The stories we often hear about the Bibb County School District have mostly been negative. The Bibb County School District faces shocking statistics. During the 2010-2011 school year, we had a district-wide population of 25,000 students. Of these students 9,441 were suspended; 703 dropped out; 493 were expelled; and only 44 percent were anticipated to graduate. A new state calculation shows a 51 percent graduation rate for the 2010-2011 school year. About 20,000 students in the District are connected to the Department of Family and Children Services, and 632 students are documented as homeless. Our school district ranks near the bottom in the state with only four other school districts performing worse than ours. Out of 78 of the lowest performing schools in the state, 10 are in Bibb County. The sad and depressing news about our school district is chronic. The School Board agreed that drastic action was needed to improve these figures when they hired me in February 2011 to become the District's next Superintendent. It is my belief in the potential for every child to lead a quality life, filled with meaning, as well as accomplishment that brought me here to Macon.
It was my intention from the start to construct a Strategic Plan that was built upon the voices of the community. Consequently, I worked with my leadership team to develop a strategic planning process that elicited solutions from all stakeholders, brought about positive change, shared leadership, was highly engaging, and provided equal opportunity to have one's voice heard. After much research, the approach we chose was that of Appreciative Inquiry, which gives each voice equal attention and merit. This approach results in transformational change and is widely accepted as a model that achieves dramatic results.
Our strategic planning experience began in September 2011. More than 4,000 participants took part in each of our Strategic Planning Summits on September 19 and October 10, and more than 2,000 people from around the world watched these sessions online each time. These sessions made history in that we successfully assembled the largest summit of Appreciative Inquiry in the world. As a result of our planning sessions and the Strategic Plan that was developed, the Bibb County School District was invited to the 2012 World Appreciative Inquiry Conference in Ghent, Belgium, to share how we organized the summit to include all district employees. For the first time as far as people can remember, the world actually wants to hear what Bibb County is doing that is positive. About 500-1,000 people from 40 countries actually want to hear positive things our District is doing. Bibb County also has the opportunity to learn from educators and business leaders from 40 countries - things that we can bring back in order to improve our current condition. The World Appreciative Inquiry Conference is held every three years and this year's conference theme is "Towards an 'Economy' of Connecting Strengths: Scaling-Up the Generative Power of Appreciative Inquiry."
This conference will be a platform of education, business, and industry leaders who are sharing approaches that will improve results and provide global thinking and innovation. By attending this conference we will:
- Gain knowledge through information provided by keynote presenters from across the globe that can be utilized to improve education for students and prepare them to be competitive in a global economy
- Provide access to individuals in business, industry, education and other markets who are focused on making transformational change in organizations
- Interact with individuals and groups from over 40 countries including Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Africa, Spain, United States, India, Singapore and China
- Attend with between 500-1,000 international individuals
- Share positive efforts of the BCSD and the accomplishments of our work to date with individuals from more than 40 other countries
- Visit schools to learn about successful practices used in international settings
- Make global connections with educators from other countries to share and learn about innovations that impact student learning
- Gather ideas from educational leaders in other countries regarding school structures and calendars that have supported high levels of student learning
- Gather ideas from educational leaders in other countries regarding how they have successfully accelerated student learning (i.e., "out-paced" students in the United States)
- Gather ideas from educational leaders in other countries regarding how they have created a positive culture around public education
- Gather ideas from educational leaders in other countries regarding how they create a culture of high expectations for students
- Gather ideas from educational leaders in other countries regarding how they structure and provide professional learning opportunities for staff
- Gather ideas from business and educational leaders in other countries regarding how business and community agencies engage in supporting education
- Make connections that may lead to increased opportunity for student learning in Bibb County (e.g., student exchange programs as stated in the Strategic Plan, interactive learning partnerships, etc.)
- Connect with international businesses, non-profits, and foundations that may choose to engage with the students of Bibb County through supporting initiatives in the Strategic Plan
The District was invited to this prestigious event because of the hard work and dedication of leadership, staff, and community members. Not only were we invited to present at this conference, our work will be highlighted in two professional publications.
I hope three years from now at the next summit that we can have a larger group i.e. Mayor, Chamber of Commerce, and Bibb County Commisioners. Educating students is an important responsibility not just for a school system but for an entire community, and by incorporating all involved, we can truly say that the community stands behind "The Macon Miracle" and ensuring that each child is given a chance to achieve success in a 21st century multi-ethnic global society.
Thank you for your continued support, and I cannot wait to update you on the exciting things we will learn in Belgium. I am glad to see Bibb County is on the map and that forty different countries will speak positively about our district.