About 65 parents, staff members and students begin the process with brainstorming session last week

SETH GORDON - Interim superintendent Joe Morelock had participants place a yellow dot on a larger paper graph to represent their feelings on the current state of the school district and a blue dot for where they would like the district to be.

Interim superintendent Joe Morelock kicked off the first in a series of meetings to develop a new strategic plan for the Newberg School District on Oct. 10 with a bit of a risky move: a sticky dot exercise.

Because similar exercises frustrated many who participated in public-input meetings around cutting $4 million from district budget last spring, it had the potential to rankle, but Morelock demonstrated that he wasn't tone deaf, only using it as in illustration to give context to the process they were about to undertake.

"I know that in some of the situations in the past you may have some PTSD around sticky dots," Morelock joked. "I'm just owning that right now."

Morelock had participants place a yellow dot on a large paper graph to represent their feelings on the current state of district and a blue dot for where they would like the district to be.

Morelock estimated the average position of the yellow and blue dots and drew a line between them, explaining that it represented the strategic plan, or how the district would get from where it is to where it wants to be. SETH GORDON - School district director of instructional technology Luke Neff speaks with parents and staff during one of the meetings last week.

It was the group's task to formulate and refine those ideas for the school board over the course of the next few weeks, beginning with a brainstorming exercise that comprised the rest of the meeting.

"The question is, what does it take for us to become a blue-dot organization?" Morelock said. "What are the things you think are important for us to be doing for students coming up?"

Morelock divided participants into seven groups, each of which was tasked with generating ideas of how the district could make progress toward the eight goals recently approved by the school board, two of which were combined into one for the purposes of the exercise.

Morelock recruited seven district staff members, including district office personnel and building principals, to serve as facilitators with each group and record their input.

Each facilitator was given one board goal and rotated around the room to all seven groups to collect responses from everyone in attendance.

"I feel like a lot of good ideas came out," Newberg High School senior Quentin Comus said. "With the staff being involved as much as they were, I feel like a lot of them were actually received and understood and valued compared to just sending written comments or doing a survey online."

Comus was one of at least five students among the approximately 65 people who participated. The rest were split about evenly between staff and parents, with one school board member sitting in at each table as well.

"They really took those goals and really let people brainstorm," Mountain View Middle School principal Terry McElligott said. "It was pretty interesting because we had parents and school district staff from secondary and elementary. It was good to hear everybody's opinion as to what they felt, because they were looking at it through the lens of their own building, but also then tried to connect it district wide."

The biggest limiting factor of the exercise was probably that by the final few rotations, the facilitators had to take so much time summarizing what had already been submitted that groups weren't able to fully discuss or contribute.

"If you were within the first four, there was probably a lot of new ideas," McElligott said. "But when you got down to the end, people would say they were thinking about that, so then they just put extra plusses or checks by them to show this was an issue that was brought up by every group."

Morelock explained that all of the ideas generated would be presented back to the group, to be categorized, whittled down and prioritized at future meetings.

That includes this week's meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a third Oct. 24 and, if necessary, a fourth Nov. 5.

"I feel like they're doing a great job of including all the different levels of involvement, whether it be a parent, the actual staff, the students," Comus said. "I think they're going about it the right way and at the right time. They're doing it early."

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