Saturday, September 6, 2014

Consensus Required to Build New Tech High

I  posted the picture below as a  symbol of the benefit of building community consensus and overcoming our differences when we undertake a great venture.  It pictures the new donor wall honoring community donors to the new High School at Alexandria (picture credit to Cunningham Group, our new high school architect.)  Great things can happen when a community comes together for a higher purpose, when we put aside individual demands and instead develop consensus.   

Civic leaders contribute to Alexandria High School

By arriving at a community-wide consensus, Alexandria was able to unite around a brand new high school that makes the entire community proud.  The leaders of the community chose not to tear the community apart over their disagreements, but rather united and actually raised $5 million in donations, to make their high school even better.    Great things can happen, when a community unites and suppresses the urge to say "if we don't do it my way, we can't do it at all."  When community leaders demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of their community, we are capable of great things.  When we seek instead to impose our individual will, we fail.   Alexandria chose to build a brand new high school.   We may take the same course, or renovate old Technical High school.  Whichever course we take, we need to arrive at our decision through consensus building, and once that consensus is formed, we must find a way to bring the community together around that decision. 
Schematic of Alexandria High School
In other words, as our district comes to grips with critical controversial decisions regarding replacing Technical High School (or renovating it), we can't possibly succeed, if everyone insists on getting their way. How can we do that?  With a good will and a focus on our mission.   Our mission statement tells us to put education of children first and foremost: 

District 742 is dedicated to the mission: to create a safe and caring climate and culture in which we prepare, engage, educate, empower, and inspire all learners in partnership with their surrounding community to be successful in today’s and tomorrow’s society.

As we step through the various decisions which must be made, our mission statement calls upon us to make decisions based on what best prepares, engages, educates, empowers and inspires be successful in today's and tomorrow's society.    Everything is subservient to that mission. 

And, our Core Values remind us that:  

We all benefit when communities work together toward common goals.

That's the point of the picture at the top of this post.  Its a graphic illustration of that Core Value:  we all benefit when our community works together towards common goals.   Working together requires that we listen to each other, make compromises, and accept that to arrive at consensus we cannot demand that others capitulate to our individual will.  

Some people --- a relative minority of our community --- wanted to replace both our high schools with a mega high school.  If that small minority were to refuse to recognize the decision that reflects majority opinion, we could not reap the benefit that derives from working together towards common goals.   Its a matter of what kind of community do we want to be:  if we want to be a great community, we must establish a culture among leadership that puts kids first by accepting consensus decisions. 
Although the Board of Education has decided this first  issue without a single dissenting vote, there will remain numerous other questions, and we will need to find a community consensus for each.    Should we renovate or rebuild?  Where should the new high school be located?    Where should athletic facilities be located, and should they be shared across our two high schools?   How much should we spend on technology, furniture, theaters, science labs, and so on?   We are going to have to work together to resolve these questions in the spirit of listening and compromise, always keeping in mind that the prize for building consensus is that we all benefit when we work together toward a common goal. 

We can learn from Alexandria.   The payoff for building consensus was a high school that is a credit to their community.    Community leaders led the way by donating five million dollars, demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice for the good of the community.  They would not let any dispute or barrier defeat them. The Alexandria donor community united by behind their school; they recognized that if they would raise $5 million to guarantee that their school extra amenities, that it would rally and unite the community behind the sacrifices necessary to build.

I’m not suggesting that if we work together, we’ll raise $5 million to contribute to our new high school—although wouldn’t that be wonderful!  I’m suggesting that if leadership sets a good example by suppressing the urge to divide unless we conquer, we can work together for a common goal, supporting the best possible education for our young people.   If we can unite around that common goal, putting our disputes behind us after a decision is ultimately made, our community will be far richer.    

 In the next month or so, we’ll begin a community based design decision process that will give educators, students and community stakeholders an opportunity to assist the design team (architects and engineers).  Let us seize the opportunity to listen to each other while we advance our respective views passionately.   Let's not forget, however,  as we do this, that we a all benefit when communities work together for a common goal!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for making an excellent example of consensus that leads to community pride - this is so very awesome.

    We in Champaign Illinois struggle with building consensus; as if one issue were not enough, we seem to have a full house of contentious issues that continue to divide us. Care to offer any sage advice on dealing with those that refuse to compromise?


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