What Matters in Pawling Schools? Findings from the PCSD Envisioning Process

At the Board of Education meeting on December 9, Superintendent Kim Fontana presented her findings from the ongoing process of examining the future of Pawling’s schools. Over the past year, Ms. Fontana, the Board, and faculty district-wide have taken an in-depth look at a multitude of issues as they attempt to shape a vision for the district’s future. This process has involved not only countless interviews with students, teachers, and parents, but also included an official Community Conversation evening held on October 30 to gather feedback. “I’ve had a lot of help with this from the entire community,” explained Superintendent Fontana. “We asked a very broad question: What matters most to you?”

In crafting a vision for the future of the PCSD, administrators collected a wide range of qualitative data. This process included consulting with an outside facilitator, collecting data through surveys and one on one interviews, hosting the Community Conversation, and reaching out to varied and diverse groups throughout the community. “We created an energetic timeline back in April, and it was our intention to have the substance of this vision delivered in December,” said Fontana. “We have not only created a plan to craft a vision, but also a way to tell the story of that vision.”

Fontana would go on to outline the depth of the process that has been undertaken over the past year. Using the ThoughtExchange data tool, administrators were able to receive over 1,500 comments from staff, students, parents, and community members. In addition, sixty-six 4th grade students responded to a question via written letter, and twenty-one 11th graders took part in a survey. Roughly eighty people attended the Community Conversation, and an ongoing series of video interviews by students garnered responses from more than forty interviewees. “We couldn’t have done this without the unwavering support of the Board, administrators, especially Dr. Kirkhus, parents, and the students, who opened their hearts and minds,” added Superintendent Fontana.

Using the data gathered, administrators were able to produce five statements which they will use as a guideline for what they hope the district will be in the future:

At Pawling Central School District, all students enjoy access to a broad selection of engaging, rigorous, relevant coursework and out of school experiences.

The future PCSD will focus on the entirety of the student experience, from pre-Kindergarten through college preparation. Schools would offer additional extracurriculars, clubs, and field trips to help students develop artistic, social, and life skills. As they progress, students will have more access to a range of courses, including additional languages, arts, and STEM, as well as more honors and AP options.

At Pawling Central School District, each student’s physical mental, and social-emotional wellness is nourished.

At the future PCSD, students will benefit from continued efforts to improve wellness. These will include improvements to nutrition, more opportunities for physical education and sports, and an emphasis on protecting sleep time. More attention will be paid to student stress levels, as well as the importance of balancing homework demands with learning objectives.

At Pawling Central School District, facilities are designed and exist to enable students to develop talents and interests to excel in their goals.

The future PCSD would have improved athletic facilities which would lead to equality with surrounding districts and continue to foster a sense of community. Arts and music facilities would be upgraded to incorporate a variety of student interests, and academic facilities would continue to feature the latest upgrades to technology.

At Pawling Central School District, each student’s individual and family characteristics are considered assets, and diverse backgrounds and stories are valued in a safe and caring community.

The PCSD would continue to foster the tight-knit community in Pawling. This includes continuing to embrace students and families from all backgrounds, as well as continuing to accommodate students with special needs. In this vision of the district, bullying would be non-existent, with adults helping students approach conflict in a calm and mindful way.

At Pawling Central School District, students participate and have a voice in their school and civic community.

Finally, the future PCSD would continue to prepare students not only for success in school, but also to be productive members of their community by encouraging participation to make their voices heard. Students would have opportunities to participate in academic, athletic, and cultural programs that would help to cultivate their talents and make them better citizens.

“Each of these statements already has a connection to an existing Board Goal,” explained Ms. Fontana. “This is a vision of where our district needs to go, based on the comments of a broad group. Every single one of them is a growth area that we need to aspire to. Each of these five statements should be a touchstone as we make decisions about policies, budgets, energy, and attention.”