By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 9, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
Having ‘lots of different voices’ at the table aids in DCPS’ growth, says Weston
DINWIDDIE – When most people typically think of the term “stakeholder” in relation to a school division, most commonly think of teachers and students but, that term encompasses way more groups in a given community and for Dinwiddie Schools leader Dr. Kari Weston, hearing from as many of those groups as possible is important to her and the school system as DCPS charts its future.
For the school division, outreach is an important element of what they do to engage with different stakeholders in Dinwiddie County and beyond, be it employees, like teachers and non-instructional staff, parents, community and faith-based leaders, business operators, and others as those interactions can foster unique partnerships that provide fruit in the form of support for school division programs or insight from different perspectives that may offer a new way of thinking or new ideas.
That engagement has come in different forms over the last few years, including the popular Dinwiddie Teen Expo, where students play a key role in determining the subject matter of different panels and workshops at the day-long event at Richard Bland College, to the school division and county’s united partnership with the faith-based community, who provide ideas and philanthropic resources to DCPS in through various programs, like the annual Pre-K and kindergarten supplies drive, and the high school’s annual Industry Day, which allows businesses the chance to come in and meet face-to-face with students who will soon be part of the workforce in Dinwiddie County.
“We have a lot of those traditional methods of outreach but one of the things we are trying to be focused on is how do we take ourselves to the families versus having events that they have to come to,” Weston detailed, referring to the school division’s successful Back2School Bash held at Sunnyside and Southside elementary schools in mid-August, where buses were used to pick families up and bring them to the event. “We are always thinking about how do we meet them where they are and getting to know our families.”
According to Weston, during the now-completed summer vacation, staff worked on the school system’s website, adjusting some of the ways that families and community members can contact those at the school division.
She also noted, going back to the fruitful partnership between DCPS and their faith-based advisory committee, that they are in the process of looking at developing a similar advisory board that is geared toward the business community in Dinwiddie County, along with expanding the current wellness efforts coming from Dinwiddie County’s resource council, which helped spearhead the Live Well Expo, an annual event focused on providing residents access to resources and services that can help them live a healthy life.
Members of Dinwiddie’s faith-based community joined supervisors and school board leaders for the county’s first-ever faith-based roundtable in 2018, a joint venture between the county and the school division to engage with a key community constituency in Dinwiddie in order to share ideas and collaborate on future projects. (Rodger Allen Kidd)
“We have called all of our efforts around school supplies and the Back2School Bash ‘Learn Well,” and we are going to do something comparable to that called ‘Lead Well,’ Weston noted. “In January 2020, we are going to be partnering with our faith-based community, the business community, along with our school and county leadership, and come together on a Saturday for a few hours and talk together and learn from one another about how we can work collectively and systemically in this community. So we are very excited about that.”
“We are trying to think of the less traditional ways of meeting people where they are and gleaning information about what is and isn’t working for them, what would they like to see differently, and the like,” she continued.
Much of the 2017-2018 school year was spent learning from different stakeholders and person groups both inside and outside of Dinwiddie County Public Schools during their nearly year-long branding study. That study resulted in a new logo, slogan and other materials that helped the school division better tell their story within the county and beyond its borders, but it also served a second purpose of allowing school leaders to hear from a myriad of different groups on a number of different topics, ranging from teachers, administrators, support staff, community leaders, business partners, county leadership, and others.
That part of the study seems to have served as a stepping stone for many of the new community engagement efforts that have been or are in the process of being developed.
“One of the things we are being very intentional about is making certain anytime we are making decisions, we are including a diversity of thoughts,” Weston shared. “Including lots of different voices at the table and I think when we did the initial [branding] study, it was important for us to have people from the business community, those who have been here a long time, those who haven’t been, people who are in the faith-based community, and students. So it is always important to have lots of different voices because I think, in the end, that is how we get smarter.
She also noted the importance of student voices and seeking out more feedback and engagement from Dinwiddie’s student population as part of their greater outreach efforts.
“I think we forget they are our customers, just like running a business, if you don’t find out what your customers’ needs are, how can you make certain you are indeed providing them with the goods and services that they are looking for and value,” Weston remarked. “We are really trying to think of our students in that way, as customers or consumers, and making certain that we are including what the experience is like on their end, how does it feel on their end, what are they looking for, and what they want.”
The superintendent elaborated, “This is a different way to think because I think a lot of times as grown-ups, we like to think we all understand because we were all once students ourselves, we understand what kids need and want and we ultimately know what we are trying to do for them, but for me, this generation is very smart and insightful.
“I believe this generation is capable of things that most of us can’t even dream possible and I think we will all be better served having them at the table and their voice represented in the decision making that we are faced with,” Weston closed.
The school division is expected to release more details of their Lead Well event tentatively set for January of 2020 in the future.