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Christina School District begins effort to improve school climate

Delaware Public Media

The Christina School District is beginning to make good on a promise it made when it passed a tax referendum in March.

District officials are launching an in-depth examination of school climate and discipline this month with the goal of making “notable improvements.”

Acting Christina superintendent Bob Andrzejewski says residents asked that this issue be a priority and he hopes this effort will help the district tackle what he calls a serious and complex problem. 

"The complexity of the problem I think has been underestimated over time.  The seriousness has not," said Andrzejewski.  "So, if you are really going to look at the factors that influence school climate and discipline, you should take a comprehensive, broad view from as many stakeholders as possible because this issue will not move into a better space unless we have the buy in of the key stakeholders throughout the school district, community and state." 

He adds Christina has hired Andy Hegedus' consulting firm Demosophia to guide the process.  It will gather information from public forums, surveys, stakeholder interviews and data analysis to help the district set priorities. 

"We bring a methodology that's been researched over 40 years to get all of the stakeholders who have a part to play or a perspective on the problem together and use a very structured democratic dialogue process to then have them figure out themselves what are really important aspects to the problem and where the leverage points are within the problem itself," said Hegedus.  "So, when they put a plan together they can base it on the highest leverage points.

Hegudus says it's a process that is especially effective in dealing with "wicked" problems, or problems with very undefined boundaries.

"We want to make sure we hear from all the stakeholders, so we don't under conceptualize the difficulty of the problem," said Hegedus, "Then, we'll present a white paper to the board that will show the breadth of perspectives.  It doesn't come to any conclusions about anything.  It just shows the breadth of the issues and the complexities so when all the statekholder come together for structured dialogue they are all starting some a similar place and understanding."

Andrzejewski says that should be beneficial to getting results.

I thought this process would just be extremely valuable.  There’s so many different stakeholders, including mental health folks and other folks.  This issue is now going to rise to a whole new level," Andrzejewski told Delaware Public Media this week. "Programs [will] be developed off this feedback.  Resources we know are limited but we still can do better I think with existing dollars in our state system being spend on testing and other things."

Delaware Public Media's Tom Byrne interviews Andy Hedegus – founder and CEO of consulting firm Demosophia - about Christina School District's review of school culture and discipline.

The process starts with three public forums next week - and residents can offer opinions in a survey on Christina’s website until June 10th.

And both Andrzejewski and Hegedus are encouraging everyone to get involved in the process in some way.

"If people have come to events before and felt they weren't listened to or their ideas were shut down, I would say press the "I believe" button and take the risk that this will be different and their ideas will be heard and valued," said Hegedus.

"People with power and influence have the tendency to set the agenda and make the agenda work.  We're trying to say organically with what's coming up - you're going to help us create the solutions," said Andrzejewski.

The district expects to settle on its priorities by September. They’ll start implementing them next school year with a committee created to oversee the work,which will include training for staff.     

Andrzejewski says he hopes the effort will produce some visible changes quickly.

“For the upcoming school year, we hoping to find some other alternatives for young people when they do violate the student manual.  Keeping them off the street is critical,  So, what alternatives to suspension are there," said Andrzejewski.

The schedule for the public forums next week is: 

Monday, May 23 - 6:30 p.m.
Community Forum on School Climate and Discipline
Glasgow High School Library, 1901 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19713

Tuesday, May 24 -- 6:30 p.m.

Community Forum on School Climate and Discipline
Oberle Elementary School Library, 500 Caledonia Way, Bear, DE 19701

Wednesday, May 25, 6:30 p.m.

Community Forum on School Climate and Discipline
Bancroft Elementary School Library, 700 North Lombard Street, Wilmington, DE 19801

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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