow a student to explore possible career option, participate in job shadowing and mentoring, and would have a project component consisting of a resume`, mock interviews, and a career/college path articulated. The Adult Living course would consist of elements of personal finance, cooking, and „practical paperwork‟ (filling out loan applications, health documents, etc) This course would also focus on Costa and Kallick‟s Habits of the Mind model in order to teach the skills and mindsets of success.

The two remaining .25 credits are social studies classes. They are entitled The History and Culture of African-American Peoples, and The History and Culture of Latin-American Peoples respectively. We felt that these two courses would be incredibly important in order for our students to know more about the rich culture that they are a part of, or that is around them. This idea was based off of practices instituted by noted educator Baruti Kafele. These courses would be largely introspective and project based in origin allowing for a large amount of individual expression and dialogue. The goal of these courses is to not only educate and empower individuals, but to help strengthen school culture and community by fostering a sense of belonging.

Community Partner Relationships: (See Supplement) An important part of VR Tech‟s and WaveCrest‟s mutual success has been involvement with community partners. It was important to each school that we combine partners as best as possible, and supplement areas where each school was lacking. The first group of partners are faith based in nature with Ridge Point Church being a major partner of VR Tech, and Engedi Church being a similar partner for WaveCrest. Both churches have agreed to continue to help the school in whatever ways possible. This was a major victory for the new school design going forward as these church‟s provide valuable funding and community connection to our students.

Aside from monetary partners, we also wanted to have a great support system in place for students. This includes social work, access to daycare for teen parents, teen mothers and fathers groups, anger management, housing assistance, angel food network and much more. These partnerships are essential for alternative ed students to connect with the school, and the wider community.

Collaboration Methods: Collaboration methods were discussed in order to help students and staff work together and become acquainted before the end of the current school year, and again at the beginning of next school year.. This will help ensure a smoother transition for students and returning staff. For staff, this means having a cookout and games night in order to try and have some fun and fellowship together. Staff being able to work together is incredibly important moving forward.

As far as student collaborative events, there are several in the planning stages. The first few will be simple activity times. There will be a video game night, a general games night at a neutral location, and a softball game and cookout. There will also be several picnics and a beach day in the summertime to stay connected. During the first few weeks of school, much of the time will be culture building, rather than just instructional time. This will be used to develop Individual Development Plans (IDP‟s) for each student, as well as start our first projects with students presenting who they are and what their goals are. We also will have a field trip to an „outdoors challenge‟ where students will learn to fish, ride horses and quad runners, as well as shoot bow and arrow and rifles. A student leadership group consisting of both WaveCrest and VR Tech origin students will also be selected and will participate in a ropes course team building field trip.

Ideally, these collaborative measures will not only provide engagement for the students, but also help create a culture of teamwork, responsibility, and hard work. It is absolutely essential that a

positive culture is intentionally established with students. Without a positive culture, a large alternative ed high school could become a very dysfunctional environment in short order.

Reflection: Though this process entailed a year and a half of meetings and work, I could not help but feel the pressure of a final deadline. The process itself has given me great insights into collaborative processes. I witnessed a group that originally had a difficult time working together blossom into a functional and productive team. This process was slow, deliberate, and required a lot of work. This is a good indicator of some of the difficulties that some staffs face within buildings, and what I may face as an administrator. The experience will help me to work through issues within groups and help gradually change the tone and focus towards a common goal or goals.

This process also allowed me to see the enormous complexity in designing a new program. Having been through this process now, I feel very comfortable in being able to help design and implement programs in the future. This also speaks to the role of an administrator in that many of these determinations had to be made by us, but staff must feel like their input was valued as well. This balancing act between practicality, budget, and data research on one side, and teacher/student needs, and best practice ideas on the other, was incredibly challenging, but also amazingly rewarding. Administrators must balance these and other issues on a daily basis in order to have a building or program that runs smoothly.

While our work is by no means finished, these large steps transitioning towards the 2014-2015 school year have not only been challenging, but exciting as well. I am thankful for an opportunity that has allowed me to experience and learn so many things that are important in the lives of administrators. I have no doubt that given this experience, I can confidently lead a building and staff through times of transition.