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Community Conversations Get New Look for the New Year

  • Community Conversations
Community Conversations Get New Look for the New Year

Sept. 8, 2023 update: The Sept. 13 Community Conversation on Gifted Education has been postponed due to a scheduling conflict. The new date will be announced as soon as possible.

The Lakota Board of Education is revamping its Community Conversation program for the start of the new school year. The conversations, which began during the 2012-13 school year, are an opportunity for school board members and district leaders to gather input and feedback from the Lakota community about specific topics.

“We’re looking at shaking things up a bit and trying some different models from how we’ve done our Community Conversations in the past,” Board President Lynda O’Connor, who is also a member of the Board’s Community Engagement committee, shared at the Aug. 21 school board meeting. Previously, attendees would discuss a specific question asked by the program’s facilitator, Jeff Stec, in small groups. They would then share with the larger group what they discussed. This year, each conversation will take on one of five different formats, depending on the topic. 

The new formats have been used by Stec in his work at Citizens for Civic Renewal, an organization committed to engaging citizens to help build and strengthen communities. This year, each community conversation will take on one of the following formats:

  • Group Level Assessment: Attendees are asked to write down answers to questions that are posted on paper around the room. As this is occurring, they are also discussing the questions with participants. Once everyone has answered all of the questions, they reflect on what they have heard and read, writing down their top thoughts. Small group and large group discussions will also be included so that the Board and district leaders are able to gather the insights of the community.
  • National Issues Forum: Best for tackling large, complex issues, ThoughtExchange would be used to gather feedback from the community surrounding the district’s top three priorities related to the topic prior to the community conversation. The responses received will help the Community Engagement committee organize the pros and cons of each priority in order to set a framework for debate at the community conversation.
  • Open Space: In this format, although the topic will be set by the Community Engagement committee, the attendees will set the agenda of the conversation using a live ThoughtExchange option. Attendees will use ThoughtExchange to share the questions and topics they want to discuss around a specific subject. Each participant will move to small groups to discuss the topic they’re most interested in, based on the results of the exchange. A large group discussion will follow.
  • Storytelling: Participants will hear firsthand from someone who is deeply involved in the topic being discussed. A conversation for understanding will follow the presentation.
  • World Cafe: In small groups, each group will write answers to a different question on a large sheet of paper. The participants will rotate to each question, reviewing the answers already shared and adding their own. After the rotations are done, everyone will walk the room to review the answers given to each question, returning to a large group to discuss what they’ve read.

The new formats will help ensure that the conversations are “engaging and giving people a different way to be involved,” O’Connor said.

The Community Engagement committee set the topics for the first half of the school year at its August meeting:

  • Gifted Education: Sept. 13, Plains Junior Innovation Hub, 6:30-8 p.m.
  • Special Education: Sept. 19, Plains Junior Innovation Hub, 6:30-8 p.m.
  • English as a Second Language: Oct. 19, location and time TBD
  • District Finances: December, specific date, time and location TBD
  • Curriculum: January, specific date, time and location TBD
  • Parent Involvement: February, specific date, time and location TBD

Additional conversation topics and dates will be determined at a future Community Engagement committee meeting.

“It’s a different format so that we can get a different perspective on things,” said board member Kelley Casper, who is also on the committee. “We want to get more people in the room, to get them more involved.”

  • Community Conversations