Engaging Your Community in Meaningful Conversations

By Marty Jacobs

Balancing the big-picture vision for your district with the district’s immediate demands is a challenge for school leaders. The short-term often wins out, much to the detriment of long-term strategic goals.

We hear that we need to be more proactive and less reactive, but how do we stop the cycle of reactivity? One answer is to make room for dialogue. As a professional facilitator, I had the opportunity to do just that with one of my clients, and the results were impressive.

More than a year ago, the Dresden School District in Hanover, N.H., hired me to help resolve an issue with community members over a high school sports field. Hanover High School is nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood. The field had been built the previous year. Although concern during construction was that the lights would be intrusive, it turned out that the noise during field use was the major neighborhood complaint.

The Hanover Planning Board had approved conditions of use when the field was completed, with the requirement that, after a year of use, the district would revisit those conditions. That deadline was about six months overdue by the time I was hired.

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