Schools Superintendent Mark Porter is asking for help from community members in formulating a five-year strategic plan of action for the school district.
In a recent email from Porter to The Citizen, he outlined the process he intends to initiate in order to seek input from residents on the direction in which they'd like to see the district heading.
"...I will be conducting six to seven community engagement sessions. ... I will briefly outline some of the current strengths and challenges of the Monroe County Schools, but will spend the majority of time listening to you, our community members, on what you want to see in your Monroe County Schools."
One such event took place Thursday at the Martin Luther King Center in Bahama Village. The next one will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, at the Marathon Fire Station, and will be hosted by Mike Puto.
As part of the process, Porter said he is looking for 25 individuals to pair with 25 district employees on a "Strategic Planning Team" that will meet to develop "four to six large strategic objectives" to implement over the next five years.
The initiative bears some resemblance to one Porter conceived while superintendent of the South Washington County Schools district in Minnesota.
"I had gone through a very similar process back there," Porter said. "We called it 'Igniting a Passion for Learning' and we're kind of using it as a template, because it worked very well there, and I think it could work very well in our community."
School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths welcomed the move, saying "This is the beginning of what we all agree is required for us to chart a course for the future. If the community has their input taken into consideration, then you get buy-in from the community. Superintendent Porter could do it in-house. He could do it in-house with the board. Or he could do it with involvement from the community. This last option really is the most difficult way to proceed, so he should be applauded for doing it this way."
The superintendent's methodology at the engagements is three-fold: A short presentation followed by community participation, with a clicker system; then a question and answer portion.
At Thursday's session in Bahama Village, Porter said, demand for clickers during the participation segment outstripped supply, "which is a good problem to have," he said.
About 30 people, including some district personnel, showed up.
"We learned a few things," Porter said. "We had some great questions about alternative pathways, and there were some concerns raised about the [recent Florida Auditor General] audit, which is understandable. Overall I thought it went well, and it was nice to see so many people engaged in the process."
School Board member robin Smith-Martin said he was pleased with the recent session.
"The community attendees are asking tough questions, good questions," he said. "The more public engagement, the stronger our strategic plan. We have many challenges, but are making real progress."
Porter also suggested that at some point, a focus on community priorities might necessitate coming up with additional revenue, to meet the wishes of county citizens.
"It would be premature to see what form that might take, but I do think that at some point we will need to come back to the citizens, through the board, of course, to find ways to finance some of the priorities they have identified. These meetings are also important to find out what we should stop doing, as well, because they don't really fit our objectives."