Change is coming to public education, and the Westerville City School District wants the community involved.
The new Community Engagement Committee, a new branch of the existing Business Advisory Council, will take the message of educational reform to community groups starting next week, with a goal of starting a conversation between the district and residents.
"There are a lot of issues that people aren't willing to talk about because it can be difficult and get heated," committee Chairman Steven Hittle said. "Where we want to get to is where there's this fervor in Westerville and everyone's talking."
The 16-member committee put in more than 50 hours over the summer, reading the book Schools Cannot Do It Alone by education expert Jamie Vollmer.
The group's goal was to hone in on the book's message, tailor it to Westerville and figure out a way to take that message to community groups for feedback, Hittle said.
The key point, district spokesman Greg Viebranz said, is that public schools have operated in the same way since they were founded by Thomas Jefferson, and that outdated model no longer leads all students to success.
Viebranz said schools now need to serve all students in a way that addresses their individual needs, and schools need the help of their communities to determine how to change to prepare students for future success.
"Today, education has to be all things to all people," Viebranz said. "We can't do this without having the voices of the community heard."
To begin the conversation, the Community Engagement Committee has identified 80 community groups it would like to speak to.
Beginning next week, committee members will visit about a dozen different groups to give its presentation, talking about why schools no longer meet all students' needs, the mandates that government places on schools and why high-quality schools are good for the community as a whole, committee member Ran Flasterstein said.
The committee then will take feedback on the presentation and also on how community members believe schools can better prepare students for success.
Ideally, committee members will visit each community two or three times to discuss issues and take feedback to the district.
"We want to get the feedback from the groups we're going out to. That's the most important part of what we're doing," Flasterstein said. "If we could get out and talk to all 90,000 residents, that would be ideal."
Committee member Rick Vilardo said districts across the country, including Westerville, need to take on the "tremendous challenge" of educating all the students they take in and set them up for success.
"The education system we have right now needs to be developed for the future to develop each child's potential and capacity," Vilardo said. "Every child should be prepared for the future, not just some. ... Some communities will succeed in this and many will not."
Hittle said the committee is issuing a challenge to community members to get involved. The goal is to create a process for revamping the district that other school districts can look to as a model for success.
"If you have an opinion, you have to get involved," Hittle said. "I want Westerville to be the beacon that other communities look to and say, 'We can do what Westerville did.' "
For more information about the Community Engagement Committee, visit the district's website, wcsoh.org/cec.