Madison School District Holds ‘Conversation Cafés’ to Determine Guidelines for Strategic Plan

Credits: Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ – Three informal forums to share ideas for the district’s Strategic Plan took place on Tuesday, Feb. 3.  Meetings were held late morning, late afternoon and early evening.

“We’re looking for community input to create the future and make new pathways,” Consultant Claudia St. John of Transformation Systems, LTD said. Several tables were set up with groups of three or four people, who would respond to questions posed by the consultant and would change locations every 10 minutes, allowing more interaction with others. The results would then be correlated and shared with participants and the community.

“The idea is to share your thoughts, honor the insights of others and connect ideas,” St. John said. Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi said this would be a springboard, reaching a cross section of parents and teachers with stakeholder feedback.

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St. John highlighted five categories: student achievement, curriculum, technology, facilities and finance. Several council members, as well as Mayor Robert Conley, participated. The first question was: What would Madison schools stand for in a perfect world? Principal Mike Post said, “I think we’re already doing much of that,” referring to curriculum, emphasis on the arts, technology and sports. Important elements were seen as student achievement, striving for excellence, attention to the community and a commitment to personal connections.

“It’s easy to become entranced with technology,” Post said.  Another person suggested fostering a love of learning. But all these areas are nuanced, Post said, not just black and white. One person noted, “Budgets are the gift that keeps on taking.” Some observed the importance of thinking creatively, analyzing and solving problems and face to face interaction.

Another question was: What skills and knowledge should all students possess for graduation?  Answers included: using problem solving skills for life situations; processing information; interpersonal skills and discerning: what kind of learner are you?  

Board of Education President Lisa Ellis said she sees a need for public speaking experiences. Conley and Ellis both agreed that students walking to school would help eliminate the traffic issues at the start of the school day and dismissal times. Other aspects were learning to read and write critically and dealing with technical issues. Several people said there’s more than one option for students, not just college, but developing vocational skills such as plumbing or being an electrician.

Others noted there is too much emphasis on standardized tests and that students are over extended with school and after school activities. One parent said there should be more consideration for working mothers, who can’t attend daytime PTO meetings.

“Our next step will be to synthesize the information and share the results,” St. John concluded.

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