Creating the blueprint

How a school district created a pathway to community success

By Carol Hansen, Julianne Hoefer and Julie Jennings | September | October 2019
Most of us have experienced construction or renovation projects, whether doing work on our own homes or driving through our neighborhoods. Construction is messy and disruptive, but it is necessary as structures age and needs change. Any builder will tell you that a critical part of the process is creating a clear vision and solid blueprint. The Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach, California, is currently implementing its multi-year school bond modernization program, but there is another kind of comprehensive renovation project taking place in OVSD that began in 2015 – the rebuilding and repairing of relationships and partnerships.  Establishing the vision and blueprint At that time, the OVSD Board of Trustees conducted a rigorous search for a new district leadership team. Carol Hansen was named superintendent, and a new executive cabinet was assembled. With the guidance of the board and support from district and school leaders, OVSD committed to rebuilding a solid foundation of credibility, transparent communication, and stability for its students, families, employees, and community members.  In particular, the district’s new leadership team and existing union leaders were ready to change how they did business, and to engage in a collaborative approach that would ultimately benefit all students districtwide.  A proactive, collaborative approach By 2016, realizing they had common interests and goals, OVSD’s three bargaining teams – the District, Ocean View Teachers’ Association, and the Classified School Employees Association, Chapter 375 – made a collective commitment of collaboration. It came in the form of PAL, a Partnership of Administration and Labor, which has a long history in neighboring ABC Unified School District, where Hansen had previously served as an Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources. Initially, ABCUSD representatives visited the Ocean View offices and met with key members of OVSD’s administration and unions. They described the process, ups and downs, and positive, long-term benefits of adopting PAL. “The core of our work is based on relationships,” said Hansen. “We must have systems for strong communication around a common vision in order to make progress. PAL is tool which encompasses relationships, communication and common vision that can be understood by both staff and administrators.”  By the end of the school year, OVSD, OVTA and CSEA had formed a PAL Council made up of administrators and union leaders. The council was instrumental in improving regular communications among its members, as well as between school administrators and their site representatives. The PAL Council began its work by issuing joint communications, planning and conducting an inaugural PAL Leadership Retreat, and agreeing upon and adopting PAL Guiding Principles, which encourages input from all stakeholders and embraces an attitude of “We won’t let each other fail.” The PAL Retreats have now existed for three years. At the OVSD-OVTA retreats, principals and site reps come together to discuss PAL concepts, make agreements about PAL practices, and incorporate PAL further into their school cultures. At the most recent OVSD-CSEA, Chapter 375 annual PAL Retreat, featured speakers were representatives from California Labor-Management Initiative and CSEA. The outcomes of both the OVTA and CSEA retreats are, of course, important; however, there is even greater value in the time spent building relationships, connections and trust. OVSD and union representatives expanded their work by attending trainings outside of the district, including the California Labor-Management Summer Institute and ABCUSD’s West Coast Labor-Management Institute. As OVSD headed into the 2017-18 school year, the overwhelmingly supportive, and often surprised, response from attendees encouraged further expansion of PAL concepts into OVSD’s departments and schools.  A place for positive change In 2016, PAL leaders reimagined the existing structures and added the input of the people impacted by those decisions. Not only did this create a climate of transparency and trust, it reinforced employee relations through the shared goal of success for all students. PAL had proven to be the perfect venue to promote proactive, healthy, and positive systemic change within OVSD. In June 2016, the PAL Council created its first committee, the Joint OVTA/OVSD Special Education Committee. Members included teachers, administrators and union leaders. The purpose of this committee was to collaboratively and proactively problem-solve and develop solutions together. One of the key outcomes of this committee has been the engagement in safe, collaborative discussions that preempt potential special education issues. “We are working toward creating a safe environment for future, sensitive conversations,” said Melissa Hurd, executive director of Special Education in OVSD. “It would be amazing to create an entire population that is willing to be reflective and introspective for the betterment of our students’ educational experiences.” Stemming from this committee was the Joint OVTA/OVSD Student Study Team Committee in 2017, which set forth to develop, communicate and implement consistent procedures across OVSD schools related to interventions, as well as the recording of information. More committees have since been established as a result of the Special Education Committee’s initial work. In 2017, the Joint OVTA/OVSD Student Study Team Committee committed to develop, communicate and implement consistent procedures across OVSD schools related to interventions, as well as the recording of information. And by December, the Joint OVTA/OVSD Communication Committee formed as a way of maintaining districtwide communication that would be timely and open. This committee also set forth to preempt issues and explore proactive resolutions. Committee members, made up of district and union leaders, collaboratively develop common messages and concise communication about new programs and initiatives in OVSD. Members also help diffuse rumors. Then in 2018, the Professional Development Committee was created to give OVSD teachers a louder voice in their work. Teachers and administrators from the schools and district office, including the Special Education department, convened to explore the “why” of their work, to identify professional development priorities that build on current goals and practices and to create clear, common messages. Out of this committee came some incredible developments districtwide. With stronger relationships among staff, more OVSD teachers have taken themselves out of their professional comfort zones, with an even greater commitment to exploring, adopting, and implementing new instructional programs and skills.  The OVSD Blueprint During the 2017-18 school year, the need for a blueprint began to materialize as the harsh realities of declining enrollments in OVSD, Orange County and statewide emerged. Hansen gathered a 40-member Blueprint Focus Group Committee, made up of each of the District’s stakeholder groups, to discuss, imagine and draft core values and overarching goals and operational practices for OVSD. Teachers, parents, administrators, board members, classified staff, and community members, as well as PAL Committee members, helped craft and finalize a document to present to the board for approval. The document reflected student achievement, innovation, safe campuses, positive relationships, communication and efficiency while valuing employees and growth opportunities. By January 2019, The OVSD Blueprint with its three core values – (Innovation, Integrity and Equity)– and its seven tenets were approved by the Board and directly linked to the work happening in our classrooms and schools. The overarching purposes and outcomes of all of this committee work makes clear that OVSD continues to address: consistent practices across the district for the benefit of students and the learning environment; mutual understanding about the “why” of employees’ work rather than just doing things as they have always been done and safe, collaborative conversations among employees throughout the year, instead of saving tough topics for labor negotiations. A next-level partnership The Blueprint established through OVSD’s PAL has created the framework that could not have been imagined in 2015. For two years, OVTA has invited staff from OVSD’s Special Education Department to participate with them in teacher training hosted by West Orange County United Teachers. As a result of OVSD’s attendance, CTA Teacher Advocate Mónica Mora and presenter Karen Taylor have invited administrators to attend other CTA sponsored trainings. Each year, district and school administrators accompany teachers at the five-day training at the CTA Summer Institute at UCLA. “I think it was eye-opening for everyone at Summer Institute to see a whole team of labor and management present and ready to learn together,” said Deborah Chiong, a Special Day Class teacher at OVSD’s Pleasant View campus, on the team’s initial visit to the CTA event. Chiong has attended the Summer Institute three times. “My goal is to get more people here, because the work we do is so valuable.”  OVSD and OVTA have benefited greatly from CTA’s Summer Institute strand on Growth Mindset and from the unique opportunity to build stronger relationships; however, they did not anticipate an even larger outcome. OVSD’s unusual mix of teachers and administrators turned heads over those five days in 2018. Other districts asked questions and congratulated them on forging better relationships between labor and management. Upon their return, OVSD, OVTA, and CTA decided to partner in planning the district’s professional development days for the start of the 2018-19 school year. On August 30 and 31, 2018, representatives from all three entities seamlessly presented to OVSD’s elementary and middle school teachers on “Supporting the Success of All Learners.” They focused on introducing the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Framework and Universal Design for Learning. This important work has continued throughout the year and will continue into the future. PAL has created the opportunity and structure to engage stakeholders in an intentional and authentic way. The PAL leadership was essential in bringing a new foundation to OVSD which we call the OVSD Blueprint. The common vision outlined in it, for achievement, excellence, accountability, and two-way communication is the basis in OVSD, “Where Achievement and Relationships Matter.”

Carol Hansen is the superintendent of Ocean View School District. Julianne Hoefer serves the district as Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. Julie Jennings is the OVSD Public Information Manager.

© 2019 Association of California School Administrators

Association of California School Administrators