There was a palpable energy as I walked into the evening session of the World Cafe.
A gathering of close to 100 people, organized by St. Cloud School District 742, met the evening of Oct. 8 at the Whitney Senior Center to discuss ideas and share experiences of what our schools mean to each, how they would like others to perceive them and what we can do to improve our local education system.
As I glanced around the large room, I saw familiar faces such as new Superintendent Willie Jett; former St. Joseph Kennedy Community School Principal Diane Moeller, who now acts as the district’s assistant superintendent; several school board members; and even some St. Cloud Tech High School students whom I’d met through my daughter, who graduated from there this past spring.
Groups of four introduced one another, then focused on a specific question for about 15-20 minutes. Once each had had a chance to express his/her concerns, the groups would stand, then individuals would move to another table to mingle and discuss another thought-provoking topic and diligently record each person’s input. The interaction that transpired was polite, respectful, thoughtful and thoroughly stimulating.
I met people who spoke sparse English (with interpreters who assisted); parents of current students; some teachers (present and former) and staff of the school district; the students themselves; and even a few senior citizens among the crowd. I saw people in three-piece suits, some in native African garb, some in jeans. Young and old, natives and transplants, male and female assembled with one common goal – a concern for the future education of our youth.
As a group, we could have given some lessons to our current politicians on how to interact and cooperate. The hum of speech vibrated soothingly throughout the room. Granted, we were all there with the same purpose and intent. However, we were a mixture of backgrounds, personalities and experiences – a veritable United Nations.
Granted, that evening was just one component of the vision quest for the school district. Many more are still to follow prior to reaching the ultimate goal of a strategic plan. But I believe this was probably one of the more meaningful aspects of the process, and I commend Jett and our current school board members for including the community at large in their efforts in achieving a broad spectrum of ideas.
In the words of famous anthropologist Margaret Mead, who had a lot of noteworthy things to say about education and society, “Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”