A Community Dialogue on the Future of Education in District 21″ was the stated purpose of a Search Conference that was convened for developing new initiatives for school reform in Wheeling, Illinois. Frank Heckman and Ron Purser helped the district superintendent organize this conference, which brought together teachers, administrators, school board members, teachers’ union officers, parents, andmemebers from the business community. One teacher who was interviewed immediately after the conference remarked,

“This was the first chance I’ve had to talk to the community, the board and administrators, and parents especially about what kids need in this district. Usually I only hear from parents when they have an immediate problem they want me to solve. Instead, this conference gave us the opportunity to focus on future needs, and in a relevant way….we had to seriously come up with a plan for the students.”

Those participating in this Search Conference realized that their common ground lay in their willingness and commitment to work together to promote the quality of education in the district.

Looking back on the conference, Bill Meyers, assistant district superintendent, made these remarks:

We’ve been holding an internal dialogue for a long time on education. This conference was a good reality check because it caused us to look outside ourselves and get a different perspective. By bringing the community into the dialogue, we were able to overcome our myopia.”

Conference participants developed several innovative initiatives for the future of education in the district. There was a widespread agreement that the traditional boundaries of the classroom would change and expand to include interaction with the wider community. New partnerships between the community and the school district, and an expansion of the site-based management concept, would allow community members to become directly involved in educational project.

Their vision called for the school to become a community center that would be open in the evenings, providing constant access to learning activities. A major thrust of their plan entailed the development of a team approach to learning. District learning team have been formed in that the teachers act more as facilitators of the learning prices, and students, parent, and community members are actively involved in the educational process. The focus of education is integrative, which includes the development of critical thinking, problem solving and life skills. New technology is used as an integrated tool, which provides the ability for individualized instruction and veritable, self-paced learning.

The Search Conference, A powerful method for Planning Organizational Change and Community Action, 1996

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