Public education is undergoing major change and producing ambitious efforts to improve schools.

The good ideas that emerge from the change process need strong supporters to make them happen. Otherwise, change that the affected population doesn’t see as beneficial won’t last. How we arrive at change makes the difference between success and failure.

Lasting change comes from processes that encourage people to speak their thoughts and those around them to hear what they’re saying. This drives the greatest number of people to rise and support changes.

In education, effective change can be motivated as well as mandated. The best change processes allow leaders to lead; teachers to instruct with confidence and joy; and the voices of families, students, community partners and all stakeholders to be counted.

The Castle Complex – 10 schools serving the greater Kaneohe community – is one of the first to respond to the challenges of change by implementing transformation-effective methods in public education. It’s changing the paradigm to provide regular opportunities for dialogue and decision making between all schools and major role groups that partner with a Complex Area Superintendent (CAS) to educate our children. This opportunity now includes parents, students, community, teachers, non-teaching staff and administrators spanning the preschool to college/career continuum.

Recognizing that shared goals lead to shared effort and accountability for results, the Castle Complex Community Council (C4) was established. It’s a local invention with power coming from its self-defined purpose, effective processes and growing public awareness that it’s making a meaningful difference. The C4:

  • helps the CAS and Complex focus on the right work
  • leads by motivating others to follow; recommends responsibly vetted and thoughtfully made decisions; and works with School Community Councils (SCCs), parent leaders, students and community partners
  • assures access and a voice for everyone invested in and impacted by our schools
  • promotes positive education news and public understanding of issues
  • operates transparently and shares accountability for results
  • develops leaders and promotes partnerships between schools and the community
  • monitors initiatives that shape the Complex
  • serves as an Academic Review Team to monitor Complex progress.

On the C4, a working mom, higher education administrator, nonprofit director, preschool advocate, student behavioral health specialist, principal, high school student and others unite. They weave diverse perspectives into a holistic understanding of issues and act as “critical friends” and voices to the CAS. Members’ differences enrich the dialogue. Their shared commitment to children, schools and community binds them with common purpose.

This is not your typical special-interest advocacy. Members are helped to see the big picture, care about all of it and work effectively using a consensus-based approach.

The C4 works with SCCs to facilitate a unified vision of teaching and learning in the Castle Complex. Including the CAS, the C4 has 21 members – 16 elected from the Complex’s schools and four appointed from the community.

The C4 is one model of a Complex-level community forum for dialogue and decision shaping. It’s young – 2 years old – and although it has no formal power and isn’t sanctioned, early results show it’s already impacting lives and inspiring other complexes in Hawaii to design their versions of this body.

Such a ground-shifting forum requires support to succeed. Given the pace of mandated change, the complexity of the work and diversity of voices, its members need time and skills to create effective problem solving and consensus building. Great groups are created, not born. In this group, there is a role for everyone.

So, what changes are needed to champion better ways to arrive at change? The Legislature and the Board of Education must value a group’s commitment to work toward lasting change and reflect this in their crafting of legislation and policy. The Department of Education (DOE) must continue partnering in new ways with complexes by repositioning itself as a channel of support for forums like the C4.

Along the way, the DOE must also be open to, respect and support organic innovations emerging from local communities, and invest in capacity building of partners. This permits meaningful and efficient engagement in shared leadership and responsibility. The department has begun the journey with the creation of Complex Area Support Teams and support of the “community as school.”

Finally, teachers, parents and the public need to step up; find and fuse their voices; participate in our schools; and advocate for public education through larger public and political processes.

It’s long understood that good public education is needed for a healthy democracy. Now we see that democracy is needed for a healthy public education system.

The public is invited to attend C4 meetings, which are held every second Thursday from 4:15 – 7 p.m. at the Windward District Office; 46-169 Kamehameha Hwy., Kaneohe; Conference Room A on the ground level of King Intermediate School’s campus.

About the author: Marina A. Piscolish, Ph.D., is founder and president of MAPping Change, LLC, and an Oahu-based consultant providing training, facilitation and change-management support to organizations and communities.

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