WINTHROP — School officials hope more residents, teachers, students and alumni will offer their input as the district creates a strategic plan with a vision for the coming years.

Participants and Winthrop Public Schools leaders alike expressed disappointment with the turnout Saturday morning for a public forum at Winthrop Middle School. About 20 people attended, including one teacher, and students have not been involved in the strategic planning process so far. 

Even so, several parents and other Winthrop residents said the session was productive, and they’re pleased the district is creating a plan for the first time.

“I was glad to see it was very different from your typical school board meeting, where it’s us versus them — the people on the school board and then all of us in the audience,” said Jane Precourt, the mother of two Winthrop Grade School students.

Precourt said the session was collaborative, and the school board members and administrators seemed to listen to residents.

The board members and administrators have met a few times since the fall with a facilitator, Therese Burns, the interim director of the education support organization Syntiro. The group has drafted six goals, about which they gathered input Saturday.

Residents were asked to suggest objectives and strategies to help reach goals such as ensuring a safe school environment, supporting staff development, increasing access to technology, providing alternative ways to learn and finding the resources to support learning.

Resident Steve Curtis said afterward that the goals the school leadership chose were pertinent but need fine-tuning. 

Curtis said he thinks what’s most important is making sure the schools are giving students the tools they’ll need to succeed after graduation.

“It’s the beginning of a dialogue between stakeholders and the school system to kind of focus on what we need for the future,” Curtis said.

Several people said one thing the school district needs to work toward across all its goals is a better integration of the schools with the larger Winthrop community. They said it should go both ways and could include more community service projects by students or recruiting community members to serve as mentors or take their expertise into classrooms.

Participants also said the district needs to create more relationships with entities outside Winthrop to provide opportunities the school district can’t afford, such as virtual advanced placement classes or courses at local colleges.

Among Betsy Palleschi Rowe’s top priorities Saturday was urging school leaders to find new ways to teach and recognize the success of students who don’t fit the traditional mold.

Rowe has had firsthand experience of that with her 14-year-old son, who needs a hands-on education. Rowe pulled her son out of Winthrop High School this year and said he is doing well with homeschooling.

“I think we just need to look at things differently,” she said. “We can’t keep doing things the same way.”

Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said he heard a lot of ideas Saturday related to education author and consultant Tony Wagner’s three R’s: rigor, relevance and relationships.

Another public forum is scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. March 27 in the Winthrop Middle School cafeteria. Rosenthal said the strategic plan won’t be completed until summer, but the school board will use some of the ideas suggested so far as they draw up a budget for next year.

The strategic plan is intended to guide Winthrop schools for up to five years. Rosenthal said the process will cost about $3,600 for facilitation and other expenses.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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