The Vision, Elements, Study Team (VEST) presented its strategic planning document to the Lodi School Board at its July 12 meeting.

Now, it’s up to the administration to put it into action.

The process was started Jan. 11, with what District Administrator Vince Breunig called “an aggressive timeline” for completing the work by July.

Two “Conversation for Our Future” community events were held since then – one on May 25, the other on June 2 – to determine what would go into the VEST plan, with 148 district residents participating.

“Ultimately, what brought us together in that room and conversation for the future was a deep caring and passion for the youth in the community, for our students,” said Ann Groves Lloyd, the mayor of the City of Lodi and a member of VEST.

The school board voted unanimously to accept the document.

Process

Heather Hatley, also a member of VEST, helped with the presentation. She said the responses from those two nights were diligently recorded. The findings were part of the presentation for the school board.

As for the VEST team, the body was initially charged with meeting three times to carry out its mission. VEST ended up meeting eight times, with each occasion last at least two hours. Making up VEST were those in various fields, including government, farming, education, coaching, legal, entertainment, construction, healthcare, marketing and business, trade and community services. There were also lifelong residents, students, parents, alumni, organizers, mentors and others.

Along with Lloyd and Hatley, others on VEST included Skye Baron, Joel Crane, Geoff Lorenz, Tyler Potter, Nick Prosek, Mary Wilkes, Justin Johnson, Jennifer Morgan, Mandy Sitzman and Rachel Wipperfurth.

Mayor Lloyd said members were pleased to have 148 participants at the two community events, adding they would have been happy with 75-100.

“People were really engaged, [there was] just a real vibrant energy both nights,” said Lloyd.

Hatley said there were “really wonderful conversations on all sides of the spectrum about living in Lodi.”

Lots of feedback was gleaned on a variety of different topics, according to Hatley.

VEST was then charged with mapping the community to “ensure broad and diverse participation,” according to the VEST presentation. Next came analysis of the feedback and the construction of a mission and strategic plan from that analysis, which was then presented to the school board.

Themes

Various subjects were addressed at the two community events. Some were related to COVID-19. Among the others were communication and engagement, curriculum and instruction, the workforce and opportunities beyond the classroom.

While some attention was paid to the district’s past, with Lloyd remembering the riots on Main Street in the 1970s, more was paid to figuring out what things to brag, worry and wonder about, as well as what participants would bet on regarding the district.

Those involved took pride in the community support the district enjoys, as well as the opportunities the schools provide beyond the classroom, academic success and the local area of the city and other municipalities.

Noted among the community opportunities were Reach Out Lodi, clubs and CREW (Community, Resource, Enrichment, Wellness). It was also stated that the district has a great STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, and that Lodi is a close, tight-knit community, especially in hard times. The school system was also identified as something to brag about, with special commendation for its academics, arts, athletics, opportunities for kids and its facilities.

Worries were identified in the areas of evolving academics and instruction/life skills, the evolving community, strong and differing opinions and communication and engagement. Some concern was expressed that the district is failing to serve the needs of struggling readers and learners. Others lamented the loss of the local agricultural identity, while some were troubled by the school district’s lack of transparency.

Another area sparked some tension, as some were worried about whether Lodi had enough diversity regarding culture, race and LGBTQ matters. On the other hand, others were struggling with the district’s diminishing small-town values, believing that Lodi was becoming “more like a large city,” according to the presentation.

“When you bring everybody together, it’s messy and there’s tension,” said Mayor Lloyd.

Hatley indicated that getting everything out in the open was necessary.

“It was really good for us to look at all the things that not just make us great, but also things that we are truly worried about, wondering about, questioning,” said Hatley.

Among the things participants wondered about included the curriculum, with participants asking where it’s going and what will it have to look like to remain adaptive to students’ needs. Some asked how the past year will affect education in the future, with others thinking about how to teach kids to be well-balanced, to care about being good people versus simply producing a strong resume.

Also, there were some who wondered about the motivation for the program and whether it would make a difference.

There is reason for optimism, however, as Mayor Lloyd said, “What came through loud and strong is that we persevere.” Attendees noted that Lodi will continue to do so with its small-town values, and that those from outside Lodi will come to the community to learn how it does things. Another bet showed faith in the people of the district and others talked about hearing from students directly and the impact that will make, as well as stating that the district’s youth will find value in the community even if they move away.

The focus now turns to enhancing communication and engagement with the community and businesses, connecting academics with career preparation, striving for innovation, supporting students beyond academic and career training, upholding high academic expectations, attracting and retaining a workforce and operational excellence.

Hatley talked of developing the whole child in order to send good people out into the world, while Mayor Lloyd discussed giving students the ability to solve the world’s complex problems.

The process, according to Lloyd, made a difference. “The energy created through the process was wonderful and the energy in the community is hopeful,” said Mayor Lloyd.

Next steps

With the school board accepting VEST recommendations, Breunig said the administration will take the priorities and come up with a plan. He said it is typically done at a school board retreat in August.

He said the administration hadn’t seen the VEST document until the July 12 presentation.

Board President H. Adam Steinberg said communication with the community is “low-hanging fruit,” with Breunig responding that it was going to be one of the pillars of the administration’s plan.

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