Goal Teams: Problem Solving With Purpose

Goal Teams: Problem Solving With Purpose

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Kyle Serrette, the coordinator of the National Education Association’s (NEA) growing Community Schools network, describes these schools as “addicted to problem-solving.” For many, Community Schools simply means the provision of wrap-around services somewhere in the building that address needs beyond academics.  This kind of service-provision already exists in a number of Durham Public Schools sites.  For example, at both Holton Career and Resource Center and Hillside High, Wellness Centers serve a variety of Durham residents in addition to students enrolled in the schools. What is unique about DPS’s four community schools, however, is a commitment to:
*Deeply listening to, and trusting the expertise of, students, parents, and staff.
*Utilizing principles of community organizing to intentionally develop the leadership of students, parents, and staff in an ongoing way
*Using the tools of Continuous Improvement Science to more effectively solve problems at their roots

As the main focus of Year 2, Community School Coordinators at Club, EK Powe, Lakewood, and Southwest are leading their buildings through the creation of Goal Teams.  These staff-led bodies are focused on broad areas of concern that students, parents, and staff shared in last year’s Listening Project (each school’s teams are listed below).  From these big-picture categories, leaders are using that data and the tools of Improvement Science to choose problems that are, according to Jonathan Kozol, “big enough to matter, small enough to win.”  Once each team isolates a specific problem to work on, they will identify its causes and create action plans with goals they can measure.  If a strategy solves a problem, the school will adopt it.  If it doesn’t, they will amend or abandon it, and move on to the next strategy.  For a fuller example, see below to learn about Club Blvd’s successful parent communication problem-solving.

Anyone who works in a school is solving dozens of problems a day.  Humans are complicated, and schools and the communities that they serve are even more complex.  Educators are constantly reacting to new challenges, and typically handling them with skill.  Community Schools, by strategically building leaders and scientifically solving problems, are creating systems that help these problem-solvers be less reactive, more intentional, and even more effective.

Goal Teams by School


Club Blvd Elementary
*Parent Engagement
*Professional Development
*Social Emotional Supports
E.K Powe Elementary
*Parent Communication and Engagement
*Socio-emotional Support, Classroom Culture and Management
*Student Academic Support
Lakewood Elementary
*Academic Supports
*After School Enrichment
*Home/Family Support/Communication
*Social-Emotional Support
Southwest Elementary
*Communications
*Culturally Responsive Curriculum
*Parent and Family Engagement
*Student Wellness

Club’s Breakthrough: Reaching Our Families

Two of the six pillars in the NEA’s model Community Schools, and the whole essence of the initiative, are dependent on being able to consistently and effectively communicate with parents.  Most schools, however, don’t even know their parents’ preferred communication methods, and definitely don’t employ systems that regularly and effectively engage them.  The first round of Club Blvd’s Listening Project reached roughly 100% of students, 70% of staff, and 35% of parents, with few parents of color participating.  The relatively low participation of parents was meaningful data on its own, and the survey answers further identified communication with parents as a significant problem.  As a result, Club’s Coordinator organized a diverse group of parents and staff to create a new survey that would help isolate and solve the problem.

First, however, the team had to ensure that parents saw the survey.  Here, they scientifically explored multiple methods to both reach as many parents as they could and better understand which would yield the best results.  Staff sent: paper surveys home in weekly Manatee folders (once in black/white and another time in color), emails, text messages with an electronic link, and personalized invitations once the list had narrowed.  After each round, they assessed the success of the method and then moved to another, ultimately landing over 70% participation from a range of parents that roughly mirrored the demographic makeup of the school.

Through the survey, they learned that parents wanted: 1 school-wide communication app (staff had been using Dojo, Bloomz, SeeSaw, and Remind), well-organized paper copies on colorful paper, text messages for short content, multiple rounds of communication in two methods for the most important information, and all materials in English and Spanish.

As a result, the school invested in a school-wide Bloomz account and has streamlined its communication through Manatee folders and text messages. Bilingual staff helped parents sign up at Open House, and the school has shifted to the single app with remarkable success.  Already:

  • 9971 messages have been sent back and forth to parents
  • 501 staff posts have been made
  • 93 conferences have been scheduled
  • 256 volunteer opportunities have been arranged
  • 1100 pieces of media (photos, flyers, etc.) have been posted
  • Every class is participating with an average of 16 posts and 216 messages

To achieve authentic engagement and build parent leadership, our schools have to be able to communicate with them first.  By using the tools of improvement science, Club Blvd’s staff has successfully removed barriers that plague most schools, and opened the door for parents to stay connected, better support their students, and help lead the improvement of the school.

Learning with the Best: From Tampa to Durham

To support the success and expansion of Community Schools efforts, the NEA is organizing semi-annual gatherings of leaders from the school districts it is working with across the country. From teachers to district administrators, these leaders are sharing their growing expertise and helping each other improve.

14 Durham educators from all 4 Community Schools traveled to the most recent gathering, from October 16-18 in Tampa, Florida.  The Durham team consisted of a Teacher, an AIG coordinator, a Dean of Students, a Teaching Coach, an Assistant Principal, a Social Worker, 4 Community School Coordinators, a district Coordinator, and 3 Principals.  While the Durham initiative is relatively new, this team has already earned significant respect and leadership in the network, and helped lead multiple critical conversations, both formally and informally, throughout the conference. 

Because of this leadership, Durham has been tapped to host the next gathering, and practitioners from around the country will be coming here from April 20-22. 
Mark your calendars!

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