Pam Homan has an ambitious goal: to ensure that every student in the Sioux Falls School District achieves success.
It’s the kind of catchy campaign promise that sounds great on paper. But Homan, who will retire from her post as superintendent of the 24,000-student South Dakota school system in June after more than 25 years, the last 11 as its superintendent, has few people left to impress.
Education is her life’s work. Though it hasn’t always been easy.
“We live in a political battleground,” says Homan, one in which the image of public education is routinely under siege.
The challenge for school leaders is getting beyond the negativity to drive meaningful reform. For Homan, that process begins and ends with open and honest communication.
We recently visited with Homan, who offered up four pillars to effective community engagement:
1. Lead the conversation: School districts have a strong voice in their local communities. It’s important to get out in front of issues that affect students and families, take a stance, and lead from a position of authority. It’s always better to be proactive as opposed to reactive, Homan says.
2. Identify the problem: When issues do arise, and they inevitably do, it’s important to understand those criticisms, to determine where they are coming from, and look inward to conduct an honest analysis. Ask yourself, is this a real issue for the district? Or, is it a product of a vocal few looking to stir up trouble?
3. Manage the solution: Once you’ve identified the issue, it’s important to outline a solution. If a parent or another member of your school community identifies a weakness in need of improvement, meet with staff and formalize a plan that demonstrates the district’s commitment to the problem.
4. Respond responsibly: People need to feel heard. Reforms mean little unless the community understands the reasoning behind your decision. With the rise of social media, it’s tempting to get down in the mud with those who would criticize your district or its programs. Better to listen, take a step back, and respond constructively.
Looking for a solution that can help you lead the conversation in your school district? Homan and Sioux Falls use Let’s Talk!