In education student success is rooted in three tiers; the student, the student’s setting and the system that governs both the student and the setting. Through co-design, I believe it is possible to accelerate the performance of all three tiers.
Co-design for public schools is the act of working collaboratively with community partners to ensure greater value for students and their community. The Vigo County School Corporation has a successful history of co-designing. We have historically partnered with higher education, local businesses, local government and not for profits to ensure greater value for our students. As we move toward a strategic vision for the district, it is my hope that we not only continue that tradition but make it a priority in every action the district takes. As we cast a vision for the future of our children, we need to understand how our community - rather than just the school or a program can support our youth. To co-design, we need to work together to identify the most critical needs then build capacity within the community to address those needs through data-driven action steps. The foundation of this process is the development and growth of long-term relationships with community partners.
An example of co-designing can be found in Toledo, Ohio. The Boys and Girls Club of Toledo and the Toledo Public Schools have a long-standing relationship. However, they took their partnership to a new level when TPS built and renovated all its schools. Club leaders and the School Board proposed incorporating Boys and Girls Clubs inside the renovated buildings. As a result, large game rooms and offices for the Club were consolidated into three school buildings. The co-design approach now benefits hundreds of students daily. Immediately after school, students have access to tutoring, game tables, Wi-Fi, STEM projects and can use the gym, library, art, music rooms, and cafeteria. By combining the capital campaign dollars of the Boys and Girls Club with the publicly funded school project, everyone benefited: the student, the setting and the system.
Many Indiana communities are seeing a decline in population. In fact, four out of every five school districts in Indiana are shrinking in enrollment. VCSC is one of those districts. Beyond academic gains co-design can also help grow talent and grow communities. Those regions in the Midwest that will prosper in the 21st century will be the ones that engage in a private/partnership to develop their local talent pools. Many of Indiana’s growing communities have practiced urban expansion by talent attraction, and that strategy has paid off.
One area trying to fight this trend and develop talent can be found in Southeast Indiana and the ECO Network. In those regions the local community college, the region’s adult education partners, local schools and area businesses now work together to leverage their combined assets across ten counties. The goal of the network is to increase the number of residents that have a post-secondary credential. Through co-design, the ECO Network will accelerate educational attainment, preparing students for jobs in high-demand fields. Again, everyone benefits the student, the setting and the system.
As a region and specifically as a school system we have an undeniable advantage over most communities in Indiana. We are blessed with a number of higher education institutions, and trade unions dedicated to talent development. Working with our higher education partners, Indiana State University, IVY Tech, Rose Hulman, Saint Mary of the Woods and our surrounding school districts in Clay, Parke, Sullivan, and Vermillion Counties, it is my hope that our region will also engage in co-design to develop talent and grow our region at a rate that exceeds expectations. As an educational institution, VCSC must be willing to reach out to our partners in Industry, Workforce Development and local and state government in a way not seen in other areas across the state of Indiana in order for that to happen.
Rob Haworth is superintendent of the Vigo County School Corp.