Members of the Grand County School Board embarked last week with a search for a curriculum of character education for the district’s students, as well as with the development of a full-time community coordinator position to synchronize efforts aimed at preventing or intervening in social and other problems that get in the way of student success.
Board members, at a meeting on Wednesday, March 14, realized that both ventures might require a significant shift on the part of educators, students and the community at large.
“Are we ready to really launch on this and help lead the community through some different paradigms?” Board Member Jim Webster asked as he and his colleagues considered whether or not to take the step of creating a job description for the community coordinator position.
Board members generally agreed that they were indeed ready for that challenge — a challenge that historically has not met with great success when projects of this type have been undertaken.
“We have kind of this new inertia,” Board Member Beth Joseph said, reacting to a possible “why would this time be any different” attitude that fellow Board Member Peggy Nissen fears.
Nissen recalled other efforts to coordinate community resources — “Communities That Care” being one such effort — that failed, or at least were not as successful as needed.
“Communities That Care we could never get off the ground,” said Nissen, who added that she sat on a committee for 15 years to try to do similar work in the community.
And, she cautioned, “Will we have the buy-in from the community if it’s all directed by the school district?”
Superintendent JT Stroder, however, felt the school district was the perfect place to house a community coordinator position, insofar as it affected or influenced students. “I think the school district has to own it,” he said.
That is not to say that Nissen’s concern about community buy-in was lost on Stroder, who has sought exactly that kind of commitment from what he calls “key leaders” in the community.
He invited several such leaders to a Feb. 28 meeting at the district office to seek their support for what the district is trying to do. He got that support, at least verbally.
“I felt pretty good about it,” he said of that meeting, though acknowledging work yet remaining to get certain people or entities more fully on board.
But what commitment there is already, Joseph said, is what is encouraging. The support already received from officials representing the city, county, law enforcement, health and juvenile justice, Joseph added, saying, “exactly why this time is different. This is our shot.”
Stroder planned to have a job description for the community coordinator ready for the board’s approval this week.
That effort is in conjunction with a search for a character-education curriculum that Stroder and board members would like to implement at all the district’s schools.
“The problem has been finding one that cuts across all campus levels,” Stroder said. He added that the program should also try to align with input gleaned from both staff and students regarding character education.
Stroder said several English classes were given essay assignments to address the question, “What do they think someone graduating from Grand County High School should look like; what character should they have?”
Timeliness, respect, communication, accountability and work ethic were the most common answers, though just five out of dozens of students responded. Some of the other character traits identified by students included problem-solving, critical-thinking, follow-through, integrity, kindness and honesty.
Those essay answers are part of the criteria being used to choose a character-education program.
“We really are trying to find a program we can implement K-12, seamless, across campuses,” Stroder said.
After searching through various character education programs, Stroder said he had narrowed it down to three. The one that seemed to get the most positive attention by the school board was “The Leader In Me” program, which is based on Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.
Whatever program is selected, “We’d have to be totally bought into it,” Webster said.
The cost of implementing a program of character education is likely to be around $20,000, Stroder said, and the hope is to launch it at the beginning of next school year.