About 50 parents, residents and business owners shared their ideas about the New Albany-Plain Local School District during New Albany for Kids' first community forum May 19.

About 50 parents, residents and business owners shared their ideas about the New Albany-Plain Local School District during New Albany for Kids' first community forum May 19.

Participants arrived in the 2-5 building cafeteria at 7 p.m. and were divided into four groups while district administrators and three school board members observed.

The forum was designed to provide community feedback to the board about its recent strategic-planning process.

Each group moved to a classroom, and a trained facilitator from New Albany for Kids posed strategically designed questions.

Group 1, which met in Pamela Boh's fourth-grade classroom, was facilitated by former New Albany for Kids head Cheri Lehmann.

She urged participants to honestly and openly answer five questions: What are NA-PLSD's greatest strengths and weaknesses? What are the greatest threats facing NA-PLS? What are the most promising opportunities for NA-PLS?

The fifth question brought the other four together. Participants were asked to imagine the next five years and think about the "culture, academic and co-curricular focus, program delivery, facilities and the district's relationship with the larger community," in terms of the previous four questions the groups answered.

Group 1 suggested that board members use the categories listed in the last question to create benchmarks. They presented this idea to the larger group at the end of the evening.

"If you guys have identified seven curricular areas, identify a benchmark in every one of those areas," participant Tony Thomas said.

Other groups identified facilities, small class sizes, foreign-language offerings and civility as top goals for the board.

Ron Kendle, who has a second-grader in the district, said he thought the forum was productive.

"It was an opportunity for the community to come in and voice where they would like to see the school board and staff and where we would like to see dollars spent," he said. "It was a great use of time."

He said he thinks the schools are great, but there is always room to improve.

"I would like to see this (information) used constructively," Kendle said. "You can't improve anything after a first meeting."

Board member Doug Flowers said he thought the forum generated some great ideas.

"I thought it was interesting to hear a lot of different perspectives," he said. "It will give us some great feedback on where people would like to see the district go. It will ... help us determine how we can best integrate the ideas into our strategic-planning process."

Laura Kohler, who organized the evening with her former communications committee co-chair, Ted Bernard, said she thought the first forum was successful.

"I am pleased with the turnout," she said. "For the first effort, I think it was wonderful."

She said New Albany for Kids plans to combine the ideas from each group and present them to the school board.

"I think that there were two overarching themes," Kohler said. "There was a common focus on children and to promote dialogue and civility in the community."

In the group she facilitated, Kohler said, many were focused on the community's changing demographics.

Bernard said New Albany for Kids plans to host similar events during the summer months. Though no dates are set, the organization is considering events for district stakeholders, such as business owners, staff members, senior citizens and students.

"There is lots of discussion about collaboration," Bernard said.

He also suggested having smaller meetings within neighborhoods, as people are comfortable talking with their neighbors.

"People want to know why it didn't happen sooner," Bernard said. "We need to get together as a community to engage."