Capital School District completes second phase of strategic plan

 

Forty-two Capital School District stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, business owners and more gathered at the Capital Administrative Complex for a series of co-labs to contribute to the district’s strategic plan. (Submitted photo/Capital School District)

Forty-two Capital School District stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, business owners and more gathered at the Capital Administrative Complex for a series of co-labs to contribute to the district’s strategic plan. (Submitted photo/Capital School District)

DOVER — Capital School District moved one step forward in the development of its strategic plan last week by holding several co-labs at its administrative complex.

“I’m really proud of our 42 stakeholders,” superintendent Dan Shelton said Thursday. “They’ve all volunteered to be here and share their opinions to help us through this phase.”

The co-labs were the second of four phases necessary to develop a strategic plan.

The first phase — discovery, began back in March with public meetings and online surveys.

“The point of the meetings and surveys was to identify the stakeholders in Capital School District and the concerns they have because not all school districts have the same stakeholders and the same concerns,” said Andy Hegedus, founder of Demosophia and leader of the co-labs.

Andy Hegedus, founder of Demosophia, LLC led the democratic dialogue at Capital’s co-labs. Demosophia used the days of discussion to create data which will help Capital focus on issues deemed most important by district stakeholders. (Submitted Photo/Capital School District)

Andy Hegedus, founder of Demosophia, LLC led the democratic dialogue at Capital’s co-labs. Demosophia used the days of discussion to create data which will help Capital focus on issues deemed most important by district stakeholders. (Submitted Photo/Capital School District)

Demosophia, based in Newark, is a specialty consulting firm that partners with organizations to strategically solve the complex problems using data generated by stakeholders. The district’s board of education voted at its Jan. 20 meeting to pay Demosophia $45,000.

The discovery phase allowed Demosophia to create a 30-page document that reported the results and determined the make-up of the co-labs and primed the participants.

The 40-plus participants included Capital teachers, staff, students, parents, business owners and more, all selected from an open call issued by the district in mid-March.

Those chosen were selected to represent the groups described during the discovery phase.

The co-labs were phase two — design. The sessions were essentially large discussions — structured democratic dialogue — which gathered information to create a deep understanding of a large complex problem.

“We use the supplies and context the district provides. The important thing is that we don’t touch a word of content,” Dr. Hegedus said. “We don’t draw any conclusions or recommendations, just present the dialogue as data.”

The overall goal of this phase of research is to determine the characteristics of an ideal Capital School District, the barriers in the way and solutions that can break those barriers.

The co-labs took place over five days and allotted enough time for each stakeholder in attendance to express their opinions through round-table discussions.

“I think the most important thing to recognize about the co-lab process is that the democratic dialogue allowed us to share ideas in a way that people were comfortable to disagree,” Dr. Shelton said. “It also allowed us to understand different points of view on important topics.”

On Thursday, stakeholders used the democratic dialogue technique to focus on barriers, each giving only one variable (a perceived problem) per round until all variables were exhausted.

“We don’t stop for questions until everyone gets all the ideas they have out,” Dr. Hegedus said.

To narrow variables down to very specific phrases in order to generate data, stakeholders could ask the person expressing their opinion questions after all ideas were on the table.

For example, a broad variable like “not enough time for planning,” was narrowed down to “limited time for collaborative reflection and meaningful professional development,” through brief questioning.

Demospohia takes an advanced approach to data produced by collecting and analyzing results in real time.

As stakeholders read aloud their variables, they were typed into an online document for the public to see and for “supporting dialogue staff” could cluster the variables into general areas of interest like behavior, perception, staffing, services and realignment.

The supporting dialogue staff posted the clusters in the hallway and during breaks stakeholders could check to see if their variable fit into the cluster they thought appropriate.

To keep all the stakeholders’ minds active throughout each of the five day-long sessions, each was given a personal container of Play-Doh.

“We find the Play-Doh keeps everyone involved throughout the day. It can also be a stress-relief mechanism while they’re thinking,” Dr. Hegedus said. “And I think people were engaged the whole time and lots of ideas were generated.”

After all stakeholders shared their opinions and approved the clusters, they headed back into the co-lab and voted on the most important variables brought up.

Friday’s and Saturday’s co-labs followed a similar method to determine actions that can be taken to break down the barriers determined in Thursday’s session.

The series of co-labs allowed Demosophia to create “maps of influences” based on the ideas generated throughout the co-labs. The mapping process involved some work in small groups, not just as a whole.

The map is a visual representation of the relationships between the ideals of Capital School District, the barriers the district faces in reaching those ideas and actions that can be taken to break the barriers.

“The maps are a good starting point, and represent the feelings of a large stakeholder group,” Dr. Shelton said. “We are hoping to represent the large majority in things that most of us agree are important and will help the district succeed and move forward.”

Although the co-labs ended Saturday afternoon with the development of strategic initiatives, Capital will continue to work with Demosophia for phase three — detail — and phase four — delivery.

During phases three and four, the school board will come into play during because it will be required to approve the strategic intents, implementation plans and their execution.

The entire strategic planning process to this point has been recorded and posted online. To consult transcripts or the white paper, visit www.capital.k12.de.us and click on “Family & Community” then “Tomorrow’s Senators.”

“At Capital School District, we are all about transparency so that’s why all transcripts and information from the entire process are updated online in real time,” Dr. Shelton said.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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