The Onteora Central School District held the first of three planned “World Cafe” focus-group discussions on January 31. This unique forum, which brought together a balanced blend of approximately 35 teachers, staff, parents, business owners and community members, was designed to be a welcoming place for collaboration and conversation around topics that will help guide the Onteora Board of Education’s district-wide long-term planning process, such as how to best address staff shortages, facilities needs, budgeting, student achievement, the expansion of the middle school to add Grade 6 and the impact of decisions upon local communities.
“There are important conversations needed regarding the challenges and opportunities faced by the district, and the board and its ad hoc long-term planning committee are eager to hear the thoughts and ideas of community members from all of our various stakeholder groups,” explained superintendent Victoria McLaren.
Participants engaged in small-group conversations, examining documents provided by the district and exchanging thoughts and ideas about multiple proposed facility-utilization scenarios. Class-size equity between schools, services for children with special needs, improved communication and consistency of practice were some areas of focus.
In addition, the groups analyzed three possible configurations of school-utilization plans, considering how each would address the district’s projected declining enrollment and maintain efficient use of limited resources as well as safety needs.
At the conclusion of the event, each table leader shared their group’s thoughts on what community supports and resources are needed in each individual town or hamlet in the district, as well as how the current facilities could be used to the optimal benefit of all students in the District in an equitable way.
The group of volunteers will reconvene virtually in late February and again in-person late in March.
“We look forward to the stakeholder groups’ continued, valuable feedback.” said McLaren.