Let’s Go Back to the Future

Great Scott! It’s October 2021 and we are on the tail end of a global pandemic that shut down every city, upended children from schools, and changed the world as we knew it! No, this isn’t the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s real life and each one of you has lived through it. Things are opening back up, including our schools. Yes, the pandemic is still happening, but the focus now is moving forward. So, what’s next? To answer that question, we sat down with Interim Superintendent, Dr. Joann Sternke, to find out what initiatives are most important to the District this year.

“Looking forward is a really powerful image of what we need to do. We don’t just want to charge ahead without really keeping the past in mind, but with this situation, especially with COVID being such a disruption, I think the importance of looking back and then really recommitting to Vision 2025 is important,” Dr. Sternke says.

The metaphor Dr. Sternke references is driving a car and using the small rearview mirror to look back, while gauging the current landscape around us in a broad forward view. This particular imagery compliments SEED’s annual campaign, titled “Back to the Future,” in reference to getting back to the Vision 2025 strategic plan that was created as a result of the Shorewood Schools Summit in February 2016.

Vision 2025 consists of five focus areas, or pillars. These pillars are Academic Mastery, Character and Citizenship, Wellness, Facilities, and School Staff. Originally, Diversity was originally its own pillar, but since then equity has become central to each of the previous listed pillars, no longer standing alone but incorporated into every initiative and goal. Specifically, the district has five themes to help reach the goals set out from the Vision: authentic experiential learning, support for the whole child, modernize and maintain historic buildings, diversity in teacher support, recruitment, and development, and funding strategies. Hopefully you’ve taken note of the tremendous progress that has been made in these areas over the past few years! This is progress that has in part been funded by SEED, and we continue to do so, as the work is still being done. You can read more about how SEED has funded Authentic Learning, Equity work, and Design Thinking by checking out our previous blog posts, SEED Stories.

Shorewood School District 2020-2025 Strategic Framework graphic.
Shorewood School District 2020-2025 Strategic Framework.

Each year the Shorewood School District administrators and the school board meet to set out the priorities that will support and progress the Vision. The Strategic Plan for the 2021-2022 school year outlines the priorities used to build the 2020-2025 Strategic Framework and accomplish the vision. This year’s priorities are:

  1. Early Literacy Instruction (4k-4th Grade)
  2. 4k-12th Grade Integrated Social Emotional Learning Curriculum
  3. Retainment of Staff of Color
  4. Systematic Improvements for Equitable Student Results
  5. Enhance Connectedness and Belonging for All Students and Staff

“‘Excellence, growth, and equity for all.’ Those are at the heart of what we are focusing on, and not just with aspiration, but with big work to be done,” explained Dr. Sternke on the mission of this work. “This really speaks to the good planning in the district. Those priorities that support the vision were identified last spring. [The first of which is] early literacy. Really making sure that we have solid literacy instruction for K through 12 and focusing on those early levels pronouncedly is a key priority. [Also] our focus on really building a sustainable system to get more equitable student results. That really does quite a bit with ICS work,” she stated, referring to the training that our district is going through led by the Integrated Comprehensive Systems for Equity organization. You can read more on this important work on the district webpage linked above.

She went on to say, “We are building a system to make sure that all of our students feel seen and have the opportunity to get similar results for all populations. But we’re also focusing on our social and emotional learning for all students, and that really was committed to last year. We’re seeing its wonderful to be back, and some students are really doing great while others are adjusting to being back in a full time learning environment and need social and emotional support. I am very pleased that’s one of the priorities that we’re working on.”

Dr. Sternke also talked about a later addition to these priorities, added in August of this year. “The one that we added this year is about really having everyone feel connected in a sense of belonging. That supports the social and emotional learning and, for me, when I looked at not only our school perception results, just having everyone feel that this is a great place to work and learn. So really understanding what it looks like for students, families, and employees to feel connected is key.”

Dr. Sternke added that as a measure of connectedness, she wants to hear feedback from parents and stakeholders, both positive and negative. “Give us feedback. We want to hear it. When you give us feedback, we will listen and reflect and get back to you.” She noted how powerful it is to take note of what’s going right as well. “I think I’ve written over 350 notes to people, handwritten notes. And sometimes they’re as simple as when I see something that’s going right.” Dr. Sternke also talked of her hopes for more face to face interaction, something that has been sorely missed in this community.

While school buildings are still largely off limits to parents, our district administrators, teachers, PTOs, and SEED have had to come up with creative solutions that will allow for our community to come together in person, safely. Dr. Sternke noted the success of Walk to School Day, which brought together families, school staff, and the local police.

SEED has also planned some community events. If you happened to spot us, a handful of SEED board members dressed as Back to the Future characters “reverse Trick-or-Treated” Shorewood houses on Halloween to spread the word about our annual campaign and connect with families. If you missed us or want to learn more about what SEED does, we have opportunities for that just around the corner! If you are are not yet ready for in person get togethers, join us for an online Meet and Greet on November 11, 2021 from 7-8 pm. RSVP to this event by filling out the web form on the SEED Meet & Greet webpage.

If you’re looking to get out of the house, we’d love to see you at our in person Meet and Greet, which will be held on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 from 7-10 pm at Cloud Red, outside in their heated backyard patio.

SEED board members, dressed as Back to the Future characters on Halloween 2021 on Halloween.
SEED board members, dressed as Back to the Future characters, snap a quick photo together before traversing the neighborhood during Shorewood’s Trick or Treat on Halloween.

After a taxing couple years, it’s a shift in gear to be getting back to business as usual. Certainly being connected was much more of a hurdle over the past year and half, but learning in general was too. Dr. Sternke stated, “We are in person and it’s going well, very well. I’m so proud of everyone’s commitment here. The past two years have been exhausting because it has been react to Covid, react to Covid, react to Covid. The re-energized trust for Vision 2025, to me, is a great explanation of why it’s so nice to be thinking proactively, and planning, and having areas of focus so that we aren’t just responding to the pandemic but actually moving things forward.”

The equity work that began in 2020 has been profound and has continued throughout this pandemic. It is very much a part of Vision 2025, a system that has been active in building, equipping, and training all administrators, staff, and school board members to produce equitable outcomes for all students. “It’s proactive, it’s the right work, and it’s being done in a way that feels so good because it’s not just reacting to Covid. It’s about what we want this place to feel like for all of our kids. It’s about making sure that all of our kids are successful!” Dr. Sternke exclaimed.

All movie references aside (and because we don’t have a tricked out, time traveling DeLorean to fulfill Vision 2025), what we do have is this community. You are a part of this community and are the chosen vehicle of change in your home, school, and village. It’s up to us to connect and support the work being done in our district to further the education of our children. Put simply, they are the future. SEED was created to ensure there is always funding for our students to receive a solid and robust education, and we’d love for you to be a part of it! There are various ways to partner with us- whether as a financial partner, attending one of our events, or by volunteering.

Shorewood School District is publicly funded. While political will and funding capacity are constantly in flux in ways that challenge schools, Shorewood SEED foundation is a constant advocate for ensuring access to equitable and sufficient public funding to support education. We continue to help Shorewood Schools navigate funding challenges, move quickly in times of unprecedented need or crisis, and increase educational innovation opportunities. Please consider donating to the SEED’s annual fund in support of the SSD as we revisit the Strategic Framework and look to finish what was started. Donate to the annual fund today!

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